Saturday, 29 December 2007

On Behalf of Western Civilization, I'm Sorry

I made it! The great thing about coming from a life in Korea: No jetlag!

Found a place for the night and got a cab into the city for less than 1000 baht. I don't know how much that is in dollars or won but I do know that it's less than the private cab companies tried to charge just to get me to the backpacker neighborhood.

Sadly, it seems to be made up of a significant population of Westerners celebrating the absence of open container laws. I've come up with a name for people who travel around the world just to drink and smoke so that they can go back home and talk about all the ridiculous stuff they did because they were drunk and ran out of smokes: International Dilletantes. I've seen them all over Asia now (Japan, Korea, Thailand, Australia, & New Zealand) and it just makes me sad. How can you learn or appreciate anything if you spend the entire time in a chemical haze of one sort or another?

On the positive side I had little trouble getting here and even had a surprise stopover in Taiwan (I did not notice it on the e-ticket). Their airport in Taipei is not exciting. I keep considering buying duty free cigarettes and attempting to use the cigarettes to garner favors and "make friends". When I go to North Korea I know for sure that I will do this. Other positive: veggie spring rolls from street vendors at one in the morning. Pad Thai morning, noon, and night. Oh, and no open conatiner laws! Woohoo! Just kidding on that last part, nothing curbs ones desire for alcohol like observing the obnoxious and embarassing behavior of people who have already had too much and are sharing their brilliance with the public.

While waiting in the very long line to immigration I began pondering cows. Specifically, cows in leather form. I have this leather bracelet thing with a silver rose on it that I made and I decided it's badass because it's black leather. Then I started thinking about how leather is badass but cows aren't at all.
Badass: leather, eating cow, wearing cow
Not Badass: cows, killing cows, tipping cows

Does the tanning process somehow imbue cows with badassery? Can we do this to other animals? Can it be applied in any state other than post-mortem? Get back to me on that, k?

Friday, 28 December 2007

Going To Thailand

Going to Thailand for a week. Might have internet. Might not.



Vacation officially begins NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, 27 December 2007

In Old Country, Candidate Carries Sword

I want to vote in the Ukraine! Scroll down and see what Yulia is up to in her campaign.

Things I Know

How, you may ask, do I know that I'm not living in a musical? Because when all of the audio equipment within my grasp at work fails and a student suggests I sing the song I am thinking of for their listening exercise I do not burst into siren-like song. The children do not join in after the first chorus. I am wearing the same pants I wore Monday and the lighting is shit. This is how I know.

When I learn my first phrases in Korean I am unable to commit them to memory by singing a little ditty that eventually turns into a three-part routine, including some co-worker who unwittingly stumbled in on my lesson only to find herself pulled, by lyrical forces beyond her control, into our song. Clever lines about remembering to pronounce final esses and d's do not pop into my head. The children cannot conjugate in rhyming couplets. This is how I know.

I have no perceived enemy with whom I will fall in love with in the next act. When colleagues leave the room I do not sing to myself about how poor, lonely, aspirational, or in love I am while looking into my reflection, at human activity below, or upon adorable children/adults/pets/anthropomorphized educational materials engaging in whatever behavior most highlights how isolated I am from all that I, the protagonist, so richly deserve. This is how I know.

When I say something curious or pithy those in my vicinity do not pause and repeat my statement to a beat. When I am unable to communicate with the Koreans in my neighborhood we do not commune on some higher plane through song. Adoring children do not follow me wherever I go. Likewise bluebirds, young men taken with my charm, and sparkling halos of light. This is how I know.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Weighing in on the Election

Ron Paul is an ass. His knowledge of history is only passing and his understanding of International Affairs is almost entirely absent. He is principled only to the degree that he will declare principles he thinks others should follow and not in living according to them himself.


Another friend might visit me here. *squee!*

I sucked today. Every class but one was review and it was just monotonous and craptacular. The one class that wasn't review suffered sequential technical problems which left me swearing under my breath. Also, they were 13 year olds. Nothing heaps irritation on problems like teenagers. Hopefully this doesn't wholly wreck my magic at work but I was just off. I did not, as they say, bring my A game. A co-worker was kind enough to tell me no one had said anything bad about my work yet so that's good.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Happy holidays!

No matter how intellectually you approach the absence of gifts at Christmastime, not having something to open, after more than two decades of doing so, blows. I played pop culture Trivial Pursuit with coworkers and some other associates. It was interesting. There is little else to report from here except that I'm looking forward to my winter break.

I hope all is well with you (my adoring fans). Heh.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Happy Holidays

I have not escaped Christmas music by being here. It is marginally less annoying than in the states because on occasion I am blessed by the carol being in Korean, which does not get stuck in my head and can be far more easily ignored because unless it says "yes", "no", "what did you do last weekend?", or "foreigner" I won't recognize the words. This may be an example of blissful ignorance.

Whilst poking around in a nearby store I got to listen to the song about Santa the Stalker (aka Santa Claus is Coming to Town). The highlight of this was that despite being a long-established song, with lyrics that have gone unchanged for dozens of shopping seasons, the song as sung by Koreans contained the kinds of grammatical errors I correct for a living. Example, when singing about Santa: He know [sic] when you are sleeping, he know [sic] when you're awake. There was another song where the lyric starts out with first person plural (we) and ends in first person singular.

Sometime this week my kids will sing Jingle Bell Rock and perform a very short play written by my coworker (A Gift for a Snowman*). It should be interesting. Possibly adorable. The sum total of my contribution to this was having the kids run through their lines at the end of my classes and naming the snow fox (which, in the spirit of simplicity and rather dumb naming schemes for young'uns is "Snowball"**).

*Spoiler: sunglasses.
**Although, thanks to Clerks, this does bring up secondary, more mature mental images.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Can I Put This on My Resume?


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Friday, 21 December 2007

My friend Meg alerted me to a product that I swear would be a fitting gift for nearly half the people on my Christmas list because everything should taste like bacon.

We had our Christmas dinner at Outback tonight! It was good. It was nice to have something to do on a Friday night (even if it was work-related). I enjoyed a free meal that wasn't Korean (not a dig, just sayin' that I don't always feel like rice 'n' kimchi for dinner). I feel like I so earned this weekend after taking home work two nights in a row, agreeing to take on an intensive course for the next month, and just generally busting my hump.

Tomorrow I need to accomplish some more Christmas shopping and prepare for the holiday party chez co-worker. The host has a fixation with classiness that is fascinating. My opinion is that a defining feature of classiness is that it appears effortless so watching someone put for a great deal of effort to achieve it is...captivating. I am not so enamored of the materialism that accompanies it but it is best to just let that flow on and not worry about it.

Yesterday I received a lovely letter from my grandmother and a fabulous box of deliciousness from my parents!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Work Work

While waiting for this video to load I worked on grading more homework. A student who filled out a compare/contrast Pilgrim Life*/Life Now sheet and under Life Now she put "We like Kimchi" and under Pilgrim Life, "They didn't like Kimchi".

I also volunteered to teach an intensive month-long novel course as well. I'm fairly certain I get paid more. I hope so. I'm afraid to double check.

*Yes, the Amero-centric social studies text book strikes again! They have been learning about the incredibly relevant world of arbitrarily selected Native Americans and the Pilgrims. Sigh.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Games You Can Play: Seoul Edition

You're White: Let's Talk!
Hello! Nothing More
Where Do I Live?
Stupid Foreigner
Your Korean? It sucks.

In other news: I am imposing my musical will upon two different classes! Muahahahaha! I'm living in my own private delusion of being considered the "cool" teacher by having the students listen to a mix I made for their Listening course. I realize that won't be the case but until next week, when they have had a chance to listen to the songs, I'm cool.

