Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas in the Land of the Morning Calm

Merry Christmas! Christmas can be hard when you spend it away from family and all the traditions that make holidays special. All last week, students and teachers asked me if I was going home for Christmas and when I told them no (even if I could afford a flight to the US right now, there is literally not enough time in a weekend to fly to the US and back, and I had class on Friday and Monday), they asked if I was sad about spending the holidays alone, which, way to bring up that thing I was really pointedly not thinking about guys. I kept busy though, and had a good holiday.

My celebrations started last Saturday when SnB held a curry party & yarn/book white elephant gift exchange. Riah and Caroline made curry, Audrey made cookies, Siobhain made naan using a wine bottle for a rolling pin, and Jen and Robin helped to empty said wine bottle. I wrapped presents since we wanted dinner to be edible. Everyone brought nice things for the swap, so it wasn't very white elephant-esque, but we had fun and I have a quite a few new books to add to the pile of books I need to read before I go home.

Christmas Curry Party - 12.18.2010
Christmas Curry Party - 12.18.2010 Christmas Curry Party - 12.18.2010
Top: Siobhain making naan with a wine bottle; Left: Caroline showing us her new apron and festive Christmas nose; Right: Riah sampling the curry.

Then, on Christmas Eve Eve, I went to Ansan after work for pho, spring rolls and Vietnamese coffee with Marie and Greg. Traffic was horrible, but I made friends with the six year old sitting next to me. I was the first foreigner he had ever seen, and at first he just stared, but he grew more confident as the bus pulled away from the station and he started making faces at me. I started copying his faces, which he thought was hi-larious. After a few minutes of crossing his eyes and rapidly shifting his jaw around, he decided to stick his finger up his nose, watching me with bright eyes to see what I would do. I briefly though about copying him (standards, what are those?), but we were being watched by the ajeosshis sitting across from us and I was going straight to dinner, so I settled with sticking my finger beside my nose, which luckily was sufficiently funny enough for my friend.

Friday was Christmas Eve and I wished my 6th grade classes a Merry Christmas, but I was corrected. "No, Teacher. Merry Christmas Eve." After school, I went to a candlelight service at the Seoul International Baptist Church near Itaewon. It's next to the base and a lot of parishioners were soldiers and their families. Most of the foreigners I see are teachers in their twenties or thirties, and this was the first time I had seen a non-Korean family in almost a year. American children are giant compared to my wee, slight students. After the service, we took a cab to Itaewon, hung out in What The Book until they closed, then went to the Thai restaurant upstairs. Mmmm, Christmas curry. I've never been a fan of traditional Christmas food and I was thrilled for the excuse to spend my holiday eating SE Asian food instead.

Then on Christmas Day, Caroline, Siobhain, Audrey, Riah and I went for Indian and Doctor Fish in Gangnam. We bought ourselves a Christmas ice cream cake, sang Christmas carols (different ones, at the same time), and then used our cake to reenact the current political situation of the Korean peninsula. The cake was divided into five sections. Riah was South Korea, Audrey was North Korea, Caroline was China, Siobhain was the US and I was somehow Sino-American relations, which meant that I spent a lot of time supplying North Korea with rice and cow (decorative cranberries) which North Korea turned into bombs to throw at South Korea. The chocolate decorations served as the DMZ. Tunnels were dug beneath it. I started making "Phew Phew" noises to simulate bombs, which is when the Koreans sitting next to us started taking our picture. My parents called me while I was waiting for the bus home and I pulled a Waegukin Smash to talk to them while they opened presents.

Christmas 2010
Failboats in public. From (left → right) Siobhain, me, Audrey, Caroline and Riah

Christmas 2010
Mid-conflict on a delicious peninsula

Merry Christmas, one and all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

de Bello Gallico

The best thing about owning a Kindle is that when I get my annual hankering (brought on by listening to the reading of the Gospel) to read about Caesar's conquest of Gaul at 12:30 on Christmas morning, I can buy de Bello Gallico immediately and start reading before the realization that this is probably the geekiest thing I've ever done stops me.

