But this is the English Zone!

26 02 2012

Okay guys, I just have to share the ridiculousness that is happening in my office right now.

Last year, all 5 of the teachers here in my office were English teachers. We are in the super fancy, never-gets-used-because-it-cost-too-much, English Zone, after all. Now, all of the long term teachers have been moved up to the 2nd floor main office, and I’m the only one left in here.

The other department heads (NOT English) have been moved in here, and now they’re moving all the English materials out of my office and into the hallway, and moving science/math/Korean stuff in. I really want to protest, since the English materials (DVDs, games, books and other supplies) are all on open bookshelves and are going to be destroyed by the kids in about 4 days, and they moved in lockers that are lockable.

They’ve now detached the water dispenser from the pipes, moved it over about 3 feet and put a paper shredder in its place. Why they couldn’t move the broken fridge and put the shredder there, I still don’t understand. I asked if we could move the mini fridge out to the closet in the English Zone (since it is broken), but they said no, we must keep it in this office. GGGAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!

Godzilla, you understand, right? So why haven't you come to Korea?!?

Though it’s been said, many times, many ways,

Korea is where logic goes to die.

On the bright side, they’ve just demanded that the principal install walls that are real, not the loading dock door and the plastic dividers with windows like we currently have. Let’s hope that we can get in and out after that… since the maintenance guy said that our door lock can’t be fixed until July.

Where’s the tool box? I’m my mother’s daughter, I’ll do it myself.

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Nothing like being underwater on a hot day…

27 06 2011

Legit swimming pools: they’re really hard to find. Monsoon season hit my beloved little city last week and I think it may have decided to take it easy today. Right now, Yongin is hot and muggy, and it feels like the tropical rainforest… just minus the trees, animals and delicious fruit. As stuffy as it is, it makes me want to hit up a pool like no other.

A few weeks ago, Laura, Jessica and I decided to check out the pool at the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon, Seoul. It was one of the only pools we could find, plus it was on the roof of a tall building, so there was going to be some sun in order. Not to mention that Itaewon is Little America, so there wouldn’t be a lot of criticism of swim wear like there is everywhere else. Also, it was an Adjumma free zone. No perms, track suits or flying elbows to be found.

It was pretty pricey to get in at W16,000, but it was a nice hot day so it was worth it. It was pretty hilarious for people watching. You have the Korean body builder guys in Speedos workin’ on their fitness, the Korean girls wearing bikinis, but covered in a shirt, hat and sunglasses under an umbrella, and then you have the Waygooks. We’re all shapes and sizes, and if we’re by a pool, we’re getting tan and just maybe a little drunk.

Believe me, with some of the people there, the beer in hand rule applied BIG TIME. It was hilarious to see some of these people. Lots of US military guys and an international slow-pitch softball team from St. Louis. They gave Laura a lot of crap for her STL tattoo on her arm, which was a funny story in and of itself. The funniest part of my day (mostly because it wasn’t directed at me) was the um, ridiculously well-endowed Marine in a poor choice of swimwear who caught Jessica checking him out. Once he noticed her, he proceeded to follow her like a puppy and hit on her for most of the afternoon.

“You’re so hot. Your eyes are so exotic.” Blah blah blah. (Please push play on the link.)
“Yeah, and I’m smart. And rich. Really rich.”

Was she provoking him or directly making fun of his failed attempts? I think a little of both. Either way, it was funny to me and Laura.

Back to serious matters. Two things from that trip that I didn’t understand. 1) Why on Earth would a man wear a flossy little G-string to a pool? and 2) If you’re going to pay $16 to go to a pool, why don’t you get in the pool? Maybe it’s me being the aquatic type, but I didn’t get it. Although I was really glad that Mr. Flossy of G-string fame steered clear of the water…

 

Jessica and Laura at the Hamilton Hotel pool





Make it happen, Cap’n– err, Robocop.

23 06 2011

I want this to happen to the next kid who swears in my class.

One big problem I have at my school, and all over the place with kids in Korea, is that they swear like sailors. I’ve made it a rule that if I hear a bad word in English, the student must stand at the back of the classroom holding up a desk. Yes, a desk.

