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.