Even better is getting home at 12:30 on Christmas morning after Thai food with friends to find a Amazon gift card from said friend with which to buy de Bello Gallico.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Hope it's a good one.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Five Things

[+] Tomorrow is Christmas Eve! Christmas isn't really an important secular holiday here. It's a red day, meaning I would have the day off it wasn't already on a Saturday. Christian Koreans treat it as a purely religious holiday and everyone treats it as a couple's holiday, almost akin to Valentine's Day. A few of the bigger department stores lights up and there is a massive coca-Cola sponsored Christmas display along the streets of Gangnam, but there are no Christmas decorations in my neighborhood, I'm still teaching class (winter break don't start until next Tuesday) and I've almost forgotten it's almost Christmas. However, I was linked to a cover of the Little Drummer Boy yesterday and I've been listening to it non-stop. It's really excellent and a nice bit of Christmas cheer.

[+] Well, when I say I'm "teaching classes," I mean I finished the textbook last week, so this week I'm showing Up dubbed in Korean with English subtitles. My co-teacher and I take turns sitting in the back of the classroom and occasionally saying, "Quiet" while the other stays in the office and works. Of course, this means I've watched the first twenty minutes of Up twenty times now and if anyone needs me, I'll be weeping in a corner because all happiness will grow old and die or get crotchety and deaf and we all end up alone and sad and *sob*. (Class is only forty minutes long, so I only see the depressing beginning, not the uplifting and happy ending. The students don't seem nearly as affected as I am.)

[+] I've finished my lesson plans for English camp. Well, I've mostly finished them. The last day is a movie day and I really should come up with actual content to teach, but I don't want to. I still need to finish prepping for camp, but this is by far the most prepared I've ever been. I'm sure this will blow up in my face somehow.

[+] I bought my ticket home yesterday. I leave Korea on February 28th, just over two months from now. I was adding money to my T-money card (subway/bus pass) yesterday night and I had to pause and think if would actually use $50 on transportation in the next two months. I got a bit teary about how I was leeeeeeeeeaving, although it might have been because I'm going to have to start buying gas again and there's no way $50 worth of gas could ever possible last two months.

[+] I had a completely gratifying moment on the subway home yesterday when someone asked me what I was reading and I was able to answer with "a survey of political and social forces during the late Roman Empire." I mean, I was reading about the political and social forces that lead to the fall of the Roman Empire (Justinian's Flea, good if a bit pedantic), and I'm not actually ashamed of anything I read (okay, maybe that needle-point based mystery), but it's nice to asked that question when I'm actually reading something impressive.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It never rains, but it pours

I'm busy, which is unusual. I work forty hours a week, but only fourteen of those hours are actually spent teaching, and class prep, grading, extra classes and miscellaneous child wrangling are not enough to fill the other twenty six hours. I normally have an hour or two of free time in the afternoons, which is why going from having nothing to do to more than I can possible do practically overnight has left me reeling.

The semester ends on December 27th and two weeks of English camp starts the next day, which means I have six days finishing planning and preparing 28 hour-and-a-half long lessons from scratch. I probably should have started planning before last week, but I had a training conference the week before last and I wanted to wait until afterward to start planning. I don't have a text book for English camp, so I've chosen stories to base the lessons on. The 3rd and 4th graders are reading Eric Carle books. The 5th and 6th graders are reading fairy tales, which I'm going to write myself because I can't find decent easy reader versions using the vocabulary I want to target.

This is my forth time teaching English camp and each time, I oscillate from being unprepared to being too prepared. My first English camp was a disaster of epic proportion, mostly because my co-teacher and I didn't plan at all (and then my co-teacher just stopped showing up, leaving me to deal with the mess), so when it came time to prepare for the second English camp, I spent a month freaking out and working late and creating hours of extra material. It worked - the camps were a success - but I barely escaped with my sanity intact. This summer I had only planned the first week of the camp, which blew up in my face when the it turned out that, due to a schedule mix-up, what I thought was the first week was, in fact, not the first week, and I spent the next two weeks frantically playing catch up. I'm hoping that by my fourth try I will have found a happy medium.

