Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Weekend in Food

Since it was Thanksgiving in the states last week, I spent the week teaching my children about the holiday and strove to get them to stop calling Native Americans ‘Indians’. All this talk made me hungry, especially when I would call my mom and here her plans for the holiday. So, Thursday night Sam, Andie, Nick and I met up with our recruiter, Henry, and his girlfriend for live octopus. Not really traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but I cannot stress how fun it is to try to pull the thrashing tentacles after the plate. Don’t worry, the octopus that we ate had been decapitated minutes before consumption. However, I still want to try eating the whole live baby octopus. Along with this treat, Henry had ordered this giant smorgasbord of seafood: clams, shellfish, shrimp, mollusks, and oysters. It looked like they had scraped all the seafood from the sea floor and served it in a monstrous tray. 맛있어요 (delicious)

On Friday after school we went out for a real Thanksgiving dinner. Toque restaurant in Itaewon served us turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberries, green bean casserole, tuna casserole, candied yams, and pumpkin pie. It was a surprisingly good meal, but some of us realized we missed the spiciness that is Korean food. Most of the people that went were foreigners, but two Koreans came as well, and Byeong Hun tasted turkey for the first time.
Andie, Paul, Allan, and Chloe enjoying their meal

The weekend of food continued on Saturday when Andie, Sam, Liza and I went to the Seoul Fancy Food Festival. Although it didn’t apparently compete at all with festivals in New York, we were still able to try samples of random desserts and drinks as well as a quick wine tasting. There wasn’t as much free food as we hoped, but whenever a line built up we would sprint to the end and see what was in store. After walking back to my home, I jumped on a bus to Dongdaemun to go shopping for a winter coat. I had seen one earlier, but it was $150, and I didn’t have the money. I told the shopkeeper that I would be back, but she definitely did not believe me. However, I returned and when she recognized me she was so excited that she knocked the price down to $100. I could have probably bargained more, but since this was the price I wanted to pay, I said thank you, bought it, and am now rocking my new Korean coat. My students love when I wear Korean clothing, as it looks so much better than the clothing I brought from the US.
At 8 pm, Rachel, Arianna, Byeong Hun, So-Jin, and I met up to go out for drinks with some of BH’s friends from the Asia-Pacific World Deaf conference. While we were waiting, a Korean American approached us because we were signing and she knew ASL. She wants to learn KSL, and joined us for the rest of the night. Her name was Charity, which is fitting since she wants to be a social worker. I was jealous of her signing skills, but I know I just need more time and practice. We met up with a bunch of Israeli guys and they were crazy. Fun, but crazy. We ended up dancing at the Loft in Itaewon for hours, before finally heading home.
Oh Sundays. Omelet for breakfast, coffee with friends at Konguk University and then dinner in Gangnam. Rachel Frank, BH, So-Jin and I went out for budaejjigae, which is this soup that originated during the Korean War. Apparently the American soldiers gave it to the Koreans who just kept adding stuff to it until it tasted good. Nowadays, it tastes delicious. Afterward, we went for a long walk and then back to sleep to start the workweek. This week I am teaching The Giving Tree to my second graders and we are making ‘cootie catchers’ in first grade. This job is awesome.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November in Seoul

November 12th:
As I had hoped, after sleeping in, I went to Dongdaemun Market with Rachel and Ryan. It is this huge indoor and outdoor market that has everything you would want to find. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have any money to buy anything, but it was fun to browse. People would approach you trying to sell you things, and I really wanted to buy a winter coat, but I didn’t have the cash. I told the lady I would be back come payday, but she didn’t seem very happy about this response. The stay was short, as I had Korean class at 4:30. The class keeps changing, with various students entering and leaving. This can be frustrating, as we tend to repeat things that we learned in prior lessons. However, it gives me a chance to actually have mini-conversations in Korean with other students and meet interesting people. It is moving way to slowly however.

November 13th,
Friday the 13th. Not my favorite day, but never quite as scary as the movies fortunately. After classes, I met up with Byeong Hun and Andie and we went to the lantern festival near City Hall. Andie posted the pictures; there were lanterns representing every country. It was really cool. I thought that they were going to be just standard lanterns, but they were these gigantic representations of various things. Afterward, we met up with Phil and Sam, and said goodbye to Andie and headed to Appujeong. We wanted a quick dinner, but ended up sitting at a restaurant for about 2 hours, eating fried seafood and chatting with some random Korean guys who gave us some of their birthday cake. Afterward, BH and I met Nick and Evan at Monkey Beach and danced for a LONG time. Maybe four hours.

November 14th,
Saturday! Shopping with Sonali in Myeongdong turned out to be really boring. She warned me, I should have listened. However, she gave me a great lesson on Indian culture, so for that I am thankful. BH, Allan and I made a nice little dinner afterward, and then went to Itaewon for a game of poker. This was really boring for BH, so he left to find his friends and I ended up losing my 10,000 Won, but it was fun to hang out with the guys. Not as easy to beat them as it is my friends from home :-P
At around 10, we met up with Rachel Nusbaum for her birthday party. BH invited five of his friends, who may have been bored with us English speakers! However, after an hour and a couple of drinks, many attempts were made at cross-cultural communication and maybe some new connections have been made.

November 15th,
Because we had spent the weekend doing non-Korean things, Andie and I decided we should do something cultural. Around noon, we met up at Seolleung to see the tomb of King Seongjong of the Joseon dynasty. Although the day was cold, the sky was clear and the walk around the park was a nice change from the bustle of the city. The tombs were these huge mounds with interesting stone statues scattered about. I was snapping pictures quite furiously until Byeong Hun told me that culturally this was inappropriate as these were burial grounds. Luckily, I snapped some nice pictures before I realized that I was a bad person for doing so.

November 16th-19th,
Weekdays are weekdays. Work, Korean language lessons, and food at home. A lot of lazy behavior, including watching my favorite US TV programs. Boring but satisfying. My newest obsession? Glee. What an amazing show. I also finally added some 300 pictures to Facebook for everyone’s perusal.

November 20th,
Mark F had invited me Byeong Hun and his friend So-Jin to Suwon for a concert on Friday and I met my friends Katy and Jen there, who live and work in this city about 30 miles south of Seoul. It started to snow: large, wet, and beautiful. When we all met up, we headed to this random bar in a random building to be greeted by applause; they were very excited to have foreigners at their concert. Apparently it was a bunch of Samsung employees, and they ended up giving us free Budweisers because we were Americans. By the end of the night, they had invited Mark and I to the stage, where we danced and sang and had many pictures taken.

November 21st,
After crashing at Jen’s place, Byeong Hun, his friend So-Jin, Rachel Nusbaum and I met at City Hall in Seoul and had a nice fancy lunch. At Pizza Hut. Koreans love to take crappy restaurants in the US and make them seem awesome. Outback Steakhouse is apparently one of the best, and they think it is a legitimate Australian restaurant.
After the meal, we walked to Insa-dong to meet up with Arianna for some tea. This seriously was the best tea I have ever had in my life. Ginger tea on a cold day. Perfect. Plus, we decided on Christmas plans: a weekend at a ski resort in Eastern Korea. Another walk through the lantern festival and then we returned to Kangnam. Katy and Jen met up with us at my place and we went to get some burgers, coffee, and soju. The Rainbow House had an ethnic music night, and we listened to this fantastic, eclectic Asian music while smoking hookah.

November 22nd,
Nothing says breakfast better than kimchi. Seriously, fermented cabbage tastes FANTASTIC in omelets. I’m obsessed. After some badminton (Byeong Hun and I against Rachel Frank and So-Jin) Rachel infected me with another obsession: Go-Stop. It is the Korean version of poker, except with flowers and animals and ribbons. Look it up if you are interested. I play it online at school now all the time, and we might introduce it to the poker club.

November 23rd-25th,
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Nothing exciting. My lessons this week have to do with Thanksgiving, which is making me homesick. Tomorrow though, Thanksgiving Day here in Korea, Andie, Sam and I will meet up with our recruiter for some live octopus. Sounds like a Happy Thanksgiving to me!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Halloween and an Amazing Play

Although Koreans obviously don’t celebrate the same holidays as we do, all the foreigners here transformed parts of Seoul into Halloween enclaves on the 30th and 31st. On the first night of Halloween, Friday the 30th, I met up with a bunch of people in Hongdae, which is one of the University areas of Seoul. I put together a cheap and easy costume, dressed as G-Dragon from his Heartbreaker music video; it is always fun to dress as a Korean! Although I got a few stares on the subway for my face paint, Rachel was gawked at for her full mask. When we got to Hongdae, however, we met up with a bunch of our friends and it actually felt like Halloween. Some clubs in Hongdae even had Halloween themes! We went to this bar in the shape of an igloo, which was an experience. You literally had to step over rivulets to get to different clusters of people. Nick was dressed up as Where’s Waldo, which was awesome, and we eventually headed off to a different bar with some of the other guys. A couple of one dollar bad tequila shots later, and I decided I had to head home. Those tequilas did a number for my stomach, however, and I ended up eating 4 hamburgers from a sandwich stall. Oh, Korea.
I woke up at around 11 the next morning to a knock on my door. Groggily, I made my way over to the door in my underwear and was greeted with a large package! I greedily opened it to find sheets, a French press, Halloween candy, and coffee from my mom. She also sent three towels. They looked so gigantic! In Korea, they use these tiny little towels, which you have to wash all the time because they smell horribly after one use. These giant towels, however, are a godsend. Of course, the package also had my student loan bills. Typical mother behavior. The rest of the morning was spent recuperating and then cleaning my apartment. Although my place is just a studio, because of its location it is perfect for hosting parties. I had decided to have a little Halloween pre-game at my place, but according to Facebook only five people were for sure coming. This was fine by me, so by 7 pm, I had bought some snacks and decorated my room with spiderwebs and scary pictures my students had drawn. Apparently, many of the maybes became yeses, as the size of the party reached some 25 people. Byeong Hun and his friend Yeon Hee came, so we all had some practice signing ASL. We turned Byeong Hun into a veritable vampire and Yeon Hee wore Rachel’s mask backwards to give herself the illusion of a bird. It worked out pretty well.

