Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Work and Play

For the last two months, I feel like all I have been doing is working. I technically only teach in the classroom for about 6 hours a day. That does not sound like all that much, I know. However, then you add in the 3 hours (at minimum) of preparation time that I have to spend for each day. It adds up to about 45 hours of work a week. And, that is on the weeks when I do not have intensive classes, which was the case for part of July and pretty much all of August. So, suffice it to say, it was a busy past few months. On top of all that...I have been planning a vacation that I have wanted to take for quite a long time. And, I had to make all my lesson plans for the teachers who would cover my classes during the vacation.
So, here I sit in a country I have never been to...thinking of what it would be like to teach here and comparing it to back "home" in Korea. I can't describe quite how much I actually miss Korea, but at the same time, I find this place fascinating and appealing in many ways. And, in others ways...not so much.
I miss being able to get a good meal of Nang-myeon. I tried to describe to the taxi driver why cold noodles are much better than hot noodles, but he thought I was very wrong.
I would love to have a good bottle of Soju and Coke, but it just is not common outside of Korea that I can find. When I first tasted Soju, I thought it was about as good as water-down rubbing alcohol, but now...it is a good lubricant for any political discussion.
I hate not being able to read the local language. There is some comfort in being able to see what something says for yourself. Even if it is only every few words that you understand.
But then, walking along a random street. I recognize that face. That unique pose and quirk of the lips. It is the Soju girl! I don't know her name and I don't really think it is necessary. It took me a second to make sure that I was seeing her right.
Yes, yes, it is her.
So, I walk closer to the sign on some nondescript door and taped to the door is a white piece of paper. The first words written on the paper...Anyong-ha-say-yo (in Korean, of course). What have I found? A little piece of home (or second home anyways).
When I walk in, it is just a little noodle shop, but it has one table of Koreans...a good sign. The waitress is a native, but she understands my Korean and I quickly order up some Nang-myeon, a bottle of Soju, and a Coke. Mmm...the noodles taste a little different, but they are decent and...cold. The owner (a Korean ex-pat) comes around and asks some pleasantries (probably just wondering why this non-Korean is talking to his people in Korean). I respond as best I can since it becomes quickly apparent I can only B.S. my way in Korean and then we just talk a bit in English.
This experience enlightens me as to just how much I have acclimated to life in Korea and how I have enjoyed doing so. For bringing me the enjoyment of Korea in a different country, I would like to thank the Soju makers of the world.
And, especially, to Soju girl...thank you.


For those who are interested in where I am or where I have been (depending on when you read this)...I will post something with pictures (!!) after October 5th...sometime.

--Matthew

Friday, July 4, 2008

On Independence

So, I begin to write this blog on July the 4th, 2008 (here in Korea). For most of July the 4th here, of course, it isn't really July the 4th back home. But, somehow I was feeling slightly patriotic today, anyways.

Today is not a holiday in Korea, of course. So, I was working my regular day. I did, however, manage to squeeze in some July 4th hoopla. Well, it counts as hoopla in my limited ability over here. All I have to say is thank goodness for YouTube. The first bit of patriotic something or other that I got to watch was a bit of fireworks. It wasn't from Seattle, Anchorage, or any other place I've lived. It was just some random fireworks display from a few years ago...it might have been from Ohio. I don't know...it doesn't matter. It was pretty.

The next bit of YouTube patriotism was an obligatory viewing of a part of a movie, The Patriot. Now what is truly fantastic about this movie is one particular scene where Mel Gibson (pre-crazy, well at least before we all knew he was crazy) and his character's two sons single-handedly slaughter about 25 bloody redcoats. I played this scene in the teacher's room at work because of patriotism and to annoy the two British guys who work here. British people are very easily insulted from what I have learned...of course, after 250 years of going from ruling the seas to losing pretty much all of their empire, I might be sensitive, too. Which makes it all the more fun to poke fun at them for...

Of course, these particular British guys came prepared with a 2 page pamphlet written from a British perspective with a bunch of things about the U.S. that should be changed revolving around the Fourth of July. It was kind of amusing, but it wasn't exactly heavy stuff. The most serious complaint about the U.S. seemed to be related to how the English language really needs more "u's" in words like flavor, color, aluminum, and a list of others.

I was not going to let this weak attempt at a national broadside go. So, I was quick to say, "I have just two names to remind you of...Neville Chamberlin and Sir John Maynard Keynes, two British guys". I had just long enough to watch an unknowning look go over both of their faces before I walked out the door to teach my first class of the day. It is fun when you can take British people down a peg or two.

Happy 4th of July...Read the Declaration of Independence at least once today. The Constitution should also be read once, over some potato salad, maybe. Mmm...potato salad.