It’s like the swear jar, but worse. 4 minutes for a 4-letter word. It’s gotten a little bit better, but there are still the kids who insist on running around yelling “Oh SHIT!” when their friends are chasing them in the hallway at break.

My current project of the day is learning the proper way to say, “If your mother knew what you just said, she would murder you.” This was actually brought about by being sick and tired of the 3rd grade ELEMENTARY school boy next door who yells out the window, “Hey man, F*** you!” every day when I walk by. Teachers obviously don’t pay much attention to the bombs being dropped in English every 5 seconds. The sad part is that the teachers all know what the kids are saying, but just ignore it.

Teachers out there, what do you do to combat swearing in class? Help me out here!

 





Things That Make Me Feel 5 Again

19 04 2011

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a Wednesday ritual after school. I live about a block away from a Baskin Robbins, which is delicious and dangerous, because they have Rainbow Sherbet. Or, if you’re me and my family, “Sherbert.”

Yummy!

Momentary childhood flashback time! I lived in Pendleton and Mom worked for Gramma at “Lynne’s Poodle Palace” in Hermiston. (Billy, this is where all the jokes come from.) We would drive there every day to work, and I would play with all the animals and generally love life. On the way home, in our awesome, slightly sparkly Chevy truck, we would occasionally stop at the little cafe place that served ice cream. Mom and I would rumble up to the Wheatland Dairy’s drive through window and get a couple sugar cones with our favorite flavor scooped right on top.

Our favorite employee was an older guy. He knew what was up. There was a tight corner on the overpass, and he squished each scoop down so that if you were barreling around that corner at 60 or so, that delicious gob of colorful goodness stayed put.

We developed a tangible hatred for the younger woman that worked there. She was dainty and frail in her work, and in the ice cream business, that just doesn’t cut it. Her scoops would sit lightly on top of the cone, as if she wanted it to fall off. It was like a company selling equipment that will only last a short while and then crap out. (cough cough Dell cough cough) It’s good for business, but terrible for the consumer.

I remember one time Mom and I got sherbert and were heading home, across the overpass. The dumb chick served us, and I was 5 year old oblivious Dani, enjoying my after work treat. (Don’t worry, no child labor laws were broken!) It was hot out, I was happy, and we headed home… Right towards the monster corner on the overpass.

If you’ve ever met my mom, you know she likes to go fast. Cars, trucks, whatever. That dreadful day was no different. We went sailing around that corner like always, and it was like watching a glass fall from a high cabinet and shattering: it all happens in slow motion and you’re helpless. My happy scoop of rainbow goodness became a mucky mess on the floor of the Chevy, changing from my treat to Patsy’s treat in an instant.  Ultimate feeling of bummed. Maybe that’s why I always felt bad for the big guy on Lilo and Stitch!

Sad.

Back to the future, err, recent past, and I’m getting some delicious rainbow sherbert from BR’s down the block. An older Ajumma and her family work there. They’re really friendly, and the youngest girl always tries to show her mom/grandma? how to say things in English to me. Last Wednesday, I walked in and got my usual. It was nice out, so I paid and decided to walk down the street to the park by my house to enjoy the warm weather and my reward for not strangling the Ke$ha-esque boy, U~Ganda in class.

As I was walking out the door, a delivery motorcycle zoomed past, bumping my bag and sending me flying. Again, slow-motion helplessness kicked in, as my bag hit the ground and I saw the beautiful colors go flying right onto the doorstep of Baskin Robbins.

Really?!? Awww...

Ultimate bummer. I felt completely defeated by that stupid motorcycle delivery guy. I picked up my bag, completely bummed, and started to clean up the ice cream off my pant leg with the napkins I got for my cone. Just as I was throwing the whole mess in the trash, the old Ajumma walked up with a new cone, patted my shoulder and asked, “Are you okay?” I said that I was fine, and I was so shocked by the fact that she actually asked me something in English that I didn’t realize that she was offering me a fresh scoop of wonder. “Here, for you.”

Aaawwwwwwww.