At around 10:15, we taxied to Itaewon to go to The Loft, because ladies drink free. The night was really fun, with a lot of dancing and chatting and looking at the crazy costumes. I love Halloween.
The next morning, Sam, Sonali, Rachel, Paul, Andie, Byeong Hun and I went to brunch at Big Rock in Kangnam. There was an all you can eat buffet for around 10 dollars, which was awesome. After stuffing our faces, we went to Kyobo books to buy some Korean language books to help in our endeavors to learn this language. Everyone was still exhausted from the night before, however, and they all left around 4. I went for a nice walk to Appujeong and window shopped for puppies. I don’t know if I like dogs, but I kind of really want to buy a puppy here. They are incredibly adorable, and I am allowed to have pets in this apartment.
Monday the 2nd I started my week of listening tests. This made school extra boring. Monday night I met up with Byeong Hun and his friends in Jongno 3 Ga, which is another of the downtown areas near Insadong (a street famous for its shopping and art). We went to this fantastic 식당 (restaurant) and I was given another opportunity to practice my ASL. Some Japanese friends were there, and I was once again amazed at how they could communicate through ISL even though they did not have a common linguistic background. It was, of course, difficult and tiring for me to follow, but I did catch a few things and enjoyed signing with all of Byeong Hun’s friends.
On Tuesday, all the second graders and many of the first graders were sent home because of H1N1. This meant that I only had one class on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. My co-teacher, Seon Suk Kim, thought I was depressed, but I just kept telling her I was bored. They also cancelled my morning and afternoon classes, which meant that I had a half an hour of extra sleep the entire week. This was nice, but I would rather be teaching than sitting around all day. Badminton practice wasn’t as fun either, because many of the teachers were heading home immediately after school because of H1N1. Much of my week was just spent walking, because the weather has been perfect. Nice autumn weather: not too cold with a nice gentle wind. The smell here is amazing, with all the trees changing color. I love autumn.
Andie, Sonali, Sam, Rachel and I had decided to meet up on Wednesday to go to BH’s restaurant to try his fusion food. It was fantastic. Eunhoe Choi and Yeon Hee came as well. In between mouths of delicious chicken and pizza, we learned new signs, new Korean words, and new things about one another.
After another lame badminton practice on Friday, I walked home to Kangnam and then ate a quick dinner. Mark, Rachel and I went to Jongno 3 Ga again to meet up with Byeong Hun at a bar called Barcode. However, it was very Korean and very not fun. Luckily, Byeong Hun knew the area pretty well and brought us to a fun little underground bar/restaurant where we drank soju, beer, and learned a lot about one another.
Saturday morning I slept in, and then got on a train to Incheon. Incheon is the fourth largest city in Korea and is only an hour from downtown Seoul. Byeong Hun was in a show at a Deaf play festival and he invited me to come. I took some wrong transfers, unfortunately, and was running really late. I got there just in time to see the start of BH’s show. With three of his friends, he was telling a story about the life of a deaf person in a speaking world. It was ridiculously funny. The first scene was BH using the bathroom and a speaking person knocking on the door. Oblivious, BH continues to use the toilet until the other person barged into the room. Another scene saw BH and his friends fly to America, where they were served by a bimbo-looking waitress who, obviously, did not know any sign. However, they were able to order successfully and the audience roared with laughter. It was seriously one of the best shows I have ever seen, and I understood it even though they were signing a language I did not understand. There body movements and facial expressions were awesome. Out of the 12 teams performing, BH’s team ended up getting 1st prize.
 For the rest of the evening, BH and I walked around Incheon and ate this crazy ham soup. It had everything in it. Apparently, the legend is that some GIs gave this soup to some Koreans during the war, and the Koreans continuously added ingredients until it actually tasted delicious.
At around 9 pm, we got back on a train and headed back to Seoul and, for the third time this week, Jongno. We ran into BH’s friend Seong Cheol on the subway and I ended up clumsily explaining the differences between the 50 states in sign language. In Seoul, we met up with another Deaf Korean and his boyfriend, and went to a gay bar in Jongno. There are all these narrow allies with old cackling ladies and men in business suits in Jongno; it was quite terrifying, but luckily I was with a group of Koreans. At the bar, I realized that I really needed to work on my Korean, because while I could easily communicate with BH, I could not so easily communicate with his Korean speaking friend. It was a nice night out regardless, and we all headed home around 10 pm.
Noon the next morning we continued our new Sunday brunch tradition at a nice place in Kangnam. I ordered pancakes and eggs and was not disappointed. The bill was a little hefty, however, and we had to wait in a line for an hour so I hope next time we chose a less popular place. Rachel, Mark, BH, Seong Cheol and I all played badminton after breakfast and then went for a walk. This city is excellent to walk around in. Even though it is not as appealing as, say, Boston, it is so big that you always see new things.
My classes for this week have been pretty boring. Because of the H1N1 epidemic, many students are taking their speaking tests this week, which has thrown off the schedule. My lesson is about making sandwiches, which is fun for me and the students, but it also makes me hungry all day. Today, however, is Pepero day, so I was given little candy sticks from my students. Since November 11th is four ‘1’s, Pepero decided to make it into a holiday based on their candy. It is like Valentines’ day, but worst because there is NO hiding its commercialism. However, I did get this cute little stuffed puppy from one student, which made my day. Tomorrow I don’t have school because the high school students have a huge standardized test. Maybe I’ll head to Dongdaemun for once and actually see the crazy market. Have a good day!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Through the End of October