Peace from Korea, where in the last few minutes it has switched to July the 5th (232 years and 1 day from giving those redcoats a good kick in the butt),
Matthew

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On Miscommunication

So, it has been a bit since I have blogged. To provide just a little update...I am still in Korea. Everything is still going well with the exception of some stupid drama things at work which are just plan stupid and not worth mentioning. My Korean has now surpassed my ability in Swahili, but still lags behind my ability in Spanish and ASL. For example, I can now quite easily say, "I am a stupid American", in flawless Korean.

Which comes in quite handy, because Koreans have of late been protesting the shipment of American cows which are "too old". Apparently, the President of Korea agreed to the shipment of cows that were 30 months-of-age and older. These are believed to be more dangerous because they are "more likely" to have Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, otherwise known as Mad Cow (or as my Korean friends say, "Crazy Cow"). There have been some pretty large protests in Seoul over the issue. The animosity has been directed toward the Korean President and the American government to some degree. I am not really coming down on one side or the other on the issue because on the one hand...yes, the free trade agreement was pretty badly drawn up for the Koreans. On the other hand, a quick search of Wikipedia shows that about 470,000 cows with Mad Cow entered the British food system before "safety precautions" were put in place by the British government. And, how many people developed the human variation of the disease? 163 people. Now, that is awful for them, but 163 out of how many people can eat from 470,000 cows (I don't know, but a cow is a large animal). I think I'll keep eating beef because dang it is good stuff.

However, me being the caring culturally sensitive person that I am...I offered to two of my Koreans friends, while in Seoul, that we should go down to the protest and I would take a good old American flag into the crowd and then burn it as a sign of solidarity. My real reason, of course, would be to just get my picture on CNN and have friends and family laugh. Or, better yet, make Bill O'Reilly get all hot and bothered. That would be a dream come true...

Anyways, none of that was why I decided to sit down and write today. In this afternoon's class, I was teaching a lesson on weather and associated clothing. It is actually an on-going lesson...and today's part was on cold weather (basically, "how's the weather?", "it's snowing."). Well, what do you wear in winter? A coat, boots, sweater, and MITTENS... Holy Toledo, Batman!!! You should keep in mind that these are little kids. Maybe, 6 or 7 in American ages. For the first twenty minutes of the lesson, every time I would say the word, "mittens"...the kids would start cracking up laughing. I like this particular class, so I wasn't worried that they were being bad. I knew I was just saying something funny. Eventually, I did get out of them in their very broken English that a word that sounded like mittens was found in Korean as well. After class, I asked one of my Korean co-teachers what Mittens meant in Korean. It wasn't really "mittens", it was more like "michen" (or something like it, it is hard to Anglo-size it). It did sound similar, but it basically means crazy with a bad connotation. Wonderful joys of language teaching. So, for 40 minutes I was in essence cussing out a classroom full of 6 or 7 year olds. Good job teacher.

Now, miscommunications happen all the time, but normally I only accidentally say cuss words a couple times a month. However, tonight in my very next class...I was teaching a small group of 13/14 year olds. One of the kids called me a Yankee. And, heck no are you going to call a Southern boy a "Yankee". So, I attempted to launch into an explanation of what a Yankee is. Of course, that leads into trying to explain the term "Civil War", which in and of itself is no big deal (they already know the word, war). However, the task is a bit more difficult when your students laugh each time you say the word "civil". Apparently, in Korean, "Sibal" (or something close to that) is the equivalent of the F-word in English. Just a side note, there is no "v" sound in Korean.

So, I cussed out two classes of students today. It was a fun day in the world of EFL.

Peace,
Matt

Monday, May 19, 2008

On Parties

What do you do for fun in a foreign country? Well, some days you can go hiking in a park, visit ancient palaces, or look at cultural curio shops. However, you can not do those things every weekend. So, what do you do when you can’t do touristy things. Well, that’s easy…alcohol and alcohol related activities.

After getting off of work at 9 p.m. on Friday, my roommate suggested going out to a live music event at a bar in the nearby town of Ilsan. I had never been to the town or the bar before, but it was quite a bit of fun.

The event was located at a German bar, Brau Hoffen (there is an umlaut in the Brau and possibly the Hoffen, but I’m too lazy to search for the double dot thing). The bands (there were about 4 of them) were all Filipino. I’m not exactly sure how many bands there were because they all looked the same. And, that is not a comment on Filipinos all looking the same. The bands literally looked very similar (I have a feeling they were a family group). Anyways, they played a variety of Korean and American music. The American music was from the 80’s and later. The Black Eyed Peas, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Justin Timberlake were a few of the artists covered. The variety was actually pretty good and the bands did a good job overall. Although, all of the girls with the exception of one were just eye candy rather than good singers. The exception was still eye candy, but at least she had good pipes as well.