The next project I am considering: having the students correct the English on lolcat macros. Tell me that wouldn't be pretty fun.

I was saddened today to realize that my teaching has almost no effect on student output or understanding. My most retarded (in the dictionary sense) class has been steadily improving on their vocabulary test scores in the past few weeks, since I began adjusting the homework to increase the amount they practice their vocabulary. I thought, perhaps, I was actually being a good teacher but a brief chat with one of the students today indicates that they were just lazy as hell and they are now bothering to study under threat of death by their mothers. Little bastards.

Saturday, 15 December 2007


I'm going to be offline for 24 hours straight. This will run from approximately 10:15M EST Saturday to 10:15 am Sunday. I am participating in an experiment and not using electricity in my apartment for a whole day. If there is an emergency please call my land line as, of course, being in the loop is far more important than completing the experiment.

See you in a day.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Greetings, I Am From Foreign.

I had my first informal Korean lesson today! It was tiring as learning new languages can be. There is something about attempting to process so many things at once. Learning the written language actually requires a few skills, especially when learning in context (as in just from translation and the basics of how to function as opposed to the luxury of learning mechanics and not having to use the language to operate efficiently in your environment). A Korean coworker from the upstairs part of our offices is interested in practicing his English. The best part is that he has studied Japanese!

The Japanese is extraordinarily helpful for two reasons. First, there are a set of sounds more common to Japanese than to English that are far easier for me to express (and which, by default, I tend to write down in Japanese) when transliterating the same sounds in Korean. Second, the Korean written language used to use Chinese characters. In Asia Chinese was something like Latin was in Europe before writing and speaking in the vernacular came (with the Renaissance, right?) to be popular. So I have several ways to confirm origins and sounds with my new teacher and that is incredibly helpful.

Language is, in its own way, a sort of historical encryption. The subtleties of the origin and frequency of certain words can help you put together a picture of the progression of the regions where the language is spoken or used. Much like you could trace colonialism by following English, French, Dutch, or Spanish from their originating points in Europe (though, clearly, I do not mean to imply that those are the absolute origins of the languages). Learning another language allows you to see how thoughts are formed and ordered as well. My students have a number of prevalent habits and patterns in their work and it is clear, once you become familiar with the culture and native Korean linguistic habits, how those come about. It is a big puzzle and it is very exciting to put together.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Travel Question

I can't get a flight to Bangkok right now (I'm on a waiting list) for my winter break. There are available flights to Vietnam. Should I just go for Vietnam and do Thailand another time or play the odds on Thailand? And if I go to Vietnam should I start in Hanoi or Ho Chi Min?

My Addiction. Let Me Show You It.

This is me enjoying my first delicious, sugar-free cup of instant coffee in the comfort of my own home. Thank you Team Pirate:)

Lone ninja: arrangements will be made to also enjoy your coffee.

Go Team Pirate!

So...I recorded myself opening the latest box but it got mushy and then I recorded another discussion but got all teary and gave up. I'm a bit down these days about not having local friends and having about 95% less contact with friends and family so it just wasn't coming out right. Anyways, I'm still amassing a special boxing box and the opening video will be in there.

The box was filled with lovely things but what truly made me happy was the towel. It took forever to place it...I wanted to be able to see it from every part of the apartment but that is impossible so it is where I spend most of my time, making me smile.

I'm very glad the week is almost over! Work has been OK but my energy is just not where and when and how I want it to be. On the way home today I was trying to explain this Jim Breuer stand-up routine where he explains the way to confuse a stoner. You just have to ask one question: What were we just talking about? I've searched desperately for a clip and failed to find it. It sums up what some of my classes are like.

In other news: One of the "special reading" classes has a Time for Kids article on squirrels and I'm campaigning to have the instructor do something involving squirrel fishing but I mostly get odd looks. I have some very fond squirrel-related memories. Most especially from last year's Vericon attempt to catch a squirrel the old-fashioned, Hannah-Barbarra way of propping up a box with bait in it and pulling a string once the quarry had gone inside. Never was success met with such surprised paralysis. I don't think we ever thought seriously about what to do if it worked and the squirrel got away. It was huge. Like, two feet long. Massive. With eyes like lasers.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Monday, 10 December 2007

Your Politics

This NPR report is evidence that America is screwed on at least two levels. A woman states that she is thinking of voting for "Hucklebee" [sic]. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino also admitted to not know anything about either the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Bay of Pigs incident on an NPR quiz show. I think I might have to quit the PDZD because all I'm doing now is desperately searching for brains in the news. Am I an ivory tower zombie?


Sunday, 9 December 2007

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Itaewon Adventure

I finally made it to the infamous area called Itaewon. I rather liked it and spent a long time walking around and even navigating back streets through an area with traditional looking houses! It was a wonderful neighborhood just for having some actual geography of hills and alleyways and architectural variation, all of which are totally lacking in my area.

After a great deal of walking around I decided to end the night by checking out an Irish pub there called the Wolfhound. I stood around and sipped a gin and tonic, awkwardly looking around while holding too much stuff. I was not in Itaewon or the bar to par-tay. I was there to be a dork and learn. This means I had my camera, an art project, and materials for taking notes along with me rather than, say, a wad of cash and a slutty top.

Eventually the oldest guy in the bar (an Australian 5 year resident of Seoul who is only four years older than I) sat next to me and chatted me up. It was very interesting and I got a lot of elbow nudges. I felt as though I was in the "Does your wife go?" sketch from Monty Python. The gentleman was very polite and we had an interesting talk on a variety of subjects. I think perhaps the moment he knew the cause was truly lost was when he said, in response to my comment of having lived in Sydney briefly, "I guess you're immune to my charms then, eh?" *nudge* I then said I preferred New Zealand, which is probably the equivalent of saying "I've had sex with your mother" to an Australian.

I should also add that he was the oldest guy in a bar where the average age was probably 12. I saw some honky man-child by shots for two Korean girls with the air of someone who was wealthy and worldly. It was a very strange experience and not my scene at all. Bars are only fun on occasion and with good friends.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Educational Experience

I just had a really fascinating interaction with some Korean Christians. Yesterday a nice young woman and a friend stopped by my apartment and asked if I wanted to take a survey today when they could bring English versions. I agreed and it occurred to me that this was very likely a religious survey but I wanted to be engaging and I agreed. I don't know if I was running very late or if they came early but as I was brushing my teeth, half-dressed, the young lady arrived with her brother.

Apparently it is a Korean tradition to bring something whenever you are a guest in someone's house and so they brought me clementines, which is very generous. I hate it when I feel an obligation to someone and the best way to meet it seems to be to convert, though. They were very polite and I practiced spelling her brother's name because it is very simple in Korean script.

We all knelt on the floor (traditional seating style, women sit on their legs/knees, men get to sit "indian style"*). I took a five question survey which asked me, among other things, to identify which quote I would like to learn more about. There was a quote from the Bible that I didn't recognize so I listed that, which set off an hour long lesson about their interpretation of the Bible. The Bible she carried with her was specifically an instructional, conversion-oriented version so it was not a complete Bible containing all the texts of all the books. Instead, there was a Korean column of text and an English one with just the key chapters that provided the logic and emphasis that they want to express in spreading the word.