Unfortunately, I was not able to defer the Fulbright. That means that I had to decide yes or no. I decided on staying in Korea, because it does not feel right to break this contract. However, the Fulbright representative was really nice and told me I could re-apply, and I didn’t even need to worry about all the little details (like teacher recommendations and language evaluations). Hopefully I can get the award again.
Pusan never happened. I was planning on a fun long weekend trip, but at the last moment decided against it. It was just too much money and not enough time. Instead, I stayed in Seoul. I hung out a lot with Ais on the weekend from the 9th to the 11th, and it looked like she was going to stay. We met up with Grisel, Todd, and Molly and went to Hongdae to play darts and go dancing. Jerry was really mad with me because I was late, but it really wasn’t my fault. I was just really confused and couldn’t find my way to the subway station. I had only been living in Seoul for a month, what did he expect? He quietly withdrew and didn’t talk to us the rest of the night. Since then, I haven’t tried to contact him again. I don’t know if it is a Korean thing, but he was too needy and impatient, which isn’t me at all.
Sunday the 11th I met up with Ais and Todd and went to the Canadian brewery for a couple of beers and darts. The owner there is really nice, and it is really close to my house. Also, they have a Sunday brunch. Yum. Afterward we went out for burritos at Dos Tacos and I won some heart pillows at a dart booth. They are pretty nasty, actually, but fun because I won them. Ais slept over and told me she decided she was going to leave. The breakup was too messy, and she couldn’t stay in Seoul any longer. Although this kind of crushed me because she was my best friend here in Seoul, I definitely understood that she had to do what was best. I just wish that the best would be staying here.
My lessons during the week of the 12th through the 17th were pretty boring. The first graders practiced telling stories while the second graders worked on communication. However, I added on some more workload with the start of my morning and afternoon classes. I LOVE these classes. There are only fifteen students, and since the area most Koreans need to work on in terms of their language abilities is speaking and listening we spend most of the class just talking. I can already see improvement in some of the students confidence, which makes me feel like I am actually helping these students. All of them work so hard but they are always working with the goal of passing a test. Since these classes are not graded, I can spend them doing whatever. Hopefully, I can let them use English in a fun and exciting manner and broaden their interests and help them find what they enjoy. I have been reading a book about Korean culture by a famous comic artist and he stresses how the Korean education system leaves no room for creativity or entrepreneurial behavior, but solely creates test-taking machines. Hopefully I can shape some students in having a creative edge over other Koreans. I also spent much of my week on my Korean lessons, both with my co-teacher So Young and at the Yeoksam global center. I love free language lessons!
On Friday night, I had Andie and Paul over to watch some Youtube videos and go to the Rainbow Bar in Gangnam. Pretty chill night. I ended up going to Itaewon because I wanted to dance, and I didn’t come home till late. However, I woke up quite early because my friend, Brent, had tickets to Seoul Fashion Week and wanted me to join. I got to the stop at 1:30, but Brent wasn’t there. I ended up reading this random atlas of the Middle East until 3 when he finally showed. We were given back stage passes to the fashion show and I had a great time watching the show with Brent and his friend Mike. (These are there English names . . . I am actually not sure what their Korean names are). The first show was great, with good outfits, good music, and a good atmosphere. The second one, however, was awful. Throughout the entire show slow Christian music was playing and all the models had their midriffs exposed. Not cool. After the shows, we went to City Hall to meet up with a lot of the other English teachers at Oktoberfest, which had all you can drink beer for 15,000 won, which is only about twelve dollars. Brent and Mike gave me some great tips on the Korean language, and I can have a VERY small conversation with Koreans about where I live and what I like. VERY small, mind you. After this huge Oktoberfest party, Brent, Mike and I headed to Itaewon and went to SoHo bar for a couple of drinks. There was a group of Deaf people at the bar, and I ended up talking to one of them, Byeong Hun. He was very nice, and we decided to meet up later. This means that I have added another thing to my plate: learning ASL. Although Koreans sign KSL, obviously, we figured it would be easier for me to study ASL, and most Deaf Koreans know a bit of KSL.
On Sunday I met up for Andie for a nice dinner of Korean BBQ. I don’t know why Korean food is not more popular in the United States, because it is SO fun to eat. Afterward, I walked around Olympic Park for about an hour, and was going to walk home but it ended up being a VERY long walk and I had to take a bus. I’ve been buying Korean shoes and they are too small. When I got home, I studied some more ASL, finished my lesson plans for the week, and went to bed.
Monday the 19th through Thursday the 22nd I taught my first graders a lesson about ethics and my second graders a lesson about the person they admire. I have to give a speaking test next week, and this was the introduction to the speaking test. 700 students is way too many kids to test, so the test will start out with a reading and writing portion. I have been reading all of these letters and essays this week which has been killer, but it will make the speaking portion a lot smoother. Monday through Wednesday was typical, with badminton and Korean lessons. Thursday night, however, I went with Andie, Sam, Sonali, and Brent to Seoul Fashion Week. We went to a show that was featuring Hanbuks, which is the typical Korean clothing. We thought it was going to be a really stupid show, but it ended up being pretty interesting. They weren’t the huge puffy Hanbuks that make all women look pregnant, but, dare I say, sexy Hanbuks.
Friday the 23rd was amazing. It was the Suh-Moon festival, so I didn’t have to teach. Instead, I walked around the school and ate all this great food and played fun activities. I was supposed to judge a chicken fight (where people hop around on one foot and push each other apparently), but since I didn’t know what the heck to do I instead just played all the games instead. I did a cake walk, a shoe kicking contest, arm-wrestling, a screaming contest, limbo, and threw some darts. I also ate an awesome kimchi pancake and some kids tricked me into eating a tablespoon of wasabi, which was not cool. Around eleven, I judged the English pop-song festival. Not only are these kids amazing at all school subjects, they are also fantastic at singing pop-songs in English with great voices. Although I disagreed with the judges on the placing of the winners, all of the students did a really good job. After the contest, I watched some students make silly putty with chemicals and dissect a frog. Finally, the English room was decorated for Halloween, and I got my face painted and listened to Halloween music (aka “This is Halloween” on repeat). I definitely acted more like a kid then a teacher on Friday, but I am young, so whatever.
When school was let out, I jumped in a car with some of the other teachers at Suh-Moon middle and high school and headed to Dae-bu-do, an island on the west coast. I do not know why I agreed to go to badminton training with a bunch of teachers whose names I don’t know and who do not speak English, but I had a blast. The island was beautiful, and we had rented a pension for the night. There was a piano at the house, and immediately one of the teachers started playing and I joined in and we played a duet by Czerny. Afterward, one of the teachers rented bikes and I tried to help one of the teachers re-learn how to ride a bike but failed miserably. Next, we went to a seafood restaurant and ordered a lot of sushi. I had things I have never seen before, such as clams the size of footballs. The best part? Freshly cut octopus that was still moving. One tentacle struggled so hard and was sticking to the plate that I couldn’t get at it with my chopsticks. The other teachers cheered me on and I finally got it in my mouth only for it to suction on to my tongue. With one bite and swallow, however, I was declared the winner. Do you know how Koreans award the winners? They get you wasted. Before I knew it, I had drunk way too much soju and way too much makeli. I thought this was badminton practice. Being a lot taller than all these Koreans, however, I was probably one of the more sober teachers, but I was nowhere near sober. They were drinking hard alcohol out of bowls. Since none of them spoke English, the only thing we could communicate was ‘drinking contest’ and I think I fell asleep around ten pm. I woke up in the only bed in the house, which made me feel awful. Everyone else was sleeping on a yo, sleeping pad, but when I apologized, they all said, “Oh, you need a bed. You have such long legs!” That made me feel better. For breakfast #1, they fed me a spicy, peppery clam soup, which was delicious. We finally played some badminton in the morning, but I was still a little drunk so I went for a walk to clear my head. When I got back, it was time to head back to Seoul. Well, I thought that was the plan. Instead, we went to a breakfast place and got haejang. When I looked up this word in my dictionary it said “the food one eats the morning after drinking to relieve a hangover”. I could not stop laughing. I would argue that this says a lot about Korean culture, that they have a single word to describe the food that one eats to relieve their hangovers. I did not have any haejang, because I did not think sheep blood soup was the best way to cure my hangover. While eating this soup, they had Abba blasting from their cars into the restaurant and I could not stop laughing. Haejang, Abba, and badminton training, with me the only foreigner in sight? Hilarious.
After breakfast #2, we headed to a seafood place to buy clams to take home to Seoul. We jumped back into the car and went to a grape place to buy grapes. Finally, they brought me to a temple and I took some pictures. By this time, I was very much drained, but they luckily brought me back to Seoul. However, it was already noon, and I had plans to meet up with Byeong Hun and his friends at two. I took a quick shower, and met up with Byeong Hun and his friend Seth at Insadong, which is a street famous for its art and shopping. Seth was also Deaf, so throughout the day I learned many new words in ASL. This was good, but confusing. Especially when we met up with a group of four Deaf people from Hong Kong, and everyone switched to ISL (International Sign Language). Somehow, however, it is a lot easier to speak in sign than it is to speak in Korean so we managed to communicate. After a lot of shopping and a huge walk, we ended up at Namsan tower, which overlooks Seoul. We took a funicular up the mountain, and then an elevator up the tower. The view was magnificent, but, being me, I had my camera but the battery was dead. Ugh.
After the fantastic time at the tower, we headed back to Myeong-Dong, another shopping district, and spent an hour looking for a restaurant. Normally I don’t care about wondering around for hours, but I was starting to get REALLY hungry. We finally met up with some of Byeong Hun’s friends and went to a chicken and beer restaurant. I was the only speaking person, but I ended up signing with this lovely girl by the name of Eunhoe Choi. She was fantastic at ASL, and taught me a lot of signs. I feel like I can decently communicate with my new Korean Deaf friends, but I have a long way to go.
Sunday morning, I went to Kyobo books to buy a book on KSL. I figured if I am learning the language I could learn the signs as well. This is SO much more difficult than ASL, however, because I don’t really understand Korean grammar at all. The explanations of KSL grammar, furthermore, are in Korean. Hopefully I can figure it out, but until I do, I will have to use ASL to communicate with my new friends. For lunch, I went to a Vietnamese restaurant with Byeong Hun and he showed me pictures of his travels to Taiwan and Hong Kong. I have two more places to add to my growing lists of desired vacations. Ugh. Sunday evening I worked on my lesson plans and watched some episodes of a Korean soap opera.
Did I mention that I am obsessed? There is this show called Boys Over Flowers and it is amazing. It was originally a Japanese comic, then a live action drama in Japan, then a live action drama in Taiwan, and now a soap opera in Korea. It is really fantastic. Of course, like any soap opera, it is over-dramatic, but it is helping my Korean language studies.
The lessons this week have been preparations for the speaking test next week as well as drawing Halloween costumes and haunted houses. I should take some pictures of my classroom before we take down the decorations, because there are a lot of good artists at my school. And creepy artists. A lot of blood and weapons . . .
Tuesday evening I met up with Eunhoe Choi at Tea Purple and we signed over coffee. When I’m with her for just even an hour I feel like my ASL skills go through the roof. She is such a great teacher. I invited her to my Halloween party tomorrow and I really hope she comes. I am also trying to get Sonali and Andie to learn ASL, because I want them to meet my new friends. I showed Eunhoe pictures of my family, and she said that when she visits the US she is going to visit me. Awesome.
Wednesday evening, after a REALLY intense badminton practice, I had an excruciatingly painful Korean lesson. So Young is a great teacher, but that also means that I am learning a lot. This hurts my brain, but I know it is the right methodology and I know that it will make me learn Korean faster and with a higher level of proficiency. But her lessons are killer. It also doesn’t help that I have a slight cold, or that I am a little paranoid about the swine flu. One of my classes was sent home because five of the students had H1N1. I really hope they didn’t pass it on to me. They are actually considering closing all of the schools, but I hope they don’t, because that would cut into our winter vacation time.
Last night, I had my free lesson at the Yeoksam global center. I like the teacher, but the students don’t take the class very seriously and it is a little annoying. And we are moving at such a slow pace. I NEED to do more self-study, but I am pretty busy with after school lessons, classes, and badminton, so I don’t really have the time. I also have been reading a lot of stuff about Korea, second language teaching pedagogy, and Korean politics. Combined with the ASL practice, I am happy that I had enough time to write this journal.
Speaking of said journal, I have been rambling. I am sorry. Way too long, but one last thing. I got a stuffed animal as a present from one of my co-teachers for Halloween. It is adorable. I am also having a Halloween party tomorrow. It should be fun.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Happy Chuseok: Jimjilbangs, Palaces, and Incheon