So, there in Ilsan, Korea, there were 8 westerners drinking beer out of gigantic beer glasses (I mean these things were literally 3 feet tall and those were for one person; okay, well, I don't drink beer, but I had some comparatively pathetic glasses of gin and tonic) listening to a Filipino band playing American music in a German bar…only in Korea.

After getting home at nearly 5 o’clock in the morning, I had just enough time to go to sleep for a couple of hours before it was off to a Korean wedding… Ahh, wonderful life in Korea.


--Matthew

Thursday, May 1, 2008

On 101 Things You Should Know About Korea

1. Kimchi exists solely as a way to prove that you are, in fact, Korean.

2. If you are a woman, you may never ever put your purse on the ground. And, if you sit down in a chair, putting your purse behind the small of your back is perfectly acceptable. The fact that this seems to cause back pain does nothing to downplay the belief that the ground may have some form of Ebola or another deadly disease that must be avoided at all cost. And, death to the foreigner who is asked to carry a purse and mistakenly puts it on the round for a second. Holy Toledo Batman!!

3. Speaking of Batman...my Korean name is Koko Bat-uh-man. Best name ever. Although, the phonetic translation of my name is something like "most excellent doctor" which is just so freaking true in my own mind.

4. Baseball teams all have players with Korean names (even the Westerners), but all the team names are in English. Why? Who knows...

5. Two channels on television are permanently dedicated showing Counter Strike and Warcraft (old school) tournaments. For those not in the know, those are computer games.

6. No matter how much your roommate insists that it is true, do not believe it when he tells you that the proper way to say goodbye when leaving a store is to say, "nigga-say-yo". Although, it was worth a good racist-implied laugh.

7. Speaking of racist terms...what is a "gook"? Well, I'm one. I'm a "wae-gook" (foreigner) and Koreans are "Han-gook".

8. Having resided in Alaska for a year before heading over here, I feel it is bloody hot at the current level of 60 degrees F. Although, the Koreans have not hit their threshold for the word, hot, yet, I have still found funny things about their attitudes about dealing with heat. "Fan Death" is one such thing. Koreans believe that if you go to sleep with a fan on in your room that there is a good possibility of you not waking again in the morning. It has something to do with the fan blowing away your body heat and you dying from the cold. I'm not exactly sure how they survive through the summer without a fan on at night and with air conditioning being a non-existent commodity it living quarters. According to some of the Korean teachers at work, I am extremely lucky to have survived with a fan on in my room every single night since I've been here.

9. I'm not going to be able to explain about their belief that blood types determine a person's personality because, frankly, I'm not really sure beyond that. However, one of my co-workers claims that it is a fact that 75% of all convicted felons have Type-B blood. She has yet to claim my offer of 50,000 won ($50) for providing scientific proof that that is true.

10. The same girl that told me about the Type-B felons asked me, what my blood type was? I have absolutely no idea, which I think amazes all of the Koreans that have asked me that question (it's actually pretty common). Right after asking though, she said, "That is a come-on". Her English is limited, so I'm not really sure if she was making a pass at me or if she just found "come-on" in her idiom dictionary and wanted to try it out. Who knows, maybe it was a missed opportunity on my part.

11. Envelopes have lick able glue on them right? Apparently not. You must either use a glue stick or tape to close an envelope, but you can have fun disgusting your co-workers by testing the envelope with your tongue to see if it does or does not have glue.

12. When walking down the street, Koreans who are sick, avoiding sickness, or avoiding Yellow Dust (Chinese pollution) will often times wear big blue face masks (these things make doctor's masks look small), but they will think nothing about pulling the mask down just enough to take a draw on their cigarette.

13. If the blue masks weren't bad enough, nothing beats the joggers' sun-visors that hang down in a pretty good parody of a Darth Vader mask.

14. Touching food with your hands is a terrible travesty, but walking past a guy peeing in the corner of the subway station is pretty much par for the course.

15. There are no garbage cans in public!!!

16. A bottle of Soju can get you pretty much wasted for $2. And, $1.50 for a Coca-Cola can make the taste almost tolerable. But, passing up your Soju to the girl who hired you is absolutely priceless.

17. There seems to be just about two variations of foreigners out here. First is the foreigner who is drunk. Second is the foreigner who is hungover.

18. Number 17 seems to apply to a lot of Koreans as well.

19. Koreans kids can be little s____, just like American kids.

20. For the first little while, its true THEY all look the same. However, they will say the same thing about you (just ask).

21. A Korean girl speaking with a British accent is annoying. Although, she's my noona ("older sister").

22. Said girl says she is born and raised in Korea, but even I catch some of her mistakes in Korea. I think she's a Russian spy personally.