I tried to pay for it, but she just wasn’t having it. I thanked her again and went to the park. I’m pretty sure that second cone tasted way better than the first. Minus the motorbike jerk faces, I LOVE MY NEIGHBORHOOD!





Fish Penis Soup

29 03 2011

Every day, I go to lunch with two of the four Korean women that work in my office. They’re both English teachers and really interested in America and teaching me about Korean food. The taller of the two, Mrs. Young, has much better English, and the significantly shorter, Mrs. Kim has speaking skills that are well, definitely proportionate to her height.

We walked in and as we were getting our trays to dish up lunch, Mrs. Young realized that she forgot her phone, so she went back to get it. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch up soon,” she reassured, “I’ll find you.” As if I’m a vulnerable toddler just learning to walk. But don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have someone to talk to and explain what exactly I’m eating, since not many teachers at Gugal speak English, and Koreans eat way more random things than even Indonesians do.

Each tray has 5 sections: 1 for rice, 1 for soup, and 3 smaller ones for the “side dishes,” which usually include kimchi, some sort of green vegetable on its way to being kimchi, and something saucy and/or meaty. That day was no different. Koreans tend to mix things into the white rice when preparing it, making it ever so slightly less monotonous. (Can’t fool us! It’s still white rice, just with sesame seeds in it.)

Kimchi? Check.
Unidentifiable vegetable? Check.
Something saucy? Check.
White rice disguised as not-white rice? Check.
Red soup with veggies and bits and pieces of a random animal? Check.

I sat down at the teachers’ table and started poking through the veggies and kimchi. I tend to try the new things first, as I don’t want to leave lunch with funk breath or a bad taste in my mouth. You should also know that I’ve become somewhat of a chopstick master since I’ve been here.

Usually, you eat the chunks in the soup with your chopsticks instead of the soup spoon. I picked up a piece of cabbage that was on top of the soup. Nice and spicy. As I was happily munching on what was probably just leftover kimchi tossed into soup, I realized that there was something in my soup.

Something very peculiar looking. Very, very peculiar.

Phallic, covered in veins, and definitely shaped like finger-sized man junk. I had no idea what I was looking at, but I knew it looked out of place. The first thing that came to mind wasn’t, “What is that?” but rather, “That should not be in my soup.”

The shorter English teacher looked over at the mini-member in my soup and said, “Oh, you have a big one! Haha!”

“What exactly is that?” Please don’t tell me something gross. Please don’t tell me something gross. Please don’t tell-

“It is male reproductive organ.”

A what?! Oh god. Ohgodohgodohgodohgod. What were the chummy cafeteria ladies trying to feed me?!?

Mrs. Young sat down as I was looking at my tray, absolutely bewildered. She dug right in to her soup, and I couldn’t help but feel a little green around the gills. She looked up as I dismissed the soup entirely and moved on to the rice.

“Dani, do you not like the soup?”

“I’m not exactly sure yet.”

“Oh, it is quite popular in the spring, when fish start to reproduce.”

Fish. It was some part of a fish. I was a little bit thankful at that point. Just a little bit. “What is it from?”

“It’s the egg sac of a female fish. Like the eggs on sushi.”

No way, it’s something I’ve eaten before? I was taken aback for a moment, since the thing in the metal bowl looked like it had no need for a little blue pill.

I couldn’t bring myself to finish the soup, but I definitely made sure to review a few masculine/feminine terms with Mrs. Kim on the way out of the cafeteria.

“Female fish, Mrs. Kim. It was from a female fish.”

 

Dinner with the English teachers 3/29. Not the day of the Fish Junk debacle.





Naked Culture Shock

22 03 2011

A couple weeks ago, Mychaela planned on coming to visit and stay for the weekend. She has a really nice apartment in a high-rise that has a roof with a killer view of her neighborhood. As we’ve discovered here in Yongin, I can’t exactly say the same for my living situation. There are a few major pros and cons, but there is one huge difference that I’m perfectly okay with: I live in a real neighborhood. The kind where you get to know your neighbors and know which students from your school live nearby. The kind where there’s a neighborhood cat and the new baby next door whom you can hear so clearly sometimes it was as if she were in the room. The kind of neighborhood that has apartments that are visited by religious missionaries… but more on that later.