To further busy things, the broadcasting club has started practicing again last week after a month and a half hiatus. I love those kids to death and I'm so proud of the work they're doing. This time, we're making them write their own articles about their week at Seongnam English Town, and only Ji-won and Ji-yeon turned in articles written entirely in English. The other girls' articles were a mix of Korean and English. One went 한국말, 한국말, 한국말, extreme weather systems, 한국말, 한국말, puppetry 한국말, 한국말, water festival, leaving me very curious about what she was talking about. Last week, each student came by during their lunch for one-on-one help editing their essays. I helped Ji-won and Ji-yeon fix the mistakes in their essays and my co-teacher Nicole helped Hye-ryeong and Han-som translate their articles. Then, on Friday, Jeong-yun (whose article was only 60% in Korean) and her friend Ye-sol (who isn't even in the Broadcasting Club, but is super smart) showed up before Nicole finished lunch and the three of us, with minimal assistance from Jeong-yun's cell phone dictionary, wrote an entire page . I'm ridiculously proud of how well she did and how she kept trying at something she thought was impossible. So yes, I love the Broadcasting Club and I'm glad they have one more report this year, but it does take up a lot of time.

Friday, December 10, 2010

This Winter Is Going to Suck

It snowed Wednesday night and when I woke up Thursday morning, the sidewalk in front of my apartment was covered in ice, as was the crosswalk by my bus stop, the hill my school is on and the entire school grounds. Basically, my entire route to school was one icy slick. I know Korea is allergic to snow days, but if ever there was a time to close school, it would be when the hill the school is on is so icy that it's physically impossible to reach by car and students can't get between the buildings without falling on the ice. The weather was a bit better today and parts of the Ice Hill o' Doom had been cleared, but it turns out the plus to it being too icy for vehicles is that I didn't have to watch a car try to gun it up and hill and fish-tail on a patch of ice a mere foot from a pack of oblivious students on their way to school. I spent the entire walk to school pulling children away from oncoming traffic.

I'm already dreading the winter...
This winter is going to suck.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Amazing Race: Seoul

So, yesterday morning Amber IM'd me to tell me that the latest episode of The Amazing Race was set in Seoul and they went rafting in the DMZ. My response can best be summed up as "..." since I'm pretty sure I would remember an American reality TV show causing an international incident by crossing into the DMZ, an area that is best known for the fact that people CAN'T go there. Even though I don't watch the Amazing Race, I figured this episode would be worth watching.

The teams arrived in Korea and it was raining, which, of course it was raining. The rainy season was abnormally long this year, and by abnormally long, I mean it rained for five straight months. We went weeks without seeing the sun. I thought my shoes would never dry. That weather was what I saw practically ever day from June to October.

On the drive to Seung-il Bridge, Nat or Kat complained that "most of the signs are completely devoid of any sort of English characters." An interesting observation since, in fact, ALL OF THE SIGNS are in English and Korean.

So, I understand why Amber told me the teams were rafting in the DMZ. The teams constantly referenced the DMZ and claimed to be in the DMZ or the DMZ area. I wonder how much of that was added for rating due to the recent tensions because, really, no. They weren't at the DMZ. They were rafting at a popular tourist destination. If the teams were in the DMZ, then so is Seoul. So am I.

Can we talk for a moment about how RIDICULOUS the third challenge (getting from Camp Casey to the World Cup Stadium) was. Like, seriously, they took the subway. The subway where every station is labeled in English. There was ONE transfer. The name of the station they were going to was WORLD CUP STADIUM STATION. How is that a challenge? If I only have to transfer once, I count it a win. Also, Jill and Thomas (the couple) kept sitting the seats reserved for the elderly or the handicapped. Seats that are clearly labeled as such in English and with pictures. I kept cringing because way to Waegukin Smash and give the rest of us a bad name, guys.

The Mokdong Ice Rink (home to the fourth challenge) is one of the two evacuation spots for Americans in Seoul should the Norks invade. The more you know....

I'm sad none of the groups opted for the Namdaemun challenge because Namdaemun is pretty awesome. It's also a lot more authentically Korean than an ice rink. Plus, I've had the ginseng tonic (the nurse at my school gives it to me whenever I'm sick) and it's not half bad.