Well 101 questions was quite a task and I got to 22, so I failed, but I will write some more later. Korea is still awesome. Peace out for now.

--Matthew

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On Hiking

So, I haven't posted in a bit. However, I've been here over four weeks and just about one month. I am starting to recognize Korean words as words and not just pure gibberish. That doesn't mean I actually understand much, just that I am differentiating words. So, that's top notch.
Yesterday (Tuesday), my company had a day off from work. Why? I don't know and I don't as much care...it was a day off work!! Well, it was probably much harder than a day of work, but still a break from classes in the middle of the week was pretty cool. As a treat, the school set up a day trip out to Mu-ee Island. And, wait for it...I took pictures. These are the first pictures I've taken in Korea.

4 of the foreign teachers and 10 of the Korean teachers and staff signed up to go on this excursion. It meant getting up early (8:30) in the morning which wasn't all that much fun (I usually get up at 10 or 11). Then it was a long walk out to school (2 minutes). The school provided a bus and a driver to drive us (40 minutes) out to the ferry. And, then it was a very long ferry ride (10 minutes) out to Mu-ee Island (in the West Sea). Okay, so, it really wasn't all that bad and by 10:30 or so. The fun had started. Four of the Korean teachers went straight to the beach...I'm not sure why because it was cold by there standards and I saw no skin from any of them (the foreign teachers, including yours truly, were all in shorts and t-shirts, although I was the only one who stayed that way the whole day). What do you do for 3 hours on a beach without sunbathing? I don't know.

Anyways, the rest of the group skipped the beach for a bit and went hiking. Here's part of the trail. I did see a few signs that helped me estimate that it was about a 5 kilometer hike (maybe, 3 miles). It was up a "mountain" (it MAY have been 1000 feet or maybe a bit more). I consider that a hill, not even a foothill. Anyways, this picture was actually on the way down, but it was on the worst part of the trail. The rest was more like the next picture.



Like I said, the Koreans thought it was winter or something, long sleeves and jeans and sweaters for when they stop hiking for too long. It is craziness. It was probably about 55 F and really sunny. Back to hiking, this slight incline and easy trail covered 80% of the climb. I could have gotten a better picture of the trail, but I didn't so this is it. Anyways along the way up. Ann, in the picture to the left, was giving me some Korean alphabet lessons (Hangul is the name for the Korean alphabet).



So, here is the marker at the top of the trail. Of the two names in the center, the one on the right spells out So-Mu-Ee-Do (I'm spelling that phonetically). Basically each vertical set of characters is a syllable (not necessarily a letter). For instance, the first syllable has an "s" sound on top and a long "o" sound on bottom. Next is the "m" and "u", then a long "e", and, finally, a "d" and a long "o". Anyways, welcome to Hangul 101. It is actually a fairly easy language to pick up, if you can hear the difference between a couple of vowel sounds and some consonants that roll the "r" and "l" sound together and so on. I can not do those things on the fly as yet, but I'm working on it.

Here are some random pictures on the hike down the hill:




























After hiking for about 3 hours, we made it to the beach. Where we saw this:













Are they some of the first regular sized houses that I've seen in Korea? Well, yes, kind of. They are actually for a famous Korean television show, which had all the Koreans doing this:

video
Alright, I have a better video with all of them jump-posing, but it is longer and I'd have to edit it, and I'm just lazy at the moment.

Moving on, mid-afternoon lunch consisted of clams roasted over coals in the middle of the table (mmm...), kimchi (of course), some pancake/pizza like thing with seafood (it was actually better than it sounds), clam/noodle soup (really good), some more clams boiling in some kimchi soup mix (I think), pork strips over the coals, and, of course, beer and soju (Korean national alcohol). Soju will knock you flat pretty easily, but it comes in a beer sized bottle for about 2 dollars. So, what do cheap booze, the beach and a sunny day bring about? Nudity? Mud wrestling? Hmm??

No, no...we all played kickball. The rules were pretty much the same with a few differences. I played center field and went 7 for 7. I hit for the cycle (1 home run, 1 triple, 2 double, 3 singles). I still have mad skills (ok, kickball is a little easier since I didn't hit a homerun in baseball after the first year that I played, but whatever). My team still lost, but hey what can you do?

After a fun game of kickball, it was decided that it was time to go. Frankly, I think we got the last ferry back to the mainland. So, I'm not sure as we had a choice. Anyways, that is how this particular Korean Hogwan takes a company trip. All in all, it was well worth it and a good way to kick off my second month in Korea.

