Thursday, October 30, 2008

[call me on the line // call me call me any anytime]

I got my alien registration card on Monday. The alien registration card looks like a driver licenses, only nicer because the picture has been heavily airbrushed (no freckles, frizzy hair or general looking like hot death!) and is needed for all sorts of things such as getting a bank account or a cell phone, two things I didn't have and desperately needed. I was paid on Monday for the first time since July (wheee!) and promptly went and bought a cell phone.

This is 굿 (kut), the exorcism phone! Look, I was bound and determined to somehow work the fact that I know the Korean word for exorcism in to a conversation. Plus, I was using a random Korean word for the name and it was either 굿 or 가위 (scissors), and who ever heard of a phone called scissors.

Word immediately spread around school that I had a phone, even to the students. Today I was mobbed by a group of fifth graders shouting, "Teacher, 선생님 (seon-saeng-nim), phone," only when they say phone, they pronounce it like porn. (True story: when my co-teacher said we would go buy a phone after lunch, I heard "We will go buy you porn after lunch." For a moment I was all, I really don't think we're at that point in our relationship. Luckily I have a good enough mental filter to prevent myself from actually saying that. *facepalm*) I eventually scribbled my phone number on the white bored with my co-teacher's blessing. It was greeted by squeals of excitement and all the students whipped out the cellphones and programed the number in. I really hope none of them call me though. I'm their teacher - I *know* how bad some of their English is. That would be one very short conversation.

(What you really should take away from this blog post is the amount of Korean I managed to work into it, and while it might look impressive, I want you to know that it's like a tenth of my entire Korean vocabulary. That's right, exorcism is 1/30 of my Korean vocabulary.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

[I'm not talking quesadillas or a pile of caviar // that's a rich man's dream]

In my experience, if you put any group of expats in close proximity, the second thing they will do is kvetch about the food situation in the country where they're living. The first is to determine everyone's nationality and make sure all the Americans voted for Obama, but once the Americans have apologized for the past eight years, food comes up. From the fact that kimchi is so spicy it makes our brains melt out our ears to the fact that sometimes the food is still alive and moving when it's served to the fact that sometimes the food is a beloved pet in the west (anyone up for some dog?) to the fact that we're just so damn sick of rice. (Seriously, so sick of rice.)

And then we talk about the food we miss. I miss cheese. God but I miss cheese. I would very happily live off only cheese, consequences be damned, and one of the hardest things about living in Korea is the fact that they don't actually have cheese here. Sometimes I can find overpriced pre-sliced processed cheese at the grocery store, but not real cheese like cheddar or Gouda or mozzarella or feta. I've really missed cheese.

The most important thing I learned at this orientation was that Costco has cheese. Lesson plans be damned, it's all about the food.

I went to Costco today. My friend Jen has a Costco card and we met in Seoul to go grocery shopping. My apartment is now stocked with 15 boxes of Annie's mac & cheese, a huge block of sharp cheddar cheese, about twenty five packages of Halls, a huge container of conditioner and two giant bags of fun sized Halloween candy for the Halloween lessons next week. It is glorious. The only problem with Costco is that it sells things that are not otherwise available in bulk. I didn't really want all that mac & cheese, but I won't find it anywhere else. And while one or two cans of chicken noodle soup (!!) in a bag aren't too heavy for an hour long subway ride home, twenty cans are. There were a lot of things I wanted that were just too heavy to get home without a car.

The other amazing thing about Costco was their food court. They had real, proper pizza. There was neither rice nor corn in the sauce. It was like a religious experience. On the other hand, I had Sprite for the first time since I got here and found it inferior to the Korean equivalent. Who knows? Maybe in a year I'll like still squirming octopus or be able to eat kimchi without wanting to die.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Injeongjeon Hall
Injeongjeon Hall

I went to Changdeokgung last Saturday. I was suppose to meet my friend Siobhain in Iteawon for Indian food and shopping at Dongdaemun, but she was running late and after waiting half an hour, I gave up and left. Ah, the joys of trying to make plans without a cell phone. After some brief pouting and planning to just go home and eat worms because clearly nobody liked me, I snapped out of it and decided to spend the day in Seoul, or at least grab lunch before I headed home. I went to Quizno's (which - I know, I know - but it was right next to the subway stop and I wanted someplace cheep where I wouldn't feel weird sitting alone, which meant fast food), pulled out my Korea guidebook and flipped through it in search of some of the places I didn't have a chance to visit last summer.