I LOVED the shots of the teams trying to hail a taxi and failing. It's next to impossible to hail a taxi on the side of the road in Seoul You have to go to a taxi stop and wait in line.

The Pit Stop - the Temple of Heaven - is a super obscure location. I had never heard of it and according to Google, in 1968 the Westin Hotel was built on the site and the temple is now part of the hotel complex. It's essentially a knock-off of a Chinese temple build by the dying throes of Imperial Korea. There are so many better places that could have been chosen.

I enjoyed this episode, but I don't think I could watch the show on a regular basis. Too many of the contestants act like arrogant, entitled assholes and embodied every negative sterotype people have about Americans. When they were searching for the statue of the airplane at Hangang Park, Thomas gripped, "How does nobody know what an airplane is?" and I had to pause the show so I could shout, "I don't know, maybe because airplane is ENGLISH and you're in KOREA, jackass. Try asking for the 비행기, but wait, you don't speak in Korean. You just expect everyone to speak English." I might be overly sensative because I do live in Korea and know enough about the culture to notice when the contestants are overtly rude, but it was still a constant sorce of annoyance for the entire episode.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Colorful Daegu, Day 2


Daegu, Day 2 (which is technically day three, since we left on Friday and this is about Sunday, but a vacation doesn't start until you arrive). I woke up on Sunday as sore as a creaky old man, although I did figure out how to work all the extra gadgets in the shower, which was something. We checked out of the motel, bought our bus tickets back to Seoul, stored our luggage at the station and headed off to a different bus station to catch a bus to Haeinsa.

Haeinsa is the main temple of the Jogye Order, the primary order of Korean Buddhism, and home to the Tripitaka Koreana, the oldest complete version of the Buddhist canon. We had about four hours before we needed to be back in Daegu to catch our bus home, and we thought the bus to Haeinsa took an hour, giving us two hours at the temple. Turns out, the bus to Haeinsa took an hour and a half, a fact we learned only after we had been on the bus for an hour and still weren't there. We ended up having about 40 minutes to see the temple, and after the hike to Gatbawi, Margaret and I decided we weren't up for another forced march. Instead, we went and climbed on the rocks in the river.

I was disappointed - I have wanted to see Haeinsa since I got to Korea - but that's life and I wanted to not miss my bus back to Seoul more. We ended up making it back to the bus station with only a minutes to spare (literally; Korean buses leave on. time.), and that was with us begging our taxi drive to go 빨리빨리 (fast). That was the last bit of 빨리빨리 for the trip. We ran into a traffic jam full of leafers returning to Seoul and it was unfortunately close to midnight when we finally made it home.

I always forget how much I enjoy getting out of Seoul I always mean to travel more on the weekends, but usually, by the time the weekend rolls around and I'm weighing the relative merits of a trip versus sleeping in, I'm exhausted and cranky (the many flaws of my Friday classes, let me tell you about them), and sleeping tends to win out. It was a fun weekend and I'm glad I went.

Haeinsa Haeinsa

Rest of the photos are here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Winner! Asa! I win at NaBloPoMo! 30 days, 30 posts, 11,827 words. I wrote one travelogue, started a second one and exhausted an entire month's supply of cute student stories (that's a lie, I have more). And then there's this bit of chat transcript from last week, which is probably the wrong reaction to a state of national emergency:

me: I am so ready for NaBlo to be over
Amber: orly?
me: I'm just getting tired of constantly having to think of something to write about. thank goodness NKorea attacked. That's going to be good for at least two entires
Amber: lol

I never got around to half the entries I was planning on writing, but for the most part I think managed to make somewhat substantive posts. That vast majority of this month's posts were written at school, which is why the weekend's posts were so phoned in. It also meant that I spent less of my free time in the afternoon bored. Reading over this month's posts, it feels like I spent the entire time giving tests, so I checked my scheduler and realized that's because I did spent the entire month giving tests. My students still think x is a legitimate letter.

I would say something about how I'm going to take a break from posting, but I have an honest-to-God list of posts I need to make in my scheduler, so I guess you're stuck with me and my thoughts and ~feelings.