--Matthew

P.S. The pictures and the words don't quite go the way I want them to, but whatever, there are pictures and that's something.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

On Octupi and Bongs

Day 9-12 (3/29/2008)—

So, teaching English has its ups and downs, but life in Korea is crazy. Last night, Vivi (my Korean third to immediate supervisor, that’s higher than just an immediate supervisor) took all of the foreign teachers out to dinner as a welcome dinner to me and a thank you dinner to all of the others who have been taking on extra shifts because of the person (psycho) I was replacing. I frankly thought I had already had the welcoming dinner, but, hey, I’m not going to turn down free food.

As my last class ends at 9 p.m. (I start at 3 in the afternoon), I am one of the last ones to make it to Shabu-Shabu. It was interesting. It was the first buffet-style meals that I have seen in Korea (as if I can speak from less than 2 weeks of experience). As with a few other places, you pretty much cook your own meal right there on the table. The buffet just provides the raw ingredients (and I do mean raw). Luckily for me it was seafood and I LOVE seafood. Of course, it is Korea…my first thing to throw on my plate was 3 bite-sized octopi (I’m an octopus virgin, but I have to try it once), 4 shrimp (eyes, antennae, feet, everything), and to top it all off, there was some type of fish…I couldn’t really tell what it was because it had obviously been hacked up from a whole fish (the teeth were still there for sure).

Once I get these items back to the table, they all go into a communal pot which is boiling in the center of the table. Vivi (being a native Korean) had arrived late and had a bit of an OCD moment about how us foreigners had prepared (or in our case, not prepared the water with the right garnishments) and ordered a new pot of water. Luckily, I did rescue two of the octopi (cooked) and found them a new home in my belly. They were okay. They’re texture is a bit chewy, but the taste has a bit of a tang to it (probably because I was supposed to remove some guts, but didn’t know better, *shrug*). I also got some shrimp which I ate happily. They were good. I never saw the fish parts with the teeth after they went in the water. So, I’m still just calling it fish.

When Vivi took over the process of boiling, I had already kind of called it a night in terms of eating, anyways…I’m not a huge eater at 10 o’clock at night. So, I nibbled on some beef strips, but didn’t go hog-wild. Of course, there was ice cream that was tasty (just chocolate); there is always room for ice cream.

Being Korea (as we’re not exactly a 9-5 working group), after dinner we went out for some more ice cream (at the very exotic…Baskin Robbins). And, then we hopped on over to the Nori-Bong. Now, I had been told that a Nori-Bong was like Karaoke. Which is something I haven’t ever done in the States, but I was expecting something with a bar full of people and some awful singers getting up to the mike.

No, no…a Nori-Bong is a private room where your group gets to sit down (or stand up and sing Karaoke style to each other). I, of course, being the new guy, got to sing the first song. Johnny B. Goode was my choice. Why? I’m a nerd and I was thinking of Back to the Future earlier in the day.

Let’s just say first off, I am the world’s worst singer. And, that is when I am having a good day. However, I have been feeling under the weather…so, I sound like I have a frog in my throat even without singing. I was bad, but whatever…half the group was plastered. So, who knows how I sounded.

Just as a side note. Soju is the Korean version of vodka (it tastes like watered-down vodka, but give it a few minutes and it will hit you hard). I’ve tried enough of it to be wary of the stuff. It does alright as a mixer, but I wouldn’t do it for the taste alone.

After about an hour or two of listening to each other sing (and watching a few folks dance drunkenly on the table, someone should have seriously broken out a pole), we all went our separate ways. Some were still going out for more alcohol…I was going home; it was about one o’clock in the morning in Gimpo-Si. As I was walking around a corner, I noticed a barbershop poll spinning on one of the buildings. That kind of reminds me that I need a trim. Anyways, off to bed.

--Matthew

P.S. My roommate informed me this morning that the spinning barber shop poll actually signals a whorehouse. That would have been a heck of an interesting request for a haircut.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

On Observations and Practice

Day 6-8 (3/25/2008)—

So, I just passed my one week mark in Korea. And, why did I come here? To teach English? Well, why hasn’t there been a post on teaching? Well, stop wondering! Here goes. Note: the use of Day 1, Day 2, Day 3-5, etc. has the appearance of an attempt at timeline continuity. It isn’t. I meander through life, why should my stories be any different?

My first week found my arrival on Monday night. Beginning on Tuesday and ending on Thursday, I had observations and training. I was basically watching the classes that I would be taking over beginning on Friday. Tuesday was filled with learning people’s names. There are 7 or 8 foreign teachers (hopefully, 7, but I’m still learning everyone’s names, so I could be forgetting someone). Mainly, the foreign teachers are comprised of Americans, one Brit, and one Canadian (speaking of Canadians…you know the only good thing about Canadians is that you can make fun of the French and Canadians at the same time). And, actually, 4 of the Americans are from Washington State. And, one went to the University of Washington at the same time that I did, but I did not know her at the time. The girl from UW is the head foreign teacher for the afternoon classes, which are primarily students that are past first grade (as apposed to the morning classes for preschool and kindergarten). So, she is my immediate supervisor.