It really was fascinating. They talked about Passover and related the original passing over to the modern practice of taking communion. As most of you know the Passover celebrated in Judaism is derived from the plagues of Egypt in Exodus wherein those that sacrificed a lamb to God and painted its blood on their house were spared the plague of having their firstborn killed. This Church of God emphasizes that Christ is the lamb of God and you eat of his flesh and drink of his blood in a parallel act of being passed over for retribution when you die or when we are in End Times. They only give you communion when you are baptised into the church and then once every year in the first month, on the second week of the solar or lunar calendar. I am guessing lunar (and therefore it comports with the Jewish Passover, right?) but there was a slight language barrier.

One of the ways that the Church of God here seems more in tune with Asian cultures is the conceptualization of a heavenly family. They explain that there is a parallel system of sorts in heaven with a father/mother/sibling dynamic and Jerusalem is the home (heaven). I immediately was reminded of Confucianism and its focus on the importance family and wonder if the two are connected.

I was invited to be baptised. I hate turning sincere people down but I tried to be polite and explain that I was baptised in my Baptist grandmother's church already but this sprouted a whole new explanation of how many people are baptised. To sum up she very politely and in mixed English/Korean explained that most churches hand out baptisms like free candy and that you must be able to accept the Holy Spirit consciously, which is actually how the Baptists approach baptism as well. I didn't feel it would be fair to mention that I had, in fact, also been baptised at another protestant church and thusly had covered my bases. My first baptism was without my consent as I was an infant, the second I undertook in an effort to please my grandmother.

*My friend Alisha and I were invited into a Buddhist temple in Japan and I sat indian style and was told I sat like a man.

Purpose in Life

I have a new mission in life. I have just heard that at least one person in Nova Scotia keeps kelp-eating sheep. It was in a story about a tasering incident in Canada and the NPR reporter mentioned it casually. How can one just toss out the fact that there are kelp-eating sheep as though talking about what you had for lunch?! So, now, among my many other goals, I intend to see these kelp-eating sheep.

I woke up early today and started cleaning the apartment. Yesterday two Korean women, one of whom spoke English, stopped by my apartment. I love the flash of surprise that crosses the natives' faces when a foreigner answers the door:). She asked if she could come back tomorrow with an English version of a survey and I, having no real reason to decline, agreed. In case she comes, or looks, inside the apartment I decided I ought to tidy up at least a few of the piles of junk building up and sweep.

After doing my civic duty and possibly being encouraged to join a church I'll be going to the area called Itaewon. Itaewon is known for being a foreigner district that does not at all represent "real Korea". I fear that I'll see a lot of honkies displaying the kinds of behaviors that I find embarrassing and immature because I've already seen it in other popular areas. I'm sure I will also see endless parades of unattractive white men with good looking Korean girlfriends and spend some time lamenting the unfairness of romantic life. I'll bring a positive attitude and my camera. I'm looking forward to seeing a new part of the city.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007


I would love to know why I was launched out of bed by the sound of Fur Elise being played over the loudspeaker in my apartment. Sadly, one of the elements that my apartment here shares with my dorm in Japan is that there is a PA system in the various units. Every so often the Ajushi (I believe that is an approximation of the title of the Man with the Giant Tongs who monitors the apartments is called) will broadcast announcements that I can't understand into my apartment. I needed to get up at a reasonable hour anyway but, like the lighted, smoking beer pitcher, this is one of those events that I fail to understand. He didn't even follow up with "good morning!" or anything. I wonder if he just likes to mess with tenants.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Time Flies!

I can't believe it's been a week since I posted!
Work has been a bit more harried because we are in transition between teachers and schedules. Saturday I spent most of the day out, first at a wedding and then socializing with coworkers and former coworkers til the wee hours. It was most educational! Sunday I was inspired to and obsessed with learning to make origami roses and it was so peaceful and zen-like once I actually learned the process I lost track of time. Really, I understand why the art of paper folding blossomed in Japan. It can produce an amazing sense of calm.

I was a very lucky girl yesterday!

I have footage of a discussion of the particulars of the weddings and culture but I am going to work on a better write-up as I want to select my words carefully so as to avoid leaving the impression that I am judging. I realized that I referred to something as "weird" and what I feared was that the fact that I fully recognize that it is from a single, Western perspective and do not mean it is either bad or good, is not apparent. More to come once I get myself in order.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Coughing Like a Bronte

New fun fact: There is no fluoride in the toothepaste in Korea. I don't know if they fluoridate the water but, given that I'm not supposed to drink it, this may be moot. Recently departed co-worker informed me that two of his teeth shattered while he was here because he did not realize this. Eek!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Game Update and Some Observations

Team Pirates is now in the lead as one of its members has provided proof of arriving in February! I'd say we should dress like pirates for the occasion but it will be bitterly cold (don't tell her!) and difficult to manage while waddling around under six inches of woolies and jumpers.

In order to keep this educational I wanted to share some observations about everyday interactions in Seoul. These are behaviors I have seen repeatedly and may only be relevant to the city because, as you know, many habits are geographical in nature.

First, you are supposed to get up for old people on the subway. This is common, even in the US. However, in DC I notice that a lot of people are not at all considerate of older riders on the Metro or pregnant women etc. It's actually really disappointing. In Seoul this is much more strictly followed, I think because revering elders is much more specific to the culture whereas in the US it's just about being considerate to those riders that need to sit because of their physical status.

What is hilarious about the elderly riders is that they are like vultures. The moment they step onto a crowded train they look left and right, scouring the train for a victim. They find their prey, usually an adolescent or overly comfortable looking young woman, and then stand right in front of them and give them a stare down. They are very serious about this and the person getting stared down is supposed to get up and move immediately upon eye contact. What is hilarious is that old ladies charge halfway down a train, passing other opportunities and ramming riders in order to reach their intended victim. Frankly, this is what old age is all about: punishing the young and taking advantage of your golden years. What you lose in strength and agility you gain in status and crotchetyness.

Second, lines are for the weak! I get cut in front of a lot here and have learned to accept it. The nice thing is that often cashiers will wave off the person who cuts in front of me and help so, while it is agitating, it isn't worth getting upset about. Apparently there is a way to say "Did you not see the line?" in Korean (slang) but I haven't learned it and it is a really bad idea to fire a warning shot in another language when the rest of your ammunition consists of 'no','yes','foreigner', and 'school'. At the post office the other day (where I nearly mailed pictures of my coworkers at a party to someone in Chicago and gave my coworkers a CD of music and documentation) a woman with a baby cut in front of me from the side only to have a Pizza Hut Delivery guy cut in front of her! Ballsy.

The Sniffles: Week Two (Strange Things One Does When Ill)

Last night I built a model of the Sutro Tower in San Francisco. Some of you know why, others don't. It makes little difference but a part of the set up includes a zombie statue the Captain of the Pittsburgh Department of Zombie Disposal gave me when I left (to remind me of the constant threat of post-mortem animation both at home and abroad*). It glows in the dark and, well, it's a li'l creepy and I wrote a poem in parody of one of my favorite poems by Shel Silverstein:
There's a zombie there,
On my frigidaire,
He stands and stares, too dumb to care.
With his fist on a flag,
And his eyes on the prize,
He reeks of old brains,
Is attracting the flies.
He glows in the dark,
He's guarding the tower,
He's there on a lark,
And could use a shower.
But, all the same,
If he's thinking of brains,
He ought not be there,
Causing a scare,
That zombie on there,
On my frigidaire.

*They're jealous of our precious cerebrums!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

A Demand for Science!

While you are all waddling off your Thanksgiving indulgence or laying in food comas and thinking about the long horizon of turkey sandwiches you are facing, I am seeking the betterment of humanity!

I also present absolute visual evidence that Americans are 3.5 times larger than Koreans, post-cleansing. Perhaps we are more absorptive?