I’m at a weird fork right now. I just got a note saying more funding is now available and they would like to offer me the Fulbright award. Fantastic. The problem is it was for the 2009-2010 academic year, which means if I would accept the award, I would have to leave now. I have asked to defer the award and I hope that this is a possibility. If not, I will have a hard decision to make. Especially because life here is SO good.
Tuesday, the 29th, I had my demonstration class. It was a lot of stress practicing for the class, because my co-teacher, who normally does not speak too much during my classes, had to speak in front of the class and use English just as much as me. So we rehearsed and rehearsed. The lesson was about idioms, which was not my cup of tea, and it was, I must admit, kind of dull. However, it went off really well in the classroom, the students were great, and our supervisors thought we did an awesome job. I was jokingly offered a job at another school. Sometimes I think they are biased just because I have blond hair.
After the lesson, my colleagues and superiors brought I Wol-Su, my co-teacher, out for dinner. It was a delicious meal, with huge slabs of fatty pork grilled in front of us and served with tons of side dishes. Wol-Su got a little tipsy because they wouldn’t stop giving us soju and she ended up crying because of all the built up stress from the demonstration class. I feel like this would have spoiled the fun in the US, but we just ended up all going to the noraebang (karaoke) and sang for a couple of hours. I got a 100 on a Korean pop song somehow and had to slap 10,000 won on the screen. A couple of the Koreans also got a perfect score, and at the end there was 50,000 won on the TV. They decided to use it to buy yogurt for everyone on Thursday. This is a weird country.
After school and badminton practice on Wednesday, I met up with my Korean friend, who prefers to be called Jerry, and we got coffee and then he helped me pick out a desktop. It is now hooked up to my TV, which makes my room sweet. Did I mention that for some reason I have a flat screen TV? It took a while to figure out the sound, but now I have speakers and can watch The Office to my hearts’ desire.
Since my lesson was about holidays, I was really excited on Thursday for the start of Chuseok. Since traffic is incredibly horrible during Chuseok in Korea, I decided to stay in Seoul. That did not damper my vacation however. I decided that I was going to leave on Thursday and not return to my house in Kangnam until Sunday. I was halfway joking, but somehow it did turn out this way. On Thursday night, Nick, Ais, Katy, Jerry and I met up. We went to a Moroccan restaurant, delicious, and then, like good Moroccans, smoked water pipe. Afterward, we went to Itaewon and danced for a while. Around two, we were starting to get really tired. We didn’t want to go home, however, so Nick, Katy, Jerry and I went to a sauna, or jimjilbang, and had the time of our lives. It was amazing. This jimjilbang was five stories. The first story had pools, and after checking in your clothes, you would bathe naked in these pools of various temperatures. Afterward, you shower, head upstairs and face tons of choices. On the second floor, there were places to sleep and a play place for children. Third floor there were more beds, and massage chairs. Also, these hot sauna rooms and an ice room. It was like an igloo! The fourth floor had a gym and finally the fifth floor had these cubicle type sleeping boxes. They had a yo (sleeping mat) inside of each cubicle, and although you didn’t get a pillow, it was still decently comfortable. Did I mention that this experience only cost six bucks, and you can sleep over? Any traveling I do within the country will involve sleeping at these amazing saunas.
Friday morning we woke up relatively early and headed off for an American style breakfast. I ordered the “Lumberjack Special”, and for the first time in around ten years I actually heartily enjoyed my bacon. Korea is changing me. Afterward, we had our first truly historical experience with our visit of Gyeonbokgung Palace. Since Jerry was there, he gave us a fantastic tour. The weather was amazing, and some of the buildings in the complex combined with the weather created a picture so idealistic that it gave me shivers. Like any palace, there were different buildings for different functions. The family hierarchy was fascinating, with a strong emphasis on the mother of the king as well as his first son. Throughout the complex there would be wide ramps that were needed for the women in the court. Since they wore apparently gigantic dresses, they needed these ramps so they could move around otherwise they would fall on stairs (since they couldn’t see them!). There was also a room that was specifically for the King and Queen to make love, as well as a room for the King’s other wives. Koreans do NOT talk about sex explicitly, so these rooms had an implication of sex that Jerry would note by making finger quotes. It was hilarious. Afterward, we caught a glimpse of the Blue House, which is where the Korean president lives.
Jerry also taught us about the zodiac. Apparently, Koreans used to tell time using the Chinese Zodiac. I think my sign, the rabbit, is used for the time between six and eight am. Apparently, if it is six in the morning you can say, oh it is rabbit time. After pictures with out zodiac symbols and a quick museum trip, we headed out of the complex and headed home. All of a sudden, we were in City Hall and there was a huge fountain. Nick and I couldn’t help but jump in. All the Koreans were laughing at the two of us, probably thinking that these foreigners, wae-guks, were crazy. Although I wouldn’t say I regretted my decision, we had to walk around for a couple of hours afterward to dry off. By then, it was getting late, so I went back to Ais’ house and we ended up spending the evening watching episodes of Law & Order and ordered a pizza. It was Domino’s.
Saturday we woke up late and decided to go to Incheon, which is the fourth largest city in Korea and the location of the main airport. It was just the two of us, which made it really exciting. Incheon has the only Chinatown in Korea, so we started out looking at all the goods and then wondered to Wolmi island or Wolmido.
We were just wandering around and happened on this carnival. It was so weird. It was like we stumbled onto Korean Coney Island. We grabbed some fried shrimp, bought a corndog, and I threw some darts and won two stuffed penguins, one for Ais and one for me. We also went on to one of those carnival rides that are kind of like an elevator except your feet dangle and they shoot you up really fast and shoot you down. It was probably one of the scariest things ever. Not necessarily the ride itself, but the fact that they didn’t check to see if we were buckled in. Not cool. Luckily, Ais and I had pulled the bars over our heads and we screamed our faces off. The ride didn’t just go once, however, but went through the entire sequence four times. Afterward, we headed back to mainland Incheon and saw another Korean drum festival. A guy gave us some traditional songpyeon, Korean rice cake, and a potato pancake and then made us pound at the rice cake’s dough. We also walked around this re-creation of a traditional Korean village. There were houses, farms, and streams and it looked like Hobbiton. There was also this game where you would jump on a seesaw with a partner and try to bounce as high as possible using your partner’s weight. The first time Ais and I tried I was so confused and could not figure out the timing. We spent about ten minutes watching the Koreans, and then they pushed us back on the ‘seesaw’. This time our timing was perfect, and we were getting WAY more air than the Koreans. Within seconds, a crowd surrounded us.
By this point, we were ready to see the actual city. We got into the city, bought a cup of coffee, and chatted about theater. Inspiration hit us out of nowhere and we decided to do Rocky Horror Picture Show in Seoul. Thrilled, we jumped back on the train to Seoul, downloaded the movie on iTunes, and watched it while taking notes. The script has been hammered out and we are currently casting, so if you are interested, let me know!
Sunday was a slow day. After the fullness of Friday and Saturday, it was a relief. I came home in the afternoon and watched Mean Girls with the others in my apartment. On Monday, which we also had off for Chuseok, Rachel and I went grocery shopping and, since she was a costuming major in college, we continued to discuss Rocky Horror. I’m pretty sure we can actually pull this off. It is going to be incredible. I made some chili that evening and afterward Jerry came over. He did some more work on my computer and now it is pretty much set. Sonali, Mark, Rachel and I spent the evening working on Korean words, and then it was back to the workweek on Monday.
So far, I have had a slow week. Tuesday and Wednesday were my only days to teach, and my lesson was a little sub-par. Tuesday night I went to Seorae Mal, the French area, and got a delicious seafood dish and a nice glass of wine at an Italian restaurant. Last night, Nick convinced me to go to a casino and I agreed, but only brought 30 bucks. Somehow I won 70 on roulette. It was my first time, so it was definitely beginner’s luck which means I shouldn’t go back.
The student’s have mid-terms this week which means I do not have to teach today or tomorrow. It also means I get to leave school around noon. I might go to Pusan this weekend if I can find a cheap bus. And, unlike last weekend, I will make sure I bring my camera.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Minimal Pairs Caused Much Confusion Over the Weekend

The week of the 14th through the 18th was quite typical and what has become my norm. I was skimping a lot in terms of money because I was so low. This included walking a lot of places instead of taking the subway, but I shouldn’t make it sound like a chore, because just walking around here is FASCINATING. I had my first Korean lesson with my co-worker So Young on the 17th, and I think she is going to push me toward learning Korean FAST. I’m teaching her Spanish in exchange, and while I gave her one verb to conjugate for the next class, she gave me 49 words and a dialogue to memorize. Although this was tough, it will be good to have someone push me.
Friday night was a blast. Nick came to stay at my place for the night and we went out with Paul for Mark’s birthday. He was celebrating right in Kangnam, so it was nice to stay in my neighborhood for a night. We went to a rooftop bar and I actually met some other Minnesotans, which was excellent. The next morning I planned to get a cell phone, but instead ended up in Rachel’s room upstairs making French toast and then watching Fargo. Random, but excellent. But it made me miss Minnesota.
Katie and Jen came in from Suwon for the weekend and were crashing at my place on Saturday. We went out for Mexican (but I just had noodles for dinner due to financial concerns haha) and then went to Woodstock Bar for some beer and darts. My life has become darts, badminton, soccer and soon hopefully rugby. I need to get my health insurance card . . . Afterward, we went to Itaewon, the foreigner district, and danced our little hearts out. I wanted to play pool, but The Loft was full of pool sharks, and I’m not that good. Maybe next time.
I woke up early enough the next morning to see the sunrise, which wasn’t that great due to all the high rises and air pollution. I need to get out to a mountain to actually enjoy nature I think. Sunday was, typically, very lazy. Back in the states I would always work on Sundays, but now I don’t really have anything to do. I should pick up a hobby for Sundays, maybe another Korean class. SO MUCH FREE TIME!
Monday was a new week of lessons. One of them was really fun. It started with “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” and then switched to having the students brag about themselves using comparatives (such as ‘I’m prettier than you’). The students really had fun, even though they were kind of mean to each other every once in a while. Monday night I was going to hang out with Sam, but my teachers really wanted me to go to their soccer game. Teacher life here is completely different than the states. They do everything together. There are sports clubs, dinner nights, bar nights. Crazy. I went to the soccer game and they gave me a jersey but I was wearing sneakers. And it was raining. And I haven’t played soccer in four years. It was pretty bad. But I had fun, and am going to go out and by cleats soon so I can actually play.
Tuesday I had what may be my last gathering at my place on a Tuesday night. Next week I start Korean lessons. But this Tuesday, I had people over for breakfast for dinner. It was fun, but people had to leave early to go to Evan’s Open Mic night. Sonali, Rachel, Mark and I (the people in my building) ended up watching Inglourious Basterds which was fantastic, even though it was so gory. Or maybe that is why it was good.
After work on Wednesday the Korean English teachers brought me out for dinner. The principal and vice principal showed up as well, and we actually had a lot of fun with me calling the VP ‘nuna’ which means older sister. Every time someone finished their drink I was expected to run over and fill their glass, since I was the youngest. However, it also meant that I didn’t have to pay, because the oldest person covered the meal. Afterward, we went to noraebang, which is Korean karaoke, and sang for a good two hours before heading home. It was so fun to go out with people in their fifties to karaoke. This country is crazy.
Thursday was pay day. Finally. My whole life has changed. I now literally have too much money. Luckily, I have student loans to pay, otherwise I would live a little too of a decadent lifestyle. The first thing I did was send some money home to pay off part of my credit card bill, bought a new cell phone, and then went out for coffee and cheesecake with So Young for my Korean lesson. My cell phone is awesome. I can watch TV on it, even in the subway. Of course, it is Korean TV, but that makes it even more exciting. I got home late because of all these activities, but Sam came to my place and we went out with Rachel and Sonali for Korean barbecue. Mashisoyo (it is delicious). Afterward, Andie and Mark met up with us and we went out for a celebratory martini at the sky bar up my street. However, it was a gin martini, and I was disappointed. I couldn’t stop playing with my phone. And guess what! I got a pet. Well, he is on my phone, but he is a little cute puppy.
Friday was very exciting because, well, it is Friday. I have a demonstration class I am giving on Tuesday to other Korean English teachers with Wol Su, one of my co-teachers. She has been really nervous about it and we had a practice class on Friday. It went really well, but Wol Su is still really stressed out. The lesson plan was due last Friday, and she still hadn’t handed in a final draft. At the last moment, they had me proof read the document, and there were a lot of mistakes. I feel bad because I kind of stressed out the VP at the last minute. Everything was figured out, however, and so I went to badminton after school. Still working on my form, but I am definitely getting better. I’m going to come back to the States and be a superstar at a sport nobody really plays seriously back home. C’est la vie.
Afterward, it was time for a birthday party for Katy. She was turning 25 (in Korean years) and so we went out to a Mexican place for dinner. The theme of the party was K-Pop so I got all dressed up in bright colors and looked very Korean.