My first day of observations feels a bit like being in a zoo. All of the teachers that I am observing have their students (soon to be my students) ask questions of me. 1) Where are you from? I always use the last place I was living…Alaska. Since, it would be hecka confusing to say Alaska via Washington via Georgia via Washington via Wisconsin via Georgia via a birth in Tennessee. Even I am confused and I know where I’ve lived. And, Alaska is exotic and a Korean vacation destination. So, it just makes me look cooler. 2) How old are you? I am 26, though I changed by the end of the day because by the Korean age standards, I am 28. I don’t know why yet, so don’t ask. Apparently though, I lost more than just one day passing over the International Date Line. 3) Do you have a girlfriend, a wife, or, one kid asked about, a boyfriend? No, no, and heck no. Just because I am thin? That was about all that happened my first day of observations that I can think about. I was still incredibly jetlagged at the time (I almost fell asleep starting about 2 hours before the last class; so I dug the head of my pen into my hand…it worked to keep me awake for another 15 minutes or so).

The next day brought more of the same. Me needing sleep and watching other teachers do there jobs. I might say that it was a good thing that I was only watching and did not actually have to teach, but then came Thursday. Ahh…yes, Thursday brought bad stuff for me.

Thursday was the first (and only) practice class for me. When I say practice, I mean I was standing up in front of a regular class of 6 students that I was not familiar with and giving a lesson to them while being watched by the UW head foreign teacher and two of the Korean academic directors. Well, the best I can say is that I kept talking through the lesson. Otherwise, I think I tanked it. Frankly, I felt bad for the kids. My language was not simple enough (partly because I was not familiar with their level and partly because I was being watched); my presentation was just boring; and I really was not able to get the kids involved in the material well enough (they didn’t trust me and I didn’t know them).

But not to worry…my first day of classes would begin the next day (Friday). How badly could I screw up my own classes? Well, I don’t know, I’m still reflecting on that. I’ll get back to you when I’ve reflected on it some more. For now, I’m off. Mainly, I just need to brush my teeth, my roommate brought home some corn tea. It was just about as disgusting as I thought it would be before I drank some. Even considering being in Korea, I have a feeling that was a “screw with the foreigners” drink.

--Matthew

Saturday, March 22, 2008

On Martians

Day 3-5 (3/22/2008)—

What? What’s happening? I just opened my eyes and I have two Asian nurses standing in front of me. One is wrapping gauze and tape on my arm. The other is checking my blood pressure. I feel someone rubbing my shoulders. Yep, another Asian. Where am I? What happened? Is this the start of some kinky fantasy? No. Well, okay, maybe. However, it was not this time. No, I just forgot that I was in Korea.

Unfortunately, I was at the hospital for my medical check-up to qualify me for my Alien Registration Card. Ever since I was a kid, I have had the propensity to blackout when I get needles stuck in me (even though I can take 90 bee stings on one day and willingly go back and get 90 more bee stings the next day with no fear, go figure). And, unfortunately, when you register as an alien here, they draw like a liter of blood. Okay, I really have no knowledge of the metric system, though I am learning. I know it is wussy to admit it, but, yes, I blacked out in the hospital in Gimpo during my alien registration exam. It blew monkey chunks.

So, I got my alien registration exam. I met John at the school on Wednesday morning. John is the school’s go-to-guy. Just as an aside, everyone at the school has an English name. John is Korean and born and raised in Incheon. He speaks English pretty well, but conversation is definitely limited. He is the one you call if your apartment has a problem and he takes care of the Alien Registration process for the school. Sometimes what John does seems to be in the realm of the school’s handyman, but he is definitely more than just a blue collar worker. Well, I can not really think of him that way because of his immaculately clean suits. But, then everyone wears a suit. I am pretty sure that if I ever (I haven’t yet) see a homeless bum over here…they will be wearing a freshly pressed suit as well. However, John has a college degree and such and his duties include much more than just fix-it stuff (is it weird that the guy who worked at Home Depot for a couple of years after getting his B.A. is using a degree to imply someone is above manual labor?). It just happens to be that all the times in which I interact with him involve apartment fixing or chauffeuring.