Friday, 23 November 2007

Heisenberg and Travel

First, I should report that I have just returned from the farewell party for a married couple working at the school. It was a learning experience and I generally enjoyed it. I learned a Korean drinking game which is similar to the American "name game" that some of you may be familiar with from camp. There is a beat and one person starts the beat and then on the 3rd count of 4 names someone and on the 4th count of 4 names the number of times they must say their own name (within a range of one to four). If you mess up anywhere in the 4 count you take a drink. I look forward to introducing this to friends.
Jammed in the entrance of my apartment is what I think, in my addled state, is a coffee table. I should say that I find it extremely pleasing that in my current mode of existence "nesting" consists of perusing the neighbors' trash. I am hoping to purchase Settlers of Catan in the near future and that the table that I slightly drunkenly selected and carried to my apartment at 2:30am will be good for gaming. We shall see what the morning brings.
Finally, I am, every so often, struck by the fact that I am living in Korea. It isn't that I don't realize this but that there is a difference between going through the motions of everyday life and that of stepping back and considering the context of your actions. I much prefer living in other countries to merely visiting them and I think I have figured out a good framework for explaining why.
The HUP (Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle) states, roughly, that you can know an electron's position and its momentum, but not at the same time. You cannot know both simultaneously because to observe and object is to influence it. I think that travel is the same way. You can develop a point-in-time understanding of a country by visiting for a few days and develop a very limited perspective on the culture or you can live in a country for an extended period of time and get a feel for the culture (its momentum). Living in a country is so necessarily different from visiting because of the differing demands. So I am, strangely, able to forget the sheer magnitude of the difference between living in South Korea and the U.S. because on a day to day level I still have to cope with eating, paying bills, and working. You get lost in the force of the momentum of your existence rather than having a strong, singular impression of where you are.
So that was my big epiphany on the way home from the going-away party. Hopefully it won't seem totally foolish when I crawl out of bed tomorrow.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

In Old Country Turkey Feasts on YOU!

In honor of Thanksgiving Day I wish to share with you my favorite Thanksgiving song.

I still have a cold so quality and enthusiasm are on the wane. Hopefully next week will be healthier and happier.

Here's the smoking beer. It even has a light at the base. One of the things that I think makes Asia so fascinating is the fact that it is impossible to fathom where certain ideas come from. Now, pitchers with lights at the bottom are neat. Dry ice in water is entertaining. Beer in pitchers is good. A pseudo-German atmosphere is appreciated. But what confluence of thoughts and events results in a place that makes German-style sausage and offers imported German beer in Seoul to decide to put beer in a pitcher with a special reservoir for water and dry ice cannot be imagined by me.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Mid-Week Hodge Podge

Today I find myself starting to wonder if I'll be forgotten in my absence. I know it's probably absurd but somehow I find it hard to believe that, outside of my family, my absence is felt at all. I don't know why, it is a lasting sense of being forgettable that has followed me many places. Maybe this is why people build things...
Who was I? I was the guy who put this damned giant obelisk/park/statue/horrible work of abstract public art in the middle of this traffic circle! You will acknowledge me with every awkward vehicular interaction you have within my domain! Late for work? It was I!
We live on in the lives of those we touch...or utterly inconvenience.

In other news: I bet you'd like to know how much fruit $5 (5,000 won) can buy you in my neighborhood! Behold!

These little citrus fruits are a staple of daily life here, at least in my neighborhood, and it's wonderful. I tried a persimmon for the first time today and I am sad to report that, for a fruit with such an alluring and beautiful name, they are not particularly tasty. Perhaps if I were to pluck one from the tree myself at the height of whatever persimmon season is it would be delicious.

Lastly, I sent an email to NPR nominating myself to be on Wait...Wait...Don't Tell Me! before leaving for work this morning.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

I Feed On the Cries of Babes

It was another day of tests! I have discovered what some have perhaps suspected all along: teachers love giving tests. Well, I do. When you are sick it's very hard to keep up the energy required for teaching six to seven classes, as I do every day. Tests are things you can wind up and release.

That's not wholly true. In fact, a lot of work goes into testing on one or both ends. We don't make up these tests but we grade the writing and I spend a lot of time wrangling and going over things with the kids to try to get them to do their best. Today I got downright ornery with a kid who already speaks out of turn and off topic during class a lot. He was 10 minutes late, missed the review for the test and I had already begun timing them so left him to his lot. He utterly failed to answer the question. I am uncertain if being here for the prep would have helped but, either way, it was clear he was not paying attention (the question was on naming someone who helps in your community, his response was about some sort of league of street fighters he likes to watch and is almost identical to what he already wrote in his reading notebook for another assignment) and I assigned him an essay on writing three good reasons one should 1) listen to the teacher and 2) read the questions carefully on the exam!

I had to teach my most remedial class today. I spent the entire time working on writing sentences with them. I find it very difficult to tell whether the poor output of various students is laziness or stupidity and am now confronted with the question of whether discipline can in any way counter ignorance. This is not meant to imply that these kids are genuinely dumb, this is regards only to their English capabilities. In truth, I quite enjoyed it. I wish the lesson plans they laid out for us gave me more time to focus on weaknesses. Supposedly these kids also have a grammar and writing class taught by another instructor but their sentence writing is so weak I sincerely wonder what they are doing in that class. When they write sentences it often seems like a buckshot approach where, eventually, one of the sentences will make sense by sheer happenstance.

Ten points to the team who sends me a fainting couch! I've got the consumption something bad. Well, I'm not coughing up blood or anything, I just feel maddeningly snuffly. And cold. You know you're ill when standing over the tea kettle on an open gas flame and thinking "I'd better be careful not to catch my sleeves on fire" and then slowly move from caution to pondering the relative benefits to self immolation. Also, tea! Damned if I can get some reasonable (British or Indian) tea here for a reasonable amount and in separate tea bags.

The day wasn't all cruelty. To keep them coming back you have to randomly distribute pain and pleasure, right? I also handed out candy at the end of tests and, in particular, pleasantly surprised the hell out of some girl, who was stuck at school until nine working on a test, by dropping chocolates in her hands as she packed up to leave. I really like seeing people* enjoy life or pleasantly surprised (a do unto others sort of thing) and thusly one nice thing about my current job is that there are a lot of opportunities for that.

*By which I mean people of whom I approve. I have not gone wholly soft.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Sestina d'Inverno

There's a poem about Rochester, New York, written by some long forgotten English professor who was at the University of Rochester, called Sestina d'Inverno. I shall never forget the first few lines:

Here in this bleak city of Rochester,
Where there are 27 names for "snow",
Not all of them polite...

Well, here in this sprawling city of Seoul, where I have not yet learned one name for "snow", we have it! It is most pleasing and I now share with you visual evidence of the winter wonderland around my humble abode.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Monday Approved!

I would have posted sooner but my internet connection was uselessly slow for almost the entire weeekend. Also, I caught the consumption from a co-worker and spent the majority of the weekend in bed. Fortunately, I feel much better just in time for work! It's another day of giving tests! Among things to put in the good news category:
I got a bunch of groceries, including restorative instant soup (although I sure wish I could have some good old fashioned tomato soup in a can)
I got a mass call from the War Mice (bittersweet, pics below)
They are finally hauling the furniture out of my "bedroom" today
I got the awesomest thing at the local equivalent of Wal-Mart/Target...

The phone call with the War Mice was a ton of fun. I'll admit some jealousy and sadness that I'm missing so much fun but such is life. I'll have to go do something tremendous on my vacation. Speaking of which, I'm going to have a week off around New Year's and gotta figure out what I'm doing. I think I may just make a list of nearby Asian countries (probably not Japan or China) that I'm interested in seeing and pick whichever is cheapest.

