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.


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.


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.


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.


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!!