However, I took the subway the wrong way! The party was at Sinchon, which is near Hongik University. But I accidently went to Sincheon, which is near my house. This minimal pair (two words that only have one difference in sound value, like ‘seen’ and ‘sign’) cost me an hour. But it was pretty funny, so I laughed it off. But still, Sinchon and Sincheon on the same line? 신전 and 신존? Someone needs to talk to the urban planner. I did eventually make it to “On the Border” and had some delicious Mexican food. I invited two of my co-workers and one of their friends, and they seemed to have a great time as well. However, unlike us fat Americans they are smart, and bought one fajita dish to split between the three of them. I gorged and felt stuffed and sick afterwards. We danced it off though later, and went to one of the best clubs I have ever been to in my life. Katy and I ended up dancing until about three in the morning.
Saturday was slow to start, but really fun in the afternoon. I was supposed to go to Sinchon again to attend a gathering thrown by my recruiter, Korvia, but, being me, I thought it said Sincheon. Once again, I went to the wrong subway station. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. I was so upset with myself that I decided to skip the gathering and instead walk to Seoul forest from Jamsil. Since it was a two hour walk, it definitely simmered me down. At Seoul forest, there was a Korean folk drum dancing competition thing. If you have the time, look it up on youtube. It was amazing, and the last song they invited people to come up and dance with them. Some random woman grabbed my arm, and before I knew it I was on the big screen dancing away. I hope that I am on some random Korean cable channel. Afterward, I went back to Hongik University to meet up with Aislinn where we went back to the club of the night before and danced some more. There are some only girl bars in Hongdae, and Ais tried to get me in, but it didn’t work. I even tried to be Ellen Degeneres. Haha. We eventually just headed back to her place and crashed.
Sunday was the best day of the week. After an awesome Vietnamese meal at a restaurant near my house and the best iced mocha I have ever had, I met up with Ais at the World Cup Stadium and watched a great soccer game. We were rooting for FC Seoul, and they won, so that was awesome. The stadium was GIGANTIC, and watching the fans was almost as fun as watching the game. The players were the best I have ever seen in a live setting, and I don’t know why my ten years of soccer playing didn’t give me skills anywhere near those of these players. Some people just have the stuff. After the game, Ais and I went to her place to just relax and watch some movies. She also explained rugby to me, because I want to join the team here. It is really confusing, but looks like so much fun. I got home late that night, but turned the TV on and there was a program about Antarctica. I had to watch it, even though I had to wake up early the next morning. I have another place I want to visit before I die; it looks so cool (I guess that you can take cool either way in this sentence).
Now I’m at work. There was this weird announcement thing for the first part of the day, and now I’m not sure when I have my classes. Soon, however, I will be teaching my students about Halloween and Christmas, and hopefully I will learn about some Korean holidays myself.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rent in Korea?!?

Classes throughout the week started out hard, but slowly became more manageable and more fun. My introduction lesson proved to be too short (I was used to half an hour lessons in Thailand for my teacher practice), and the first couple of lessons had a handful of impromptu activities, which definitely stressed me out. Throughout the week, however, I modified the lesson and by the end of the week they were, I think, fun and successful lessons. My favorite part was introducing my family, and striving to explain the terms that come along with mixed marriages. I had an entire powerpoint devoted to explaining divorce, re-marriage, and the resulting names for my siblings. It was really fun to watch their reactions as my little stick man moved around the screen to form new couplings. I also could not help but to grin when the students screamed to see pictures of Mom, Anna and Sarah and how pretty they were, but then laugh when I showed them pictures of David. Sorry Broseph, but you need better pictures of you on Facebook!
I had planned to spend Monday night reading and studying Korean, but other co-teachers in my building convinced me to go out for a beer at the Canadian brewery. Yeah . . . there is a Canadian brewery down the street from my house. It has excellent beers, but afterward, as it was a Monday, I went back to my place and read most of a Brave New World and then went to bed. The amount of free time I have is outstanding, and I am lucky to have an avid reader upstairs in my apartment complex. She lent me a Brave New World, then the Alchemist, and now I am working on the Satanic Verses. This last book is fantastic, as his writing is impeccable. So well written that it gives me the shivers.
After class on Tuesday, I rushed back home to get my apartment ready for company. I have started this thing called “Tuesdays with Mark” in Kangnam, my neighborhood, during which many of my English teacher friends come over for a pseudo potluck. The first week was stir-fry, second week was sandwiches, and this week is going to be breakfast for dinner. The sandwiches were so good. Maybe it was because someone found American mustard, or maybe it was just all the random ingredients people brought melded in a very random way. Either way, we will probably have to do sandwich night again. Afterward, a couple of us went out for a few games of darts. I really like darts, but mostly because it reminds me of my sister, Sarah.
Work on Wednesday was followed by a nice walk home to my place. I’ve been trying to walk everyday home, and currently look for the fastest way to do so. I think I found it on Wednesday, when I walked up a hill, scaled a little hill in the forest, and ended up somewhat close to my apartment. What a great way to get home, minus all the sweating. The park is big enough that you can get away from the city, but small enough that you do not get lost or overwhelmed. Perfect. The evening was spent in a very relaxing manner: watching Se7en with Rachel in my building. Alright, it wasn’t completely relaxing, but it was nice to lay around for a change. I was a little freaked out afterward and doubly locked all my windows.
I had my first stay late to catch up day after school on Thursday. I definitely have enough time between classes to get all my work done for next week, but I also spend too much time on the internet or reading, and not doing my work. The result? Working furiously on powerpoints until 5:30 and then realizing I need to get to the Sports Complex to see a baseball game. Somehow I have become a lot more interested in sports since I’ve been here. I’m not entirely sure why, but it has definitely happened. The game on Thursday was the first baseball game I can remember staying for the entire duration, and the entire time I was having so much fun. It wasn’t the game, which was actually played between two Korean teams and not that good, but the fans were outrageously fun.

Joining their enthusiasm for the game made the entire night memorable, and the walk home (going from east to west this time, not the other way around) showed me some interesting parts of the city that I will revisit once my first paycheck appears.
On Friday, I was incredibly psyched that it was the weekend. First, however, I had badminton practice. Somehow, I joined the badminton club at my school. When we play badminton in Minnesota, it is a slow, calm, relaxing sport. Not here. I’m sweating like crazy, worried that I will be smelly. I don’t know if I mentioned this, but Koreans do not produce the bacteria that causes people to smell. They do not sell deodorant here because they do not need it. I do need it. Anyways, I’m sweating like crazy, trying my hardest to get the birdie over the net, and learning a lot more about badminton than I had ever known in my life. It is becoming my favorite sport, is a great workout, and hopefully I can pick up some Korean while playing. Unfortunately, they say ‘inuh’ and ‘outuh’ as well as ‘matchuh’, so most of the words are Konglish. Nevertheless, it is a good activity to meet people. Afterward, I headed home, showered, and went over to Aislinn and Emily’s place to watch some TV, chill, and have a calm Friday night. The three of us are, I think, becoming pretty close and I slept over. Good thing too, because a storm picked up early on in the night, and I would have probably been caught in it if I had not already had a place to sleep.
Unfortunately, we woke up the next morning and realized that the girls had been robbed earlier on Friday. Apparently, someone came in through the sliding door between 4:30 and 6:30 and found all the money that was hidden in random spots throughout the house. As theft is relatively unheard of in Korea, our supposition is that the thieves were foreigners, and the girls called the police. The CSI team came, and actually dusted the house for fingerprints. If they found any, they will probably be mine, so I’ll let you know if I get arrested. Hopefully the girls will vouch for me if that is the case. Since this is Korea, I served the policemen coffee and tea, which, although the situation was crappy, did lighten the mood. The three of us were supposed to go to a rugby game in the morning, but because of this major inconvenience we were really late. Instead, we made it to a soccer game at Olympic Stadium. This stadium, built in the late 80s, is magnificent, and there were huge numbers of fans rooting for Jansei and Korea University. We gravitated toward Korea University, but could not watch the game because of two huge sections of cheerleaders who were singing K-pop (Korean pop) and shooting off smoke, fire, and even fireworks. The amount of noise was overwhelming, but we eventually headed to the other side of the behemoth of a stadium for some peace and the ability to actually hear and see the game. A nice Korean man threw us some beers and fried shrimp (tail-gating to the extreme) and we watched the game until the end.
Ais and I!