This is my friend Dennis who apparently volunteered to be the camera man in a new and more literal way. It was great. I tried to help him out a bit with the ladies...

We were having some technical difficulties with the mic so to fill the time I began expressing Wuthering Heights in semaphore.

I also made a sign, in the style of smiley that Eve created, to indicate when the mic cut to white noise.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Big Giant Rant About Work

I've been trying to avoid being negative on here or writing anything very specific about work but I have got to get this out of my system. However, before that, it's Friday! Yay! That means two days of unstructured free time! I don't know what I'll be doing but I will attempt to find joyous discoveries to share with you! I promise to be more cheery and fun in upcoming posts.

Yesterday at work the subject of a particular child who I do not teach came up yet again. Almost daily two of the teachers complain about her behavior and abilities in class. It turns out that they have seen clear evidence that she is abused at home. One teacher has seen the scars and was prompted to review the student's work during a test because when she brought it up the student had gotten blood on the test.

Apparently it is still culturally acceptable to hit your children in Korea. I have not heard this from any native Korean source, only the other teachers, one of whom is a Korean who was raised in the U.S.. The teachers seem to feel that because it is not their country or culture they have no recourse regarding evidence of child abuse and that it absolves them of any responsibility. I do my best to accept that cultural differences are not a bad thing and am, frankly, working far harder to understand and accommodate Korea than any of the other instructors as far as I can tell but I draw the line at child abuse.

I will grant that if abuse is still legal and culturally accepted there is little the teachers could do but I proposed to the teacher, who was most vocal in complaints about this student, that he should consider what would happen if a student died as a result of the abuse. His answer was that he would not feel responsible at all. I said that he should, minimally, actually inform the directors of the school (which noone has done) so that it is recorded somewhere. Should the decision that nothing can be done be left in the hands of a 22 year old from Nowhere, Middle America or someone who actually understands the culture and has had more than a few fleeting years of adult experience?

It frustrates me to no end that the teachers complain about this girl's behavior without ever considering (or, at least, verbally acknowledging) that it might be the abuse that is causing her to act out and not that she gets hit at home as a result of that kind of behavior. Let us not even dignify the implied idea that a child can actually deserve to be hit. I know it is hard to avoid attributional bias, especially when a child is really poorly behaved, but I am utterly amazed that they have not expressed any sympathy for this girl.

I am often torn about expressing my opinions because they are strong and I know they are not always correct but even in going over the conversation in my mind I don't see a flaw in my position, which is merely that if the teachers see evidence of abuse they should inform one of the administrators because the administrators are more familiar with the culture and, should something more grievous occur, there would some record of it. This seems blatantly obvious to me. Am I incorrect? Is it "obvious" to me because I have a more thoughtful and empathic personality? Is it "obvious" because I'm older? These are not rhetorical, I invite input on this.

I am not really making friends at work. I'm not making enemies but it is clear that I won't spend a lot of my private time socializing with coworkers because, although they have many positive attributes, we don't share much other than the language and displacement. There are three new teachers coming within the next few weeks and they are all male and, according to one source, all have Korean girlfriends. I find the Korean girlfriend thing a bit trite at this point.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007


The week is just shy of half over! I am not on my game. I keep having to interrupt my classes to take my kids to the computer lab for stupid reading tests. You may recall that they just took monthly tests at the end of October. Next week they are taking "level" tests. Then it'll be time for another monthly test. Sounds dreamy, right? Getting small children to listen in a foreign language is tiring and stressful, especially with the lab is, shall we say, not a shining paragon of modern efficiency.

Apparently next week is Thanksgiving! I don't know that I would have even thought about it if it weren't mentioned. One of the teachers has brought up doing something (even if it's something as minor as going to the Outback Steakhouse next door) after work. I'm not sure how I feel about all this but happy ain't it. At any rate, the Sock Goblin or whatever has been at it again...

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

O! Canada

I should add that the metamorphosis is nearly complete. Last Friday I used "eh?" sincerely at work. It was like a lucid dream where I knew what was happening, I was almost conscious enough to stop it and then it just spilled out. The worst's starting to take control:

More About the Competition

So, can you believe my coworkers aren't amused by my competition? Well, I don't think they really get it. Or, perhaps, they don't realize that I'm mostly kidding and am actually fully incapable of affection and merely toying with you all (muahahahhahaha!). Anyways, I use sign language of sorts in this one and speak of she who will be known as The Bug Lady. I look forward to hearing from Bug Lady in the future as I suspect she is a part of the social and managerial fabric of my apartment building.

While I am at it let me enumerate some awesome Korean superstitions:

1) If you write someone's name in red ink they will die. I have to be very careful when marking students papers because, of course, there is always the temptation to write "Great job, Steve!" or whatever. I've already had to go over two names in black ink.
2) Korean magpies are a sign of good luck. Good! There are a lot around and they are pretty, I've been trying to get a good photo of one and failing.
3) The number four is bad luck. One student claims her apartment complex has no building "104" as a result.
4) If you wash your hair on a test day you will wash out all the knowledge.

Without further ado: the competition, the bug lady, and a package.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Zounds! A Competition!

I did not leave my apartment at all today. I literally spent almost the entire day working on this video. I know that you are now torn between deciding that it's great that I'm really dedicated or sad that I'm so wicked retahded at iMovie. I also did some laundry and other chores but, really, most of my day was spent creating and modifying images in GIMP and trying to dredge up some reasonable footage to explain the competition. I am 100% sincere in its application so start fightin' for my lovin'!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Can You Find the "Love Hotel" in This Post?

As you probably already know, the first night I stayed in a capsule hotel. This is a picture of one of the rooms I passed through to get to mine. I don't think there are people in there, I think those rooms were being used as incubators or cleaned or something...It's a little bit creepy.

On that Sunday I went to see Osaka Castle, which is in the middle of a lot of beautiful park-like land that is in the midst of the city. The castle is now a museum with information about its history and that of Osaka and the broader culture on every floor. Sadly, there are no rooms being shown as they once were. I had really been hoping the interior would have been maintained in the style of its original occupiers.

While at the castle there were a series of performances. I believe they were celebrating the auspiciousness of the date. Traditionally, in Japan and probably other Asian nations, various numbers and dates have differing degrees of auspiciousness. So the number four is bad in Japanese because its alternate pronunciation, "shi", also means death. Thusly, the number is bad luck. Five, however, is very lucky. Only the five and fifty yen coins have holes in the middle - you can put them on strings and wear them! I don't know if that is traditional but I have had a five yen coin on a chain for luck for seven years now. Calendar dates also have fortune-related features and I saw signs for the numbers three, five and seven posted for the celebration.

The performances were many and varied. Some appeared to be traditional group dances while some were modern. In particular a number of teenage Japanese did a rap-esque hip-hop dance that started with all of them wearing hoods over their heads and processing like monks onto the stage. When the hoods were removed you saw that the girls all had corn rows.

Tennoji is a temple in Osaka that apparently has some strong connection to turtles ("Tennoji" doesn't mean turtle). The pond in the middle act as home to a large number of basking turtles and in one of the buildings there was a fountain where the water poured out of an enormous stone turtle's mouth. I watched a monk (or member of the temple staff?) use a long stick to prod a number of prayer sheets a woman had bought into the water. I don't know why. If I had to guess I would say that she bought the prayers for some particular event or person or as a general devotion and that the way in which the prayers are sent into the next world is by their destruction.