Anyways, John told me the night before to meet him at the school on Wednesday morning. He specifically said we were going to the hospital, which I had known, in advance, was coming and stated, “Matt, only water…you be empty…”, while gesturing to his stomach. I was dead tired at the time or I would have said to him that he meant “hungry”, but I understood his meaning anyways. So, the next morning he took me to the hospital and we went station hopping. Pretty much every test was done by a separate nurse or doctor. First, the blood pressure. I was a super high 130/80 (well, it is super high for me, considering I am usually 100/60), but then I was in a bloody hospital. I have a feeling that a vast majority of heart attacks (okay, I first wrote MIs there) that occur in hospitals occur because YOUR IN A FREAKING HOSPITAL! Second, I had a hearing test, which I passed because it was easy and I could see which button the nurse was pushing so I knew which ear the sound was supposed to be going to. Third, a dentist looked at my teeth. My teeth aren’t that great, but I don’t have any contagious diseases in there, so I am not sure what the Korean government cares about that for. Fourth, a nurse drew my blood. My Korean pocket dictionary doesn’t cover “blackout” and it is difficult to discuss possibilities with a limited English speaker. So, that was embarrassing. Fifth, I gave a urine sample. Nope, despite rumors, I do not do drugs and never have. Sixth, I had an X-Ray of my upper torso. Finally, some doctor poked at my hands (they were a deathly gray color still from the blackout) and signed off on my medical form.

Fast forward to Friday. After getting my certification of good health back, John and I drove (well, he drove) to Incheon to the Alien Registration Office. They accepted me as a Martian and now once they send me my actual card back I can get a bank account (no more drug dealer cash bundles hidden in my apartment, thanks), good internet (at the moment, limited to school and a very bad hotspot connection at home), and possibly even a scooter (not a Vespa because they are pansy, but some cool Korean scooter (it’ll probably named Vespa, but written in Hangul (as long as I don’t know, right?))) if I am feeling ballsy. Note: you know you’re a wandering mind when you find it completely normal that I used three sets of parentheses when talking about that scooter.

So, all that was to explain why I said I was going to the hospital. I am still feeling well. Though, I have a slightly sore throat. I hope I did not catch tonsillitis from the girl who had it at work. I am praying that I didn’t. And, no, I have not swapped spit with her or anything…before anyone asks.

--Matthew

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On Hunger

Day 2 (March 19, 2008)—

The morning brought hunger. The one thing that is sure to drive you from the comfort of your bed is hunger (or being sick, but that has not come…yet). So, I got up in the morning and took a shower in the indentation in the bathroom floor. No, it is not the toilet. However, it does not really seem big enough for taking a bath nor does it have a shower curtain for blocking water. So, I am kind of forced to stoop down or kneel and turn on the water, and use my body to block the spray of the water from shooting out onto the bathroom floor. There is a drain in the floor of the bathroom, but I have been trained well by my mother to not get the bathroom floor flooded with water. I might have to get used to the idea, but I am not there yet. So, I will continue to stoop.

Oh, yes, back to the hunger. I was not really sure where to go eat. My roommate was not back yet from his long weekend. So, I walked out into this new place, for the first time without any guides. Alright, it is not like navigating through a minefield. Well, it might be, but I do not know the Korean word for “mine”, so I hope not. Anyways, I left the apartment to find some food. Both of the places that I went the night before were closed. Although, I could not really find one for sure, I am sure I passed it, but I did not recognize it in the daylight. However, one of the girls the previous night had mentioned a good bakery that I did see in my travels around the block (or two).

The bakery was obviously used to serving English teachers (there are a number of English teaching schools in the area). All of the signs were in Hangul and English. So, I got a cream cheese-filled croissant and a chicken donut-looking thing. The chicken was infused inside of the donut-thing (no, it was not sweet; it just reminded me of a donut). I went back to my apartment to eat. The chicken-donut was good. It was a bit spicy, but there was some substance to it. The croissant, on the other hand, was tasty in so far as the bread was concerned, but cream cheese? I don’t think so. I am not a huge fan of cream cheese in the first place, but this was really funny tasting. I still gutted it out because…well, I am in a foreign country and I might as well eat everything. I just hope it was not bad…though, I have not had any ill-effects, yet. *Cross my fingers*

My roommate showed up a few hours later. He is the British guy, which was pretty easy to guess without ever talking to him. There are English flag pillows and posters and such scattered around the apartment. Overcompensation, anyone? Well, he is a nice guy, nonetheless. Though at times, I can understand as much from Koreans as from him. I am not sure whether we actually speak the same language all the time, but I only have to ask him to repeat something every 10 words instead of every other word. It works out somehow.

The school has lunch at noon, which is free for teachers and students. It is a bit of a stretch to call me a teacher as of yet. However, stretch it I did. Because, as you can tell this day was about food. I am not sure what the food was except for the rice. The meat was chicken, I think. I am maybe sixty percent certain about that. There was also some sweet root dish. I was told it was a root of some kind by one of the other foreign teachers. It was all pretty good. I am still working on getting the chopsticks down, but I am refusing to use the spoon in any situation where I would generally use a fork. So, I go on with chopstick survival camp.