After an hour walk home, and some delicious food along the way, we came back to my apartment and ate a quick dinner.
One of my co-workers from Applebee’s, Anna, has a friend studying here. She met up with me at my station with two of her friends to go to the musical Rent. After their dinner, we dressed up, grabbed a taxi, and headed to the theater. The show was fantastic, with Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascall reprising their roles as Mark and Roger respectively. Although some of the songs were unimpressive, for the most part it was a great show. The last time I saw Rent was with my mother in Minneapolis, and I would argue that the performance was comparable. I do not know how they could put on this show in the conservative country of Korea, but somehow it worked. The actors’ manager that we met later told us that most Koreans did not understand that there were gay and lesbian couples, because it is quite normal in Korean culture for men to hold hands with men in a very not sexual way. After the show we tried to get to the stage door, but we were not allowed. I asked two young Koreans if I could get by anyways, and they giggled, pointed to my hair, and let us sneak by. As I turned, I kissed her hand to another round of giggles. O, to be blonde in this country! Unfortunately, the cast had already left, but we did later see some of the cast members out and about in Itaewon, where we danced the night away.
Sunday was a lazy day. I love lazy days. I just read, watched tv, ate a lot of scrambled eggs, and got ready for school the next day. The girls headed back to their hometown (north of the city) and I went to bed really early. My lessons for this week focus on dance and theater, and include a six line skit for the students. It is a lot of fun, especially the karaoke at the beginning. Of course, some classes are less enthusiastic than others, but I think I’m going to like this week a lot better than last week! Plus, more badminton practice, every day after school. I’ll let you know if I get any better.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hiking in Seoul

The weekend was, to say the least, fabulous. Friday night, a group of us headed to Nowon, a province in the north, to have a slumber party and then go hiking the next morning. It was a shame to leave my district on a Friday evening, as evidenced by the fact that while entering the train station, tons of college-aged students were flooding into Kangnam and I was one of the few leaving. It was nice, however, to see Allan, my roommate from orientation, and his nice 14th floor apartment overlooking the mountains. That night we went to a noraebang and had a great time singing the night away. Noraebangs are like karaoke rooms, where you can rent a room for yourself and your friends and sing various hits.
The next morning, we set off to Alice’s place and headed up a mountain with Andie, Ace, Emily, and Emilie. It was quite a hike, and the views were breathtaking. The Koreans here were also a lot more friendly and continually said ‘annyeong ha-se-yo’ as they passed. The way seemed a little dangerous (it was pretty steep and sandy at times) but we all made it safely. When we finally came down the mountain I bought one of the best ice creams ever, with yogurt flavored ice cream covering a crunchy white chocolate layer and then cookies and cream inside. All for five hundred won (about forty cents). Andie, Emilie and I then took the train back to our respective homes and rested up. I’ve been watching some interesting tv shows here. Most of them are in Korean, but every once in a while you get a feature film. So far it has been Jaws, Pride and Prejudice and Annie. A dinner of chili, which does NOT taste the same without cumin, was followed by heading over to Ace and Emily’s place before going to the discotheque. We went to Itaewon again, which is the foreigner district, and I think I met Steve Bacic, a Canadian actor, but I’m not quite sure.
Sunday morning I had a wonderful time sleeping in. Since my school starts at 8 am, I have been waking up around 6:30. I feel too much like a professional. Yesterday gave me the chance to catch up on much needed sleep. For lunch, I cooked up a pasta dish with seafood and I actually got it to taste like what I wanted, which made me very happy. I spent the evening wondering over to the Express Bus Terminal with the goal of finding Seorae Mael, which is also known as little France. However, I ended up getting lost, because the guide book did not have that clear of directions. This was fine, however, as I found the National Library, a brilliant foot-bridge under construction, and a wonderful park at the top of a hill. I love parks here; they tend to have exercise equipment and it is fun to watch old Koreans on a metal version of the gazelle. Awesome.
I did eventually find Seorae Mael. The French school is in this area, as well as many wealthy ex-pats and various Italian restaurants. It is also the place to go to find good wine. As soon as I get paid, I’m going to go back and get a nice, expensive meal and a good glass of wine. Since I’m currently poor, however, I ended up just buying an Americano and wondering up Montmarte Street. I was so excited when I found this hill, I couldn’t stop beaming. It was as if I was in a baby Paris. Wandering back home, I couldn’t get this feeling of awe at being in this city out of my body. Unfortunately, it was immediately dissipated when I decided to watch Se7ven before going to bed, but hopefully I can regain what I lost on my next adventure into a new area.
The Chinese teacher just interrupted my thoughts to let me know that the woman on the other side of my desk is pretty and single. I’m so embarrassed.

Friday, September 4, 2009

It's the Weekend on this Hemisphere!

Today is the last day of the first week of school, and I haven’t done anything. Sure I planned a couple of lessons for next week, but I am tremendously bored at work. I am not allowed to teach till Monday because they fear all of us Native English Teachers have H1N1. The worst part is the school went on vacation on Wednesday, so there have only been two people in my office. One of them is the math teacher who has her PhD in Statistics. She is brilliant, she gave her dissertation in English in Finland, but her English language skills have fallen in the past years. I’ve also been chatting with So Yong, one of the English teachers from Korea, but she is in her own office. The result is a good 20 hours spent on Facebook and the rest starting my self study of Korean. This has gone on decently, I can now read the numbers, which hasn’t been that helpful, but I need to expand on my own methodology for learning the language. There are free Korean lessons offered by various institutions here, and the one that looks the most intensive doesn’t start until October. I am going to study hard so I can hopefully skip the first four weeks of learning the hangul alphabet, and then I can hopefully take all the courses that are offered. They have three hour lessons three times a week . . . that is a lot of language learning. What a wonderful place to be!
The students in my school love me. Well, it isn’t as deep as that. This is very superficial love, as they have never had a boy Native English teacher before. They run around and scream, and then they will come into the office and ask if I have a girlfriend. When I tell them I’m single, they scream, run off and shout ‘you are handsome’. Quite the ego boost, but I hope they stop screaming once I have the opportunity to give them lessons. I will be teaching all the first and second graders, a total of 700 students, so unfortunately I get to see each class only once a week. I’m still trying to see if I can get some after school work, because I have to stay in the office till four anyways. As for now, however, I just have my 8 – 4 job.
This leaves a lot of room for leisure. I had a little stir-fry party at my place on Tuesday and a good number of people showed up. All of us English teachers have bonded fairly well, and we all brought vegetables, fried them up and enjoyed. I screwed up the noodles, but I think my friends forgave me. My place can hold about 20 people if they sit on the floor, which is excellent for dinner parties. With my first paycheck I want to buy some flatware and stemware so I can host better events. Of course, first I have to buy a phone, maybe a computer, and pay off some of my credit card debt. Hopefully my paycheck can last the month!
The one thing I have to quit is coffee. I love an iced Americano in the morning, but unfortunately they are around 3,500 won, which is only three bucks, but that is the same price for a meal. The problem is you can’t really buy good coffee at convenience stores or at the grocery store. I’ve ended up drinking those pre-mixed packets that include cream and sugar. Not my cup of tea (well, coffee).
Wednesday I went to the immigration office and applied for my Alien Registration Card. This will let me get a cell phone and a driver’s liscence. The process, however, took all day and I never made it to school. Some of these little things in Korea can be annoying, but, I guess, understandable. By the time I got home it was night, so I went grocery shopping and I found a bigger grocery store. At first I was afraid that I would not have any nice groceries in the neighborhood because nobody seemed to know where a big 슈퍼 (shu-p’o) could be. However, I finally found a place with a large sized produce section and a decent dried goods section. It feels great to fill up my cupboards! I’m going to try to eat in Monday thru Thursday, and only go out to eat on the weekend. So far, this has worked out. Then again, this is only the first week, so I cannot be sure this pattern will stick.
Thursday was another boring day in the office without work, but I decided to walk back to my home instead of using the metro. I went south first, which was right, but then went west instead of east. I ended up walking an hour in the wrong direction before I realized my mistake. Instead of walking two hours to get back home I jumped on the train and headed back. I will try to walk home again today. After a quick potato salad meal, and the shock of finding out ‘prepared mustard’ was practically 100% horseradish, I headed over to Itaewon, the foreign district, to meet my friends. Once again, I decided to walk because I want to get to know this city. It only took about an hour, which is nice, because Itaewon is going to be a common destination. We went to trivia last night and Laura (a Canadian) and I did really well because of our geekiness in terms of Marvel Comics, but then poorly because our inability to remember the Bond films’ names. After trivia, Sam and I decided to walk home to Gangnam, which was the third hour of walking. However, I think it is better to over-walk now and get used to it then just poop out early on in the game. The best part of the walk is crossing the bridge over the river Han. It is BEAUTIFUL! I need to take my camera out so I can share the wonderful sights of Seoul.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Settling in Seoul