Friday night, we had planned on meeting at Bojeong Metro station at 7:30, then come back to my apartment to drop off her wonderful gift (A PILLOW!!!). Friday night traversing Seoul by subway apparently takes 3 hours, not the 2 hours it took me on a Sunday night. Mychaela finally walked through the gates at 8:54 PM, just 6 minutes before I was ready to leave the station and go home. While waiting, I had been chatting with an older Korean gentleman who appeared to be waiting for someone as well, speaking English really well. He said that he worked with US soldiers during the Korean War and became a teacher afterward. His daughter lived in Philadelphia, teaching Korean at a school there. “You two would be great friends, but you seem to have traded places.”

Bicycle chain heart: North Seoul Tower

We got back to my apartment to realize that we were both exhausted from a trip much longer than expected. We got dinner at an Italian place and had a Korean beer in a “German Beer Garden.” (False advertisement!! They only had Cass, which is the Korean version of Coors.) We crashed at my place and got up to make plans for Saturday and all its wonder. We had planned to go into Seoul later in the day so that we wouldn’t spend 10 hours walking around. The irony of that statement would later come back to bite us.

We grabbed lunch at my favorite cafe, Coffee Verdi, and saw a few of my students. They’re still in the “She’s a real person who exists outside of school” realization phase. We caught the bus to Ori station, where we decided that traffic was so bad that we’d just take the subway. First destination was to Seoul Station, where Lonely Planet says it should be a 15-20 minute walk from the station to the tower. Lonely Planet lies. [I feel like I should edit those books for a living. I could re-write the Indonesian version with a little help from my Fulbright and Indonesian friends. That book was a mess.] That short walk was actually about an hour from the station to the tower. For the distance and the fact that it was 90% stairs, we made really good time. The view was worth it! We got to the tower around sunset, which was the one thing LP got right. Transitions in major cities are always really cool to see. That was always my favorite thing about Jakarta: seeing the sun go down and the lights turn on. Flashy.

Photo Island view of Seoul

 

Locks of Love at North Seoul Tower

The North Seoul Tower is known for its locks on the fence. Couples in Korea see this as their Mecca. The migrate toward it, hike up the hill, sign their lock and latch it to the fence. Some messages are really heartfelt, others are friendly, others have Bart Simpson on them. There are strange benches, which at first I thought would be weird to sit on, as it would look like you broke the bench, but in reality, they were designed so that when a couple would sit on them, they would inevitably lean together, inducing snuggle.

After it got dark, we walked down the hill on the road that has the buses we apparently didn’t know about. We checked out the Namdaemun street market, which is a 24 hour market up and down the streets of the neighborhood. Fake bags, ginseng gift shops, fake sunglasses, delicious food, and a boatload of optical shops and camera stores. Once I save up, that DSLR will be mine. Oh yes, she will be mine.

The chaos that is Myeong-Dong

I had heard the week before that there would be a fundraiser for a women’s rights group in Itaewon, the multicultural hub of Seoul. The fundraiser was to have a burlesque show and dancing. It could be fun, and if not, the money goes to single moms. (I really don’t mean that in a stripper joke sort of way, either.) Turns out, every single foreigner in Korea had heard about this show. The place was packed and we all had to get pretty up close and personal, and unfortunately that included with the drunk US Army guy with the bottle of Cuervo who incessantly shouted, “I LOVE VAGINAAAAAA!!!!” All in all, it was pretty fun. My favorite act was a girl with a hula hoop. She killed it. Check out the video of Betty Hoops:

I really appreciated her friends’ comments after her performance. “Where did she learn to do that?” “It’s a Northwest thing. Everybody can do something awesome like that here.” Haha, we do all have really random hidden talents!