I decided on Changdeokgung. It's one of the five Grand Palaces of Seoul, and was finished in 1412 by King Taejon of the Joseon Dynasty. The only way to see the palace is on a guided tour, but luckily there was an English tour leaving shortly after I arrived. For all that I use to be a tour guide, I'm not really a fan of taking group tours. I'm perfectly capable of reading the brochure and wayside signs myself, and I don't like to be rushed. Plus, I like to take photos - lots of photos - and that's difficult to get a clear shot if you're with a large group of people. Still, it was a good tour and the guide didn't seem to mind (or notice) if I wandered ahead or behind to snap some photos.

Figurines on Jinseonmun Gate
Figurines on Jinseonmun Gate. Each of the buildings and gates in the complex had a different number of figurines. They represent something, but I had trouble understanding what the guide said. Her accent was pretty thick.

Traditional Korean Painting
Traditional Korean decorations. Seriously, you see these colors and motifs repeated on temples and palaces around the country.

Entrance to the Secret Garden
The entrance to the Secret Garden (Huwon), the delightfully named massive park behind the palace complex. I'll admit it, I chose to go to Changdeokgung based solely on the Frances Hodgson Burnett reference.

Juhamnu (Royal Archives)
This is Juhamnu, which was the royal archives and library.

Buyongji Poud & Bujongjeong Pavilion
This is Buyongji Poud and Bujongjeong Pavilion. The pond represents the world according to Confucian ideals. The island represents the world, which is round, and the pond represents the sky, which is square.

Autumn Come to the Secret Garden
Fall comes to the Secret Garden. The fact that it's this cold in October means I'm going to *freeze* this winter.

Euiduhap, which was a study cubicle for the royal prince. This makes me appreciate my table in an alcove at Davis Library.

In the Secret Garden
Peering over a wall in the Secret Garden.

Aeryeonji Pond & Aeryeonjeong Pavilion
Aeryeonji Pond and Aeryeonjeong Pavilion. This wasn't on the official tour, but I made a slight detour when the guide stopped to talk.

The rest of the photos are here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

[up in the mornin' and out to school // the teacher is teachin' the Golden Rule]

I was sitting in my office at work (no third or fourth period today because the sixth graders are taking a national test), emailing a friend and reading Mo Rocca 180 when suddenly my office was invaded by fifth graders getting out of music class. At first the peeked around the corner at my desk, and scurried back whenever I looked up. Then they got braver and huddled in front of my computer, trying to catch a glimpse of what I doing. (Luckily I minimized Firefox before they saw the Barack-O-Lantern, which might not be considered an appropriate use of my time.) Finally the bravest of the girls asked how old I was. I told her twenty three* and asked her how old she was. She giggled and fled the office, pulling her friends with her.

This is pretty much par for the course when it comes to interacting with my students. They're fascinated by me; I have signed countless textbooks and notebooks and they flock to me whenever they see me in the halls, usually trailing me like duckings. They love to say hello and shake my hand (Koreans bow when they great each other, so shaking hands is a novelty), but very few will actually talk to me, even if I *know* they understand the question. One of my main goals this year is to get them comfortable conversing in English, even if they make mistakes.

Until then, though, it's a good way to clear them out of my office. "Oh no, she's going to ask us questions! It's just like class, only this time we can escape! Run for it!"

*Funny story there. Koreans count age differently than westerners. You're considered one years old when your born, which means Korean ages are always one more than American ages. I knew this when I went (it's been a joke in my family for ages) but I forgot my first day of school when I was introducing myself and now I feel weird backpedaling and saying no really, I'm twenty four in Korea, I swear.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

[I got soul, but I'm not a soldier]

My second weekend in Korea! It's a long weekend; Friday was Foundation Day and therefore a national holiday. Friday was depressing. I didn't know anyone and without work to keep me busy, I had nothing to do but sit at home and contemplate how lonely I was. Luckily I pulled myself together and the rest of the weekend was fun.