You think that during my first day of class I would not have time to sit down and write this letter, but fortunately, I do. I am in the middle of a second round of quarantine. Although my contract has started and I do have to go to school, I am not allowed to teach any lessons until next week. This is to ensure that I do not infect my 700 students. That’s right, I have to teach 700 students! This is the first and second grade at my middle school, which is in the nice neighborhood of Seochu-gu. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Orientation was a mixture of fun and boredom. Since we were in quarantine, we were not allowed to leave campus. Of course, this also meant that we were forced to network, and before I knew it I had a solid group of both people from Thailand as well as new students. The rooms were nice, and the beds were comfortable. The classes were very useful at times and gave us resources toward becoming better teachers. We enjoyed watching some amazing tae-kwon-do fighters, drinking coffee every morning as an escape from the dorm, watching The Hangover in a lecture room, and looking out over the city we could not enter from the roof of our building. My favorite part was after the tae-kwon-do, when a group of us went to see the school’s production of The Sound of Music. It was put on by the English society, so we expected it to be just a showing of the musical. Instead we were treated to a live performance of the play in English, with the Korean actors laughing at themselves throughout. We only made it to the last ten minutes, but it was still a great experience. Afterward, they asked if there were any native speakers and when we responded in the positive they apologized profusely for their ‘poor’ English, even though they did a great job. They ended up giving us towels for coming… really random, but really awesome. I also enjoyed the one Korean lesson I went to. I really need to start working on this language. :-D
Of course, there were various negatives of the orientation as well. Some of the lectures were entirely dull, people asked some of the worst questions I’ve ever heard in my life (such as should I go to the doctor if I’m really sick, or still go to school), the food got a little boring after a while, and the organization was a little off. Nonetheless, in its entirety I would have to say that I learned valuable things and am excited to start teaching next week.
On Saturday morning, we packed up our bags, had a wonderfully catered farewell meal (with raw mussels, great seafood, wonderful Korean food… why couldn’t all of the meals been like this?), said our goodbyes, and headed to our respective districts. I somehow got the luck of the draw. When they announced I was in Seochu-gu Friday evening, I was a little awestruck. It was right near one of the major downtown areas and would be a wonderful place to live. Some of my friends were quite a distance, but with the metro, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. When my co-teacher picked me up on Saturday and brought me to my apartment, however, I was ecstatic. Somehow I landed in Gangnam-gu, on the south side of the river Han right in the most bustling younger crowd area. I would say it is comparable to having an apartment in Time Square. Sure, it isn’t too big, but who cares? I have the world right at my feet. Of course, this is a little dangerous in terms of economizing, but I think I’ll be able to figure it out. I was worried about coffee when I first arrived in Asia, but now I have 15 coffee places in a five minute radius. Yum.
My co-teacher brought me to the school Saturday afternoon and I was pleasantly surprised. I have my own desk, and get to use the English room for all my classes. This must be the nicest room in the school, with computers, a good sound system, English books everywhere, and a newly renovated interior. The only problem is I can’t teach a lesson until Monday the 7th. Until then, I am stuck at my desk writing lesson plans and surfing the internet. I get paid though, so I can’t really complain. Saturday night all the kids of SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) met in Itaewon, which is the foreigner district of Seoul. It was a fun way to celebrate getting out of quarantine and seeing more of the city.
I spent Sunday getting settled in my apartment and buying things for my room. There is a very peculiar trash system here, which makes a lot of sense but will take some time getting used to. I was able to buy food and cook dinner for the first time in a month, which was fantastic. Even though my spaghetti Bolognese tasted REALLY Korean. I think I will have to get used to that.

Monday, August 24, 2009

SMOE Orientation

Today we started our orientation for SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education). We started off with breakfast, which was typical Korean food. Like in Thailand, they tend not to eat very ‘breakfasty’ things for breakfast. We had gimchi (fermented cabbage), rice, some salady stuff but they were also kind enough to serve us some cereal. I think it was the first cereal I have had since I got here, and it was great. After breakfast we had no real obligations until lunch, so a group of us went to get some coffee, and it was also some of the best coffee I have had in Asia. I think these trends will continue throughout my stay, as South Korea is definitely a lot more developed than Thailand. This is quite startling when you put it in perspective of how destroyed Korea had been after the Korean War. After coffee and a long discussion with some new people, we had lunch, which was pretty much indistinguishable from breakfast. Finally, it was time to actually start the program.
The opening ceremony included a three-person group playing on kyotos (stringed instruments similar to harps). Although they played one song that sounded traditional, the other three songs were Pachelbel’s Cannon, Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Let it Be. All the songs reminded me of sitting at the piano in Minnesota, whether practicing the Cannon for Sarah’s friend’s wedding, playing Moon River with Anna singing along, or surrounding the piano at Christmas singing Let it Be. Of course, it was all played with a completely different ‘Asian’ sound. What I found most fascinating were the little twangs the musicians produced on the instrument that gave it an almost southern sound. The performance was followed with a video for the SMOE program, that really highlighted the strengths of public schools in Seoul. I’m a little skeptical, as it may have been a piece of propaganda. The schools looked too good to be true. I’ll let you know what mine actually looks like.
I also found out today that I am going to have middle school students. I’m excited, because little kids just don’t have enough experience to, in my opinion, make language learning fun. Middle schoolers should have the capacity to directly participate and enjoy my lessons. There were three lectures following the opening; one about the Korean school system in general (presented by a very funny woman with a self-deprecating style of humor), another about Korean history (presented by a dry yet humorous high-school history professor), and the third about the city of Seoul. All were useful to some degree. My favorite part, however, was how they would criticize policies or the government in between lines, saying things like ‘don’t say I said this, but…’. It is obvious that they want some further level of democratization and openness, even though this country appears decently democratic. We were taught the nitty-gritty things as well (such as insurance and health insurance) and it ended up a good day.
After dinner we decided to go to an optional class on culture and etiquette. It was incredibly boring, and most of us left half through. There were some interesting points, such as accepting things with both hands and making sure you don’t address other teachers with their first names, but he kept emphasizing certain mundane things that made the lecture far from exciting. The teacher was very nice, but he also kept insisting we do not know too much, or they will expect too much. Apparently, we should just appear somewhat conscious of Korean etiquette.
Still waiting on my placement and my address, which is a little frustrating. As soon as I know, though, I’ll let you know.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In Korea

Friday was another day of walking, starting out with a half bus ride to the Korean Embassy. Unfortunately, I got a little scared and thought the bus was going the wrong way and jumped off only to realize that I was, in fact, on the right bus. Mai pen rai. Instead, I walked the second half of the trip and enjoyed looking around at the city for my last day in Thailand. I was able to walk under the super highway, which gave me shade and a glimpse of the side streets. After picking up my visa, which I still cannot believe worked out, I went over to the department store Robinson for a quick lunch of rice with spicy sauce. I’m going to miss Thai food. The walk back was pleasant as well, and ended with a visit to the Dairy Queen in Tesco for the smallest and most delicious blizzard of my life. In total, I probably walked some 12 miles to pick up my visa, but it made the entire move to Korea possible.
Friday night I was keeping my life very quiet, just some reading, when I got a message on Facebook that Nick, Andy, and Chloe were on the same road as I to spend the night before their flights in the morning. Having spent a rather large amount of time by myself, I ran from my room to find them, grab dinner, and enjoy our last night in Thailand. The next morning I woke up, headed to the airport after lunch, and said goodbye to Andy, who was doing a different program in Korea.
Nothing interesting happened at the airport till check-in. I was nervous that my baggage was going to go over allowance. Although it was fine from the states across the Pacific, I was worried different requirements would exist from Thailand to South Korea. They did. Resigned to pay the two hundred dollars to get my extra baggage to SK, I took out my wallet to get my credit card. Unfortunately, the first thing I noticed that my debit card was missing. Immediately I was in panic. I tried to pay with my credit card, but it didn’t go through. I felt like I was going to throw up and asked if there was anything I could do. My luggage weighed 44 kilos, which was 24 kilos too much. Luckily, the guy was nice enough to let me bring 32 kilos, but I had to somehow get rid of 12 kilos. I dug through all my luggage in the airport, throwing things away (such as my GRE test book, which made me really sad, a couple of pairs of shoes, and other random books and things). If it could be any worse, everyone at the airport just stared at me. In my moment of embarrassment, I wasn’t even allowed any semblance of privacy. When I did finally get it down to 32 kilos, the guy actually let me put in 2 more kilos in the form of my sandals and tennis shoes, and let me go. In my haste, I dropped my CD player, and a young Thai woman picked it up as well as the batteries, handed it to me, and called me crazy. I have never felt so angry, upset, and stupid as a traveler in a foreign country.
Soon, however, I was on the plane and on my way to Beijing. Although it was the red eye, I didn’t get much sleep. In Beijing, they were carefully screening for H1N1, but I feel completely healthy and went right on through. On the second leg, I was sitting to a nice guy from Katerinabad (or something like that), Russia, who actually helped me through all the processes in getting my stuff figured out in Korea, since he has worked here for seven years! At the airport, I met up with Korvia (my recruiter) and after a two hour wait, they brought us to Soowon which is in the GyeongGi province that surrounds Seoul. For five days we will be at this center within the university here, where they will teach us as well as give us medical exams. Orientation starts tomorrow, but I already have had the fortune to meet up with my friends from the ATI program and meet some new individuals. This program, however, has 300 participants, so I do not know if any lasting friendships can stem out of the short week in Soowon. In short, I’m safe in Korea and waiting for my placement and my school.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The First Law of Robotics May Have Made My Computer Fix Itself

I am not sure how this happened.... but apparently my computer fixed itself. It was completely dead, as in it wouldn’t even start well in safe mode, but then I opened it today because my CD player stopped working and I was a little frustrated and bored. And it worked. We will see how long it lasts, but for now, I am really excited.
Today in general made me a lot happier about Bangkok. I just went on a random stroll, bought some nice pad thai, and saw the Monument to Democracy. I think in general monuments to democracy tend to be very gross in appearance, and this was no exception. I also found some wats (temples) in this city which adds to its intrigue. And then, I found Tesco! I saw one when I was flying into Chiang Mai, but never went to the one there. I used to go to Tesco all the time in Prague- it is this pseudo-department store with a grocery; it is akin to a Super Target. The ones here are called Tesco: Lotus, which also made me very excited. Furthermore, there is a Dairy Queen, and I might have to stop there tomorrow night.
The best part, however, was when I all of a sudden found this peaceful and quiet little area by the river that runs through the city.

I just sat there with my novel and read for about an hour, enjoying the respite from the turmoil of the city. Every once in a while passenger boats that acted like buses would come by, but for the most part I was alone. Afterward, I decided to head back to the hostel because all of this sweating makes you TIRED, but on my way home I decided to try a new way. Mom told me not to get lost on this trip, but I guess I didn’t listen. I got decently lost for a bit, especially because all the roads have these pictures of the queen, and it is easy to get turned around. Well, after walking in some circles, I saw a school get out that I thought was close to my road. These six Thai girls came up to me and asked if they could get my photo for a research project; I wasn’t sure if I believed their motive, but I let them snap a picture. Now I’m just back here in the hotel, about to go out for dinner, and happy with a computer again. Plus this hostel has wi-fi!