Thursday, 8 November 2007


My posts are slowing, I notice. I have been pursuing some other activities and become a little self-conscious about quality and value. I shall, when I have time over the weekend, provide some of the fun pictures I took in Japan.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Back 'Home'

I have returned! I had to split my reportage from the capsule into two different files. I came home only to be rudely reminded that my toilet is broken, dishes need to be done, and that I left things a bit of a mess. I have made a short-term fix for the commode as it is a simple, yet annoying, failure of the flushing chain. So with this many messes to deal with after being gone only four days I dread to think what will have festered, piled up, or broken in a year. ;)

The capsule hotel was divided into a men's and women's section and while the women had a tv and a reading lounge the men got pachinko and video games. Bastards. Not that I want to play pachinko but, really, that's just so sexist! I bet there were beer vending machines in there, too. All we got was coffee, juice, and Pocari Sweat.

Without further ado:


Sunday, 4 November 2007

Is It a Guy Thing?

Quick note:
While waiting for the elevator I noticed a little vending box for "TV cards". I've been watching tv much of the evening and was suddenly seized with the fear that I was being charged or would be charged just for watching normal television. I stopped at the front desk and had the following conversation (in Japanese):
"What are the 'TV cards' for? Special programming?...Movies?"
"Uhhhhh...[awkward looking around]"
"Oh, is this a man thing?"
"OK, sorry."

I Will Raze Your Village, Drink the Tears of Your Seals

I should add that I wasn't drinking anything like "seal tears" before I made the video, either.

No Love (That's a Good Thing)

I'm riding on someone else's network from the hotel work selected (and is paying for). The connection is not very good so I'm not going to upload the video report from the capsule hotel I stayed in last night. I will, however, relay the trauma of seeking housing on what turned out to be a holiday weekend in Osaka.

I got into Osaka in the early afternoon and mooched around Namba and then in Shinsaibashi (where the Korean consulate and a lot of shopping in Osaka is located). I figured that in my wanderings I would find some place to stay. The two hotels I inquired at were full. An employee at the first hotel directed me on how to find another hotel but, because my Japanese isn't very good, I did not hear the part where he said that it is invisible to the human eye.

Like Korea, places are crammed on top of each other and in every nook and cranny imaginable meaning that the thousands of stores, bars, restaurants, ramen-yas, and hotels all crowd your field of vision. It is really difficult to find something you are specifically seeking because approximately three businesses will be squeezed into a space where in America only one might exist. I had a wonderful time looking around the area but with the burden of a hefty backpack and only five hours of sleep I faded in the early evening and found the troubles of finding someplace to sleep overwhelming.

I had a map, given to me by one of the hotels that had no rooms, with various hotels in the area marked on it. Sadly, this was of minimal help and at one point I looked down a street that was not marked on the map and found a half dozen places with "hotel" in their name. Now, I know Japan and I know about "love hotels" but my utter exhaustion left following my heart rather than my head and I walked down the street thinking, "well, dammit, this isn't on the map! There are a ton of hotels here!" Hotels with names like Blanc de Blanc and Love the Dolls that list two rates: One for a "rest" and another, for the more ambitious, for overnight. I might have tried my luck if they hadn't listed the prices based on a membership.

Finally, I asked a police officer for help and we discussed the options and he told me about a hotel in the area and I said I had no luck and showed him the map. I also said, "not a love hotel" during the conversation. He eventually flagged me a cab and discussed my predicament with the cabbie. He said, among other things,"A female foreigner here alone...A business hotel, not a love hotel...A normal hotel."

Thursday, 1 November 2007

craigslist love you long time

You may or may not be aware of my obsession with craigslist "missed connections" in a previous life. I find it a fascinating place, along with cl generally, to explore the weird behaviors that anonymity cultivates. Missed Connections was particularly interesting in that it allowed people to throw out "feelers" about interactions or vent their feelings anonymously while still permitting some microscopic possibility of genuine communication.

Craigslist Seoul is remarkably dull compared to that of Washington, DC. In fact, overall, the board gets far less use than it does in America. This makes sense and while it is disappointing that I don't get to wade through all the strangeness of a busy list (such as finding the MC about a failed indecent exposure) it allows me to marvel at the elements that do choose to use the medium. MC is lacking in posts so I have extended my trolling to the M4W and other forums.

Before marveling at the particulars let me share this fact: every single weagook male that I have met either arrived in Korea married or is now married to/in a serious relationship with a Korean woman. Every. One. The women are mostly single. I could make some rather cynical estimations on why that is but that is not my place. It certainly seems that perhaps there is a preference for picking up a local wife, which is fine except that I can't help but think about reasons I have heard that Asian women are preferred by Western men. At any rate, despite the total bloody absence of a question mark, this guy would like to know if you are ready for marriage.

Hmmm...he seems to be a weagook. Oh and he likes stuff that is good! I like good stuff, too! OMG, it's like we're soul mates. Look at how he nonchalantly leans against his sports car! He must take life in stride. I bet he's really spiritual, he likes "simple things."

Good lord, I hope this guy isn't here teaching English. This man, meanwhile, is keeping the most retarded of MC habitual inquiries alive on the other side of the earth. Where all my bitches at? The internet truly is the intersection that hosts most human car wrecks.

Nihon e Ikimusu!

Something I have discovered after grading writing exams for three classes is that I no longer find Engrish amusing. Now, all I do at work is deal with mangled English. It's my job. The odd thing is that you can see exactly how it develops, there is something about the approach to the language that invites particular mis-usage. I no longer laugh, for the most part, unless I find a great sentence that is more priceless for its content than grammatical failings. I'll try to retain some good examples to share.

In other, more exciting news:

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Children of the Candy Corn

As I sat in one of the rooms prepping a lesson they brought the youngest students down to our classrooms for trick-or-treating. It sounded like a blend of Children of the Corn and Dawn of the Dead. The kids wandered back and forth in groups moaning "trick or treat" over and over and over in a low, joyless tone. It was a little bit scary. The finer points of trick-or-treating were either lost or neglected with the youngest ones. They all had costumes and some of them recognized my Naruto head band.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

I Hope You Can Wire Bail Money

Oh sugarpuff. I've been here less than two weeks and have already broken the law. I stole my neighbor's mail. None of the mailboxes are locked (odd in an enormous city like this, yes?) and I wasn't paying attention to the numbers and hauled off with his or her bills. I managed to sneak them back without getting caught by the guy with the giant tongs who keeps watch over the building. Yes, giant tongs. He also is in charge of managing the "recycling" and, presumably, the abandoned furniture farm next to his office.

Speaking of obscenities: I had a brief flash of agitation and stress while prepping for a class today. I wanted to print a quiz and was having problems because the printer in the computer lab is older than some of the students (and I don't know Korean). The end result of this was that I just kept thinking "comma jackass" at the guy who was "helping" me. Literally watching him while all kinds of irked thoughts ran across my mind followed by my own private narrator saying, "comma jackass". Totally justified, I might add, as he ended up having to do exactly what I asked him to do before he began futzing around.

When it comes to computers it's like bloody Ground Hog's Day: each time I tell someone to do something in a technical realm they do something else until I yell at them or they realize it's getting them nowhere and they go back and do what I instructed in the first place (unless they've managed to hopelessly pooch things). Fortunately, my frustration melts away very quickly at this job.

Someone's Never Played SimCity

I don't think there is such a thing as a zoning law in Seoul. It seems that if you own the land and have funds at least to begin building something, no matter what it is, you can. There is a mega-church under construction that has been, according to a colleague, under construction for close to two years. They ran out of money and the site sat dormant and half-done for about a year and just recently came back to life. This is wholly contrary to the typical layout in the U.S. where mega-churches are out in the suburbs. Here there is within the same square half-mile: proto-mega-church, apartment colonies, stores, outdoor vendors, a truck driving school, small farms, hagwons, schools, and a mountain.