On Saturday I made myself get up and clean my apartment. It's a tiny little thing - about the size of my living room in Rocky Mount - but it's not like I have much stuff with me. I finished unpacking, cleaned my kitchen and figured out the trash situation. In Korea, you have to use official government issued trash bags. There are different bags for food trash and other trash, plus recycling is mandatory (whee!). I had a huge pile of trash that had accumulated over the week that I needed to throw out, but I wasn't sure what bag to put it in. Saturday evening I met up with Ji-Won, my co-teacher, to go over lesson plans. Last week all I officially did was observe English camp, but this week I'm responsible for preparing material. We went to a truly terrible cafe and spent a few hours going over the textbooks and our ideas for class next week. Then we went out for ice cream. Koreans keep insisting that we eat western food. I know they're being kind and doing it to make me feel at home, but western food in Korean is often very bad and I would much rather eat good Korean food than mediocre overpriced western food. The ice cream, however, was excellent.

On Sunday, I went to an expat Stitch n' Bitch in Seoul. I found the group on Ravelry, the facebook of knitting. When I found out I was moving to Korea, I typed Korea in Ravelry's search function and it spit out a group called Knitters and Crocheters in Korea, and in addition to finding out where I can buy precious precious yarn in Korea, it mentioned that there was a SnB every first and third Sunday of the month. I had a fantastic time! I was worried about getting into Seoul, but it was super easy. Ansan is a suburb south of Seoul, but it's part of the Seoul National Capital Area and I live just down the street from one of the twelve subway lines in the city. It took an hour to make it to Seoul, but it was a straight shot. There were about fifteen knitters, including Cheryl, who lives in Ansan. Cheryl and I exchanged info and are trying to make plans to meet up sometime this week. After the SnB, Siobhain (another knitter my age) and I went to Itaewon for food. Itaewon is the foreigner district in Seoul and it has a huge American presence, both from tourists and from the nearby Yongsan Garrison, the primary American military base in Korea. After a week in Korea, it was a treat to see other people who looked like me and to understand people's conversations as I walked past. We ate at a truly excellent Indian place and scoped out a supermarket specializing in foreign food. A block of mild (!) cheddar cheese cost $16 which is a depressing depressing fact. After dinner we went out for ice cream, exchanged contact info and I headed home. It was a great day and a fun weekend.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

[textbook hippie man // get rest while you can]

I made it to Korea safe and sound! Actually, I made it to Korea safe and sound five days ago, but have yet to post because I'm a slacker. Also I've been busy with the whole moving thing and the sleeping at massively irregular hours. (Oh jetlag. I hate you.)

The flight was uneventful. I lucked out big time and had an empty seat next to me; fifteen hours is a long time to spend tucked into a seat like a sardine. The other woman in my row was super nice; she was visiting her daughter and son-in-law in China and we ended up talking for a lot of the flight which went a long way to keep me from freaking out too much. She also fed me, which was awesome because I left the food I'd brought with me in the car and, as it turns out, Korean Air had an all the beef you can eat menu, which, in my case, is none at all. Each seat came equipped with a personal entertainment system in the headrest, so I able to chose what movies I wanted to watch and when, which was a *godsend* on a flight this long. Plus, the flight have a bunch of movies I actually wanted to watch: Prince Caspian, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Iron Man and Indiana Jones. I also managed to doze for a few hours.

At the airport I was met by someone who put me on a bus to Ansan, a suburb of Seoul where I now live. The bus ride took two hours, which was a bitch after an hour clearing customs, fifteen hours on a plane, two hours waiting in Atlanta and a four hour drive to the airport. I only barely stayed awake, and had to keep pinching myself for the last hour. I was met in Ansan by Kim, who is the English teacher at my school, the head of administration and the principal, which was awkward. They were all dressed up for the occasion (the principal was wearing a suit) whereas I was rocking a pair of jeans, Chucks and was vaguely unwashed. I know there was nothing I could do about it - I had been traveling for over twenty four hours - but that wasn't the first impression I wanted to give. My welcome party took me out to eat - Italian, and how guilty do I feel that my first meal in Korea was pizza - and then shopping at the Korean equivalent of Wal-Mart. The shopping trip was a bit traumatic, since I was asleep on my feet at that point and people kept shoving things in my face and asking me if I needed them. While I did get the basic necessities (bedding, kitchen supplies and some food), I also ended up with some really random things such as a singular cushion and two different pairs of house slippers.

I finally made it to my apartment around midnight, where I quickly emailed my parents to let them know I was safe and then collapsed into bed.