Borrowed flash at the Burlesque show

Borrowed flash at the Burlesque show

After the show, everybody performed a mass exodus from Bedlam out into the streets of Itaewon. It was about 11:30, so Mychaela and I figured it would be time to head back towards home. We get on the subway, and when we were supposed to transfer to the line that would take us home, we ran into a terrible dead end. The station was closed, we couldn’t transfer, and the train we were on definitely left already. Yaksu station. What the hell is in Yaksu? Nothing. A taxi from there would cost us $50 to get home. A dingy hotel would set us back at least $40.

Then it dawned on me. Audra’s suggestion. “If stranded, find a jimjilbang.” A jimjilbang is basically a spa, but open 24 hours, and you can sleep there. Game on. Now, we just had to find one. We walked around for about an hour trying to find one. It wasn’t too cold, my feet were fine, and I really didn’t mind. The logo for a jimjilbang is basically a soup bowl with three wavy steam things coming out the top. I feel like I’ve seen it as a ramen noodle logo before. After talking with a random Korean man at about 1:30, he showed us in the way of one of the nearly sacred, gender-segregated, traditional public bath houses. We wandered some more and finally found it.

steamy hot soup? or a hot tub?

steamy hot soup? or a hot tub?

We checked in at about 2:15 AM. We were given what looked like a cross between prison inmate uniforms and the robes of a Buddhist monk. Orange and stretchy. After walking in to the ladies’ section, we were immediately faced with about 4 stark naked, middle aged Korean women. They must have seen our obvious looks of confusion, since they instantly tried to help us out of our shoes and show us to our lockers. Once we got our inmate robes on, we wandered around, checking the place out. A giant tub with two women scrubbing the life out of the skin of another. A mother and her 20-something daughter sitting on the ledge of another, hotter pool, chatting as if it were time for afternoon coffee, not really noticing that it was 3 AM, or that they and everyone else around them were naked or nearly so. No wonder it’s such a lively tradition. You have a pure and simple goal: Relax and get clean.

Downstairs, there was a large common room with about 40 sleeping mats and foam blocks for pillows. At first, we didn’t see any women. I was a little apprehensive to sleep in a “common area” that was clearly composed only of men. As I loitered and stalled to try and convince Mychaela to sleep in the “cave” between the floors where I saw women sleeping on mats, another woman walked in, sat down near the TV, and made herself at home. We decided it was a legit common room, and not just a place for the boys to hang out and watch the boob tube. We claimed our territory and crashed. And by that, I mean me. I crashed. Mychaela doesn’t really sleep anyway. I, on the other hand, can sleep anywhere, anytime, and under nearly any circumstance…

…except when the guy on the next mat down tries to snuggle with my feet. I had been dreaming that something fish-like was trying to bite my feet, and when his hand grabbed my foot, I’m pretty sure I kicked him in the face. Fight or flight reaction? Definitely. In my dream, I was swimming away. Mychaela was awake at the time and watched the whole thing. I guess it was hilarious. Creeper-sleeper probably didn’t think so.

We made it back to Yongin at about 9 AM, where we immediately crashed, yet again. Just a short nap, right? Well, you might know me and my napping habits; they’re just like my ability to sleep anywhere. They can never be short naps. Around noon, a knock at my door woke us up. I looked like a slob in a ratty t-shirt, so I threw on my peacoat to class it up a little bit. At the door was one of my students and her family, who were going door to door passing out Jehovah Witness magazines. My hair was, well, morning hair. If you know me, you know the terror that is. They didn’t run away frightened by the sketchy fuzz ball waygook (foreigner) when she opened the door, so I’d say they’re good people.

Free Hugs Korea: Way less sketchy than Warped Tour.

Time to explore my area a little more. I’ve spent a lot of time in Seoul for the weekends, which is spendy, but really cool. Here’s to checking out Yongin and the outskirts! Cheers!

Is this for safety or being realistic? (Please see any K-drama show if you don't get it.)





Introducing: My Apartment! Video Tour.

7 03 2011

The grand tour de france of my Korean apartment!

Cleaning adventure!

And the best surprise of all!

I really didn’t know it was an oven at first. I thought it was a vent or something. Not able to cook a Thanksgiving turkey, but I can make a cookie or two!








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