I passed a sheer cliff down from a sidewalk that was actually a staircase into a subterranean shoe store. I would have taken a photo but was uncertain of whether that was polite. This, and other stores and vendors, just sprout up out of the sidewalk. The distribution of stores, restaurants, and street vendors is very unexpected. In most of the places I have lived there are specific districts and streets that, because of habit or zoning, are the center of commerce. It seems that here you simply have to have a wander two blocks in any direction from any point of origin and you'll hit someone selling something. One time out of two it'll be something fried.

Probably strangest of all, to me, are the gardens. There are small orchards and gardens distributed on any small patch of land not already paved. I assume that this is partly what fuels the vegetable sellers that set up shop everywhere. The last bit of evidence that there isn't a great deal of delineation of function within the geography of the city is that the trash can end up a variety of places. There is a designated recycling day but instead of having specified bins all manner of objets, including used hula-hoops and broken computers and so forth, are hauled into the parking lot and onto the curb here. Old furniture is ditched, whenever the whim strikes, in the yards of our apartments. It is either liberated by people who want it (there's a constant effort by my coworkers to keep an eye out for useful furniture) or taken away by a mysterious force.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Is This My Sock?

The straw that broke the expat's back...

Ghost Stories, Errata

Some general notes:

*I won't record anything from work because 1) I don't really want you to know or see where I work largely because 2) I don't know how to get the appropriate permissions and 3) Although I'm trying to keep this blog and associated clips family-friendly I don't want to be in trouble for dropping the odd f-bomb and linking this to the specifics of my job might increase the cross-referencing possibilities. Those of you familiar with my tales of No Biscuit from my previous job should know that someone here reminds me of her and I might have to just vent four minutes of obscenities in order to keep cool about that.

*My laundry survived. Amusingly, one of the Korean girls at work, who grew up in the Congo going to an international school (thus bilingual), saw my notes and called me out on translating the washer. As yet noone knows why "sliced raw fish" is an option on my washer. More specifically: noone understands wtf I'm talking about when I mention the sliced raw fish status light.

*I'm going to try to say "yeah", "uhm", and "awesome" less often. One of my smart (too smart for his own good) kids actually tallied my language in use for class. I already told him I'm sending his mom a note telling her not to let him have sugar ever.

*Also, is it just me or am I sounding more like a Canadian? Most of the weagooks are Canadian and it is taking all of my willpower not to say "eh". One of the guys is from Thunder Bay and, I swear, it's as though he has to fit a quota of "eh"s into the conversation. I like him.

This clip is a touch long. I ended up relaying some ghost stories we discussed in class and thought I'd share. Also, now taking offers to increase my status!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

"Oh, I just turn it on and push the play button..."

I spent several hours today translating the various words on the input panel of my washing machine. I would refer to the words as representing "options" except that poking them did not seem to have any recognizable effect on outcome so for me most of the buttons are not options but taunts. Having now fed the hangeul into Babel fish and observed the results I can understand why it is just as well that I don't make use of the other buttons.

Before embarking on the translation project I spent a great deal of time trying to determine if the internet already held the answers I sought and found nothing. Now, given that there are thousands of expat English teachers here, I have to assume that somewhere on the web is a tool of use but I could not find it. I decided that I would forge new territory and be a hero to the weagooks[clip below] by creating a useful tutorial on operating the washer. Yes! I will contribute to the greater good while learning the language! I am awesome!


Autodidaction is hard. I spent another few hours poking the image above in GIMP. "Weagook" explained:

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Time = Distance/Rate

The traffic in Seoul is horrendous and infinite. Only utter madness could explain one's desire to travel by car or bus rather than train. So, although we were told that it only takes 40 minutes to get to our destination we ended up in the school bus almost three hours. The estimation, I assume, was based on the idea that Time = Distance/Rate (with natural addition of a few minutes for lights etc.). However, in Korea the formula must incorporate complex logarithms and variables, such as how many vendors have set up tents in the road, to achieve any form of accuracy. We took the train to get back and it did indeed only take 40 minutes.

We saw lovely mountains, water, and fall foliage. We enjoyed Korean food. We played kickball. In spite of all that my highlight of the day was finding a fantastic example of "Engrish" in whatever little town we ended up in. It's not upside down because the location to which the arrow refers is indeed on the right.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Compulsory Fun and Nuances of Language

Good morning! It's eight in the morning on my very first Saturday in Seoul. I bet you're thinking, "that's great! You can finally go investigate the city you'll be living in for the next year. See the sights, maybe even contribute to the greater bad by getting something to drink at a Starbucks[1]." Wrong! Today is compulsory fun day for the staff. At ten I have to be at work to catch a bus to an undisclosed location for a picnic with the whole staff.

I'm not actually that bitter about it but I am slightly annoyed that I had to set an alarm on my first weekend and that, instead of checking out one of a million amazing things in the city of my own choosing, I'm essentially going to work. I'm sure it will be fun but the idea of compulsory fun is a bit odd. It sounds like something one of my kids would write. Sometimes they amaze me with the words they know. One challenge of teaching them is trying to explain the nuances of English and why, in most cases, you wouldn't actually describe anything compulsory as "fun", even if technically you could put those words together.

Lest you think all I'm going to do is snark about the food here I should point out that last night I had the most delectable kimchi dumplings for dinner. They make dinner for us at work(!) and it's almost always traditional Korean fare (thusly, meat-tastic) or an Asian interpretation of Western food[2] (thusly, meat-tastic). Anyways, I like kimchi and these dumplings were easily the best native food I have consumed here, I snuck back for more at the end of the night. But, I still had time to buy some more thrilling treats to share with you so keep an eye out for the day that I'm brave enough to drink what looks like pine soda.

[1]When I lived in Japan one of my coping strategies was to drag my kiwi friend to the Starbucks in Nihombashi. I just desperately needed something familiar and American so we would go have non-azuki-flavored treats and study.
[2] I say "Asian" because what is described as "spaghetti" or "curry" here is almost identical to the versions I ate in Japan. The curry seems to have all the elements of an Indian curry and yet tastes totally different from almost any that I have had. It's like curry from a parallel dimension. Barring the meat it's good. In the interest of being the river and not the rock about eating here I have just tried to work around the meat in some of the dishes. A helpful trick is to just use chopsticks and leave the impression that I'm too stupid to get a spoon to finish the sauce/pick up the meat (I don't want to insult anyone by obviously avoiding their cooking).

Thursday, 25 October 2007

My First Day

Today was my first day of work. I made another video in order to showcase some purchases from the local 7-11 and share a bit about the teaching experience. Convenience stores in Korea and Japan are awesome. I have incredibly fond memories of all the goods you could acquire at the "conbini" when I was in Tokyo and, while not as extensive, the ones around here are great too.

First, you can buy liquor at conbini. Having grown up in Pennsylvania I am still awed by the far easier access one has to beer & wine almost everywhere else. In the American deep south you can buy beer at the gas stations and there are often bottle openers at the counter so you don't have to wait to get back to your car to start drinking.

Second, they have all manner of snacky foods and exciting treats. Granted this is mostly taking joy in the exotic. That is why I came to Korea: to have the otherwise mundane turned on its head.