Alright, well, I wrote a long blog yesterday and this one is fairly lengthy. So, I will just say that yesterday was also my first day of training. However, I will gather my thoughts about it and write something tomorrow, hopefully. And, I have a doctor’s appointment in a bit that I have to go to. It blows, I know.

--Matthew

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

First Post (duh)

Day 1 (March 18, 2008)—

I arrived in Korea yesterday. The flight was long, but good. Incheon international airport was like every other airport I have been in…immigration said all of one word and stamped my passport. Customs was incredibly easy. I just signed a statement saying that I did not have anything to declare and I walked through. I did get asked by one person if I was with the U.S. military because of my green duffle bag. No, sorry. My hair is too long and my goatee exists in the first place.

The academic director of the school, Vivi, met me at the airport. She is a very nice lady. I dropped by the currency exchange to pick up some money. They gave me some paper that was still green. It was a big, fat stack of green money and some other colors as well. These are like drug dealer bricks of cash. Not that I would have any idea about that…

After finding my new found wealth, Vivi drove us out of the airport. She was a good driver…other folks? Not so much. Vivi is from Gimpo-Si in Korea. So, she gave me the low down on survival Korean. I can now order water with my beef. That is good, I suppose.

The drive from the airport took about 45 minutes, I believe. I was not paying much attention to the time. So far, Korea is like the U.S., except that all the buildings are on steroids. I have yet to see just a regular house. The apartment buildings are absolutely huge. I would love to see like a large sized Costco from the states next to a normal Korean building. The Costco would still be dwarfed.

When we got to Gimpo, we drove by the school, so that I could orient myself for the morning. And, then drove up to my apartment building. We parked in the underground garage and I assumed there would be an elevator. I was wrong…and the pain begins. Vivi is nice, as I said. However, she is still my boss and I am either chivalrous or chauvinist depending on which side of the feminism debate you come down on. So, I let her carry my lightest suitcase, while I put my duffle bag on my shoulder (about 50 lbs), my big suitcase in my hand (53 lbs, I was over the airline baggage weight limit on that one), and my backpack was on my back (admittedly that one was pretty much a feather comparably). And, up the stairs we went. Now, the stairs probably were not more than 4 flights of 20 steps each or so, but I could feel my shoulder slowly coming out of its socket. Seriously! I have not really felt much pain from that shoulder in a while, but carrying those bags around hurt. Luckily, it was only about 100 yards from the top of the stairs to the front of my apartment building. Then it was up a little ramp then there actually was an elevator!! Hallelujah!!

I dropped my bags in my apartment (after taking my shoes off, obviously!), found out that my roommate is a British guy name Mat (one “t”) who is gone until tomorrow, learned the Korean symbol for hot water (you have to push a button to turn on the hot water), and I started looking around then ten minutes later, five of my fellow foreign teachers showed up. We had actually talked earlier on Vivi’s phone, but I did not mention that earlier in this blog (so, it is kind of like a surprise visit, except that it wasn’t).

Christina, Kristen, Dawn, Kerry, Jerrod, and I all went for food at some place across the street. I can take you there, if you come to Korea, but it is written in Korean and I have no idea what the name of it is. And, if you were wondering…I forgot to take pictures. I will try and do that in the next few days. The first round of food was Kimchi, some vinegar onion dish, sprouts, tofu, lettuce to wrap the meat in, and strips of pork. We had to cook the pork ourselves on the burner in the middle of the table. That would be a cool way to keep restaurants from overcooking meat in the states, but over here I cooked “mine” (it was communal) until it had died twice. Then we were done and still hungry so we re-ordered with a new beef dish. It was good, just like the pork. All told, for six people, we spent 32,000 won, if memory serves. And, if my exchange rate is correct, that is about $35.50. Or $5.90 a piece. So, dinner out was about half the price from the states, assuming that was a good example.

After dinner, we went to an ice cream shop in the next alley. It was good, but it was like any other ice cream that I have had in the past. Then we walked back to my apartment because the girls thought I would get lost, which I might have, but I would have just circled some until I found it. Bed was the next big event that occurred. It was a very nice experience after having last woken up on Sunday at 7 a.m. and not finding my new bed until Monday at 11 p.m. Of course, the whole International Date Line thing changes the day. So, it sounds worse than it is, but I was still dead tired. I woke up, of course, at noon and I decided to whip out this entry so that people could see what happened on my first day in Korea. Unfortunately, the noon wake up is correct for Pacific Standard Time. Here it was about 5 a.m. Doh!! I am going to have to shoot my circadian rhythm. I will start work at about noon time here. Hopefully, all will go well and I will have more to report later.

Ahh, yes, and I just passed my 12 hour mark of being in Korea. What a milestone!!

--Matthew