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.