I know that this stuff either is or soon will be totally uninteresting, dear reader-viewer. As it is I'm still pondering whether I'm really contributing to the greater good by making (bad) videos. Over time I hope to acquire a real camera and some actual editing skills but right now, so far from everything, this is how I'm fighting the isolation. Pay attention for a bit longer, though, because I have a challenge for friends and family coming up as soon as I complete a few things.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

You Can Come To My 'Hood, I Will Show You My Crib

My fancy-pants new laptop allows me to make awkwardly filmed movies! Now you can see, in all its glory, my apartment:

Today was stressful. I had to begin planning the umpteen classes I'll be teaching tomorrow. It's a little scary and a little frustrating. I've only seen a few of the many classes I'll be teaching and since I've only been in country three days it's a little overwhelming. I did see one of the classes I am taking over and that was dominated by the misbehavior of two boys and climaxed with totally inappropriate vocabulary (theirs, not mine).

As for observations specific to my Korean experience thus far: questions that are considered rude in America about personal things are the norm here. On the ride from the airport Sunday night the guy driving me asked 1) "Are you married?" and 2) "How old are you?". I was expecting him to go for a hattrick and ask if I believe in God or how much I weigh but he veered into politics. Do I like President Bush? No. That's a fairly safe answer most places outside the United States. I do wonder how I would be received if I espoused how lucky the rest of the planet is that Bush is dishing whoopass and Democracy to all and sundry.

Today, I was introduced to various classes and got to field questions. What did I get to field? Teacher, are you married? Teacher, how old are you? Do you have a boyfriend? Do you have a girlfriend?

Whoah! Yea, that last one surprised me. The second time I had to own up to being single I asked the student if she was going to help me out in that department. The boy who asked me if I had a boy- or girlfriend asked me if I was lonely. Oh. My. God. I'm just waiting to come in one day and have innocent seven-year-old faces inquire what I'm doing with my life or if I'm worried that my ovaries (and today's inappropriate vocabulary lesson makes their knowledge of this word entirely possible) are going to turn to dust before I ever trick a man into marrying me. Good thing the kids are learning plural nouns - we can talk about the many cats I'll be living with.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Pray, Good Sir, Would You Happen to Have Any Lucky Charms?

As I type there is water on the boil for what I intend to be a spaghetti dinner. It's just past nine at night and I have spent the last six hours observing various teachers of various classes and being exposed to numerous snuffling youths. Children are vectors of disease and I fear a future of perpetual runny noses and clouded thoughts. Yesterday at lunch I was informed nigh-cheerfully that I will be sick much of the time. Oh boy.

I haven't consumed Lucky Charms cereal since early in my college days but suddenly I almost want them. I hate to admit it but my palate is not cut out for most Asian food as it is found here. I can't read the labels to determine animal content and dread a number of flavors particular to the region, chief among them "fishy". What my time in Japan taught me is that one should never assume that a food, regardless of its resemblance to familiar Western fare, will taste as you expect it. Thus, although the jar of sauce I bought depicts tomatoes and mushrooms and contains a thick, red liquid, I cannot safely assume that what I am about to consume will taste anything like spaghetti.

Observing the classes was interesting. I was assured it would be a struggle to maintain consciousness through six boring hours but the real challenge was fatigue from jetlag. In fact, generously, I was not signed up to observe a solid six hours but found no point in mooching around in the teachers' lounge during the breaks provided and chose to follow whoever was headed purposefully to a class to continue my education. Tomorrow is a full day of observation but I think I will manage much better given that I will likely sleep normally tonight.

Several of the instructors are married with both spouses working at our hagwon. They seem to have gotten married directly after college. I am attempting to get a fix on what kind of person chooses to take this type of job. I am tempted to say some form of desperation plays a role (either for money or to get out of whatever dodge you happen to be in[1]). One instructor indicated that he had no interest in working an entry level job given the bad pay and my response, partially vocalized, was that you don't get to expect a whole lot when all you have in the world is a BA in English.

I have now been gripped with the sudden fear that even the innocuously packaged spaghetti noodles I purchased might be secretly infused with fish sauce....

....I am saved! It tastes almost like spaghetti.

[1] Myself included. "Dodge" could be simply dissatisfaction with whatever you were doing before you came here.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Honkies A Go-Go

Is the plural of "honky" spelled "honkies"? I'm tempted to implement "honki" and "honkus". I lost the battle to stay up last night and have been vaguely to completely awake since four-something in the morning. I've spent the last half hour poking to get my MacBook to play NPR stories with WMV. I have to admit it's easier on a PC but worth the battle to avoid the virus and security problems that plague that other OS.

It occurred to me that I should report to you that the saturation of Westerners is significant in Seoul and particularly in my neighborhood because there are a lot of hagwons (English language schools). In my apartment there are Western style plugs! Right there in the wall! This is most excellent since I did not get around to acquiring a converter[1] but a little disturbing. I am torn between being pleased with the ease of life here and being horrified that Western influence is so significant. One can't help but ponder if this aspect of globalization is a bad thing. What wonders and mysteries of Korean culture are being forgotten, mutilated or buried by the force of unchecked capitalist aggression?

I do not mean to imply that the losses from globalization and/or Westernization are intentional. I think that modernization, technical advances, and development tends to take place in a vacuum for its proponents. It seems that little time is spent evaluating the consequences of changes (culturally, psychologically,environmentally) and that technical advances and industrialization brought on so many positive changes that we forget the negatives[2], especially since the costs are often diffuse and the consequences, like global warming, delayed.

I do not yet know enough of Korea's history and culture to do justice to a treatment of how the culture has been altered or influenced by it's rapid growth in the past few decades but I hope to learn. I am spending a lot of time comparing and contrasting Korea and Japan. One of the other instructors apparently feels that Japan is much cleaner (the implication was one of superiority on this point). I suppose it is true to the extent that I don't recall ever smelling garbage in Tokyo but have on my outings here. Perhaps it has been too long but I see a great deal of similarity between Tokyo and Seoul - maybe it's just the big city of Asia feel.

[1]I could have. Sort of. In the Pittsburgh International Airport I wandered into the Brookstone knowing that there was something I had forgotten but after floating lost for a few minutes I could not remember what I needed and left.
[2]After all, the price isn't being paid by the proponents. Yet.

Day One

I have now been in Seoul for just shy of 24 hours. It is Monday night and the next two days will be training before I begin work on Thursday. I am battling jet lag to a small degree, attempting to force myself to stay awake until at least 10pm. Because I had been so busy in the lead-up to getting here the weight of the decision to take this job really did not sink in 'til about half way through my 13 hour plane ride from LAX. [1] So, somewhere near Fairbanks, Alaska part of me began screaming, "Oh my God, what have you done? You are leaving for a year to live on the other side of planet!" As it is I'm trying not to think of all the fun things I'm going to miss, some of which I'm enumerating here because I am a masochist:
*Friends' birthdays
*Various exciting adventures with my former neighbors and good friends
*Heroes on Monday night at the Mouse House
*The next season of BSG (also at Mouse House)
*Dinner circles
*My cat
Things I won't miss:
*Being a temp
*Feeling like I haven't traveled
*Applying for jobs

I have my own apartment and it is less than five minutes on foot from where I will work. There is a mountain across the street from the cluster of apartment buildings where I live. I hiked part of the main trail today and took a few pictures. I relayed this elsewhere but for the record: the most notable event of the last 24 hours was finding this: in one of the cabinets of my new apartment. After calling my soon-to-be coworker to return to the apartment it was established to be merely a bb gun. Still, dude, what? It looks like a real gun to me.

When I am not fighting the urge to go to bed unreasonably early I shall impart more data and photos.

[1]I had never been to or flown through LAX before and was amazed to see that LA really is monstrously polluted. Departing I looked down at a disgusting brown haze floating in a layer over the city. Also, LAX is huge. I am half convinced that we landed in a neighboring zip code and drove, in the plane, several miles.