Ready for Seoul...

The bus drive to Bangkok was uneventful to say the least. The only interesting part was a movie they played, a french mockery of spy films called Double Zero, and the decor in the bus, which was very 80s with bright greens and blues. Landen once told me that the Thais were on a permanent acid trip in regards to their color scheme, and I would have to agree. My first room in Bangkok had a pastel-pink color that nobody in their right mind would choose for a hotel room. I arrived close to Khao Sarn Road (sp?) which is the hostel district in Bangkok. It was 5 am and people were still up... this was a little unnerving. I went to the room, slept for two hours and headed out to the Korean Embassy. It took about twenty minutes to get my taxi driver to figure out where the embassy was; he had to call a couple of other drivers and stop at a hotel. However, he was nice and I got to the embassy on time to drop off my stuff. Unfortunately, I forgot a passport size photo of me and had to go to a department store to get one made before I could finish the application. By the time I left the embassy it was 2:30 pm, even though I got there around 9 am. Lunch was the only truly bad meal I had in my entire Thai experience: rice with two curries. One of the curries was green and tasted like moldy squash and the other was red and the chicken had no meat, just gristle and bone. The rice was good though!
I decided to walk home from the embassy even though it must have been around 14 km. I thought that it couldn't be that bad, I had walked nine miles before. Of course, I hadn't figured in the heat, or the fact that I wasn't exactly sure where Khao Sarn road was. Nonetheless, it was a great way to see parts of the city, but solely parts because this city is gigantic. Two hours into the walk, I saw a huge crowd of people crowding around the Arts and Cultural Center. Apparently, the queen was making a visit! Because the Thais are obsessed with the queen, I thought it would be cool to stick around and wait for her to come. And wait, and wait. Although I got there around 4:30, she didn't make an appearance until 6:30. I was getting quite tired by this time, but fortunately a spider was nearby and I was able to watch it build an entire web. No joke, it was one of the coolest things I saw. At 5:30, a group of some 50 women marched out all in the same outfit and sat down in Thai style in the plaza.
Of course, I thought that soon the queen would come, but it wasn't until 6:20 that they started to dance. It was that creepy finger dance, but maybe I'm getting used to it. Ten minutes later, and there was the queen! Unfortunately, I was standing opposite the red carpet and couldn't see her face, but I think I captured a picture of the back of her head. The security was pretty insistent that we kept a good distance from the queen, and at her arrival it was the first time in Bangkok I saw completely empty streets. After she entered the building, the crowd completely scattered and I finished my walk home. By this time, Andie was worried I had been kidnapped, but luckily I am still alive. Her plane was at three in the morning, but we still chatted for a little bit, grabbed a bite to eat, griped about money issues, watched youtube videos, found me a hotel for the next two nights and then finally went to bed.
I've been pretty sore all day from my long walk, but started out the day in high hopes. I only have two more nights here in Thailand and then it is off to work! Bangkok is not the city I expected. While Chiang Mai is really cultural, beautiful, decently calm, and, yet, still has a lot to do, Bangkok is just too much. It is a gigantic city with a gigantic population. And there isn't any sort of 'downtown' area with a cluster of skyscrapers. Instead, the huge buildings are just dropped casually across the entire metropolis. The entire walk yesterday was just one part of the city, yet it all unfolded in the same way with clusters of store fronts and apartments broken up by the huge buildings. The metro system also is not aesthetic. In fact, it looks almost communist, being constructed of cement and suspended above the city. The city is a bit ugly. Nice aspects exist, of course, but it is just too much. The next two days are going to be more for me to relax than revel, which I don't think is a very Bangkokish thing to do.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thank goodness...

My notice of appointment arrived today. Which means I can go to Bangkok and get my visa. If it would have arrived any later, I would have had to do something drastic. It takes three days to get the visa, and arriving tomorrow, Wednesday, means my visa will be ready on Friday. I fly out on Sunday morning. Someone must have been praying for this all to work out within such a tiny time frame. As for my life currently? I guess I have been meeting some cool people at the hostel; Mariana from Spain who just went on a long trek and a nice Israeli named Mosheko which is short for Moses apparently. I love Israelis, but whenever I ask about whether or not they have gone to the occupied territories it is usually a no... which makes me wonder how they can have any solid political opinion of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Not like I should either of course, being not directly involved and never seeing that part of the world. One day maybe...Besides that I have been reading and mostly sitting around thinking about what I would have done if the NOA wouldn't have come. I amused myself making up scenarios of crying at the Embassy so they could expedite the process of getting a visa. Luckily, I won't have to cry at the Embassy... although I still might need to cry at baggage claim so they don't charge me tons for my luggage. But I really must go, my bus leaves in an hour for Bangkok. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Last Days in Chiang Mai

Saturday was a pretty calm day. We didn’t have to pack yet, but we didn’t have anything to do. I ended up reading for a large part of the day, and met Henry: a nice Colombian guy at the pool who worked for the Millennium Project, which is an awesome NGO. We had a nice talk about his job, he works in Iraq, and ended up exchanging information. I hate networking, but that would be an awesome NGO to work for. Afterward, I just chatted with the people in the program and we decided to go to dinner at the stalls near the hotel. Andie has a friend, Landen, who works in Chiang Mai and we ended up meeting her at a market Saturday evening. They had tons of clothing geared for college students here in Chiang Mai, as well as shoes, phones, face masks, anything you could imagine. It was fun to just browse, even though I wasn’t in the mood to buy anything. The only thing I was really close to buying was a shirt that had a bad English translation, but it ended up not fitting my truly un-Thaish frame. After the market, a group of us went to a little cocktail bar called ‘Street 4’ where every price ended in a four. It was a little gimmicky, and not that great of cocktails. I wanted to try a gin fizz because I always thought it would be interesting to try a cocktail with egg in it, but I don’t think they made it right… Andie, Sam and I ended up going home together after skipping out on a posh-looking lounge for University students and instead asked a tuk-tuk driver to bring us to the old city. Instead, he brought us to a prostitute bar (the same one from the night before!), and, after we insisted we weren’t interested, swerved through a random market trying to bring us home. This tuk-tuk was crazy, and I’m surprised he got us home safe. Back at the hotel, it looked like people were out and about. I was drained of energy though, and just crashed and fell to sleep.
Sunday was an interesting day. It started out in a rush to get everything together before the move out from BP Chiang Mai City Hotel. I packed my bags, which were a little heavier than I remembered, and waited in the lobby with the group. Half of the students were going to Bangkok immediately to apply for their visas. As I have to wait to get my notice of application, I had to stay here in Chiang Mai for a couple of more days. I’m staying in this nice hostel down the street from the hotel, which has better beds and pillows. So an upgrade for a cheaper price! It was sad to see everyone go, but luckily, 90% are going to be in Korea, and five of the ATI students will be in Seoul with me working through the Seoul Metropolitan Board of Education. Regardless, it was a little depressing to see the end of this chapter of my trip, not knowing when I will get to see some of these students again after having such a great, albeit short, experience with them in Thailand.
Sam, Jim, Liza and I were left in Chiang Mai and decided to go out for lunch. We went to this amazing noodle place and I got Pad Kee Mao with pork, which has a lot of basil and a lot of flavor. It was just what I needed after saying goodbye to my friends. After lunch, we went to a book store to sell back some of our books to lighten our load and get a couple of baht and Sam showed us the hostel she is staying in. It is more of a guesthouse actually, and quite beautiful. However, I am content with the Seven Suns, even if it is a little more cramped. Book selling turned to book reading, and I ended up finishing the second novel of Asimov’s Robot Novels. Sam has already given me the third, so it’s on to ‘The Robots of Dawn’. After this reading session, Liza and I played a couple of games of cards. I taught her ‘Kings in the Corner’ which always reminds me of Anna, because we used to be obsessed with that card game. Since it was Sunday, we decided to go to the walking market on the street over. I bought some delicious pad thai off of the street, and it may have been the cheapest and best tasting one yet. The thing about food here is you want to go for the cheaper meals on the street, because they tend to be better. It is a win win situation, but you can't sit down. That can be a little disconcerting. I also found this cute ceramic sheep with a funny little face. He is my favorite thing I have seen here, and they are all over the place. Normally, they are gigantic, but this one was small, cute and able to travel. Besides the two shirts I bought, it is my only souvenir from Thailand. I just brought too much stuff from home!
I’ve started to eat lunch-like meals for breakfast. It just makes more sense to get a lot of protein in the morning than search through the city to find something resembling Western breakfast at Western prices. Spicy Korean pork for breakfast today was actually quite fulfilling, and it has given me energy throughout the day. I just got back from a glorious walk around the moat. This time I was better prepared with sneakers and a book to read in between each of the legs of the square moat (which have to be around a mile and a half each). It still was a rather long walk, but I was able to take pictures of all those things I had taken the second day I was here which were recently lost with the death of my computer. I also was lucky to stumble upon sweet chicken curry pastries, which were probably one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life. Now, I just have to wait in Chiang Mai until my visa, which should arrive either later today or tomorrow God willing. Wish me luck!
One last musing … have you ever heard the Thailand is the land of smiles? Well, it definitely is. I have never seen so many smile in my life, except maybe Minnesota. This got me to thinking, because although there is a Minnesota nice, it would be naïve not to think it was coupled with a measure of passive-aggressive behavior. The same is true here in Thailand, but to a greater degree. The niceness also has a characteristic in which Thais do not want another to lose face. That means that if, for example, you did something stupid at work, your boss would likely not face you directly, just smile and try to get you to fix your ways. However, he might very well talk behind your back about what you did, and through this method you would need to figure out what to change. Such traits, while pleasant at first glance, are quite annoying. Another example: at the hotel, instead of telling us to be quiet at the pool after hours, they would complain to the program director who would later warn us. The whole time, of course, all the employees would have huge smiles on their faces. I guess my point is that you shouldn’t always trust someone’s smile.