Friday, 30 December 2011
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
Oh. Man. I wish I was more awake because this has been a rather adventurous, awesome, and amazing week—and Wednesday has only just finished!
I’ll begin with an outline so that when I inevitably strike off on a tangent, I can refer back to it later. Or in case I get tired and decide that sleep is more important that my Korean chronicles.
-staffing changes at work
-giving my first detention (it was long overdue)
-getting invited to a Korean wedding! (though in Korea it is just called ‘a wedding’)
-adventures in rice rolling
-same old same old
-some of my students openly despise me, others say they’d miss me if I left!
-kimbap for kids!
-making friends with the shy, quiet co-worker and getting unexpected adventures!
-naming one my male students “Princess Gigglepants”
…um, so I wrote THAT and now I need napskies. To be continued, I suppose!
November 27, 2011
I also want to make mention of random waves of homesickness striking me in public places when I’m out with my friends, and also the wonderful things those friends do to make me feel better.
Further, new friends and adventures with new friends are also glorious. So much to say, so much to tell, but so much sleep to catch up on first!
November 29, 2011
So tonight I asked a couple of my students (both girls) whether they get along better with boys or girls and why they think that is. Textbooks have the most interesting questions. Anyway. I’m not sure which answer I loved more. The one girl says to me: “I’m better with girls. Boys disgusting.” And the other says: “Girls. Because I go to all girl school. Very sad.”
Monday, 28 November 2011
I gotta start posting this stuff faster. Or find a way to wire my blog to my brain. ...someone somewhere already has the technology. In ten years it will be commonplace. Watch.
I can hardly wrap my head around the fact that I have been here for six weeks already.
I had to stop and think about it this week—I couldn’t recall if I’d just finished week five or six—and it occurred to me that I haven’t been counting down as carefully as I have been prior to this weekend. I guess that means I’m feeling more settled.
It’s rather chilly here in Pyeongtaek today. As it is mid-late November, chilly is quite all right by me. At home there has been snow already. Not a lot, mind, but enough to make people stop and say ‘ah, crap.’
Figures though, now that I’m getting more comfortable with getting around and such, the weather’s going to make exploration less than fun. However, I picked up an extra sweatshirt in Songtan today, so that will help in keeping me warm on outdoor quests.
…That’s right, I went to Songtan today, all by myself! Walked to the train station, added more money to my T card (kinda like a pay-as-you-go TTC pass), and somehow got on the right train. Heh, it helps that many signs here are bilingual, but I’m learning hangul (slooooowly) and that might just make all the difference.
Anyway, Songtan! Again!
I’d been there twice before today and always following others semi-blindly—I will admit that I remember little of my first visit as I was less than 24 hours off the plane from Toronto—so I was I mite nervous about getting there. I made sure that tucked my phrasebook and hangul cheat card into my bag before heading out, since it was entirely possible that I would run full-tilt into the language barrier. The phrasebook has saved my ass a number of times already, and would prove to do likewise again today.
Example: Often when I am in a taxi here, I am traveling with D and T, and as a result, I can never seem to remember what you say when you say where you want to go. So I checked the magical book of barrier breaking. The phrase is “(Destination) uro ka juseyo,” which means “Please take me to (Destination)”. So now I’ve read it, used it, and written it down, so hopefully it is now burned into my brain. Huzzah!
After arriving I mostly wandered aimlessly, taking a proper look around this time, rather than the constant sensation of “OMG, I AM IN KOREA,” that seemed to hit every minute on the minute when I first got here. I was looking for gifty stuff, things to maybe send home for my cousin’s little guys, other cool things to mail off… and I found an Angry Birds sweatshirt that is ever so warm! Much like Southern Ontario, South Korea is actually not very far to the south. It does in fact get cold here—especially when one cannot read her damn thermostat.
Then my stomach informed me that it was dinner time—helped by all the lovely smells coming from numerous street vendors.
So yesterday I decided I wanted to try another new dish. I’ve had Korean BBQ, Kimbap, bibimbap, kimchi, pickled radish, curry rice, curry shrimp, cheese ramen, and silkworms. Yes, you read that right. Frggin’ bug babies. Or…those cocoon Pokemon. It was sort of like eating smoky woodchips wrapped in dryer lint. I’m 100% sure I only ate as many as I did to impress my Korean coworkers.
…uh, so I wanted to try something new. Yes. Now, there is a lovely little diner right by work that does takeout. It is super-quick, super-cheap, and very GOOD. They keep me and T in lots and lots of kimbap. So for fun I started translating parts of the takeout menu from hangul into English sounds, then I Googled what I came up with. It was at this time that I learned my new favourite Korean word: ddokbokki. It is comprised of really thick noodles (they make Shanghai noodles look like angel hair pasta), cabbage, green onion, cucumber, and this sauce that is so spicy, but SO GOOD. My lips were tingling, my mouth was on fire, yet I could not stop eating it. I think it’s a fairly popular traditional dish here, and not for the faint of heart, so my Korean coworkers seemed surprised, pleased, and impressed by how much I was loving my first taste of ddokbokki. There was also much laughter when I decided to go buy some ice cream after. THEY HAVE GREEN TEA ICE CREAM ON A STICK HERE! CH’ON JUSEYO!
So now we’re back in Songtan where I’m hungry and want to try the Korean version of street meat. Then what did my eyes behold? A stand wherein I could obtain a dish of ddokbokki! I could also have tried Korean blood sausage (another time, perhaps), chicken on a skewer, dumplings, and some kind of noodle soup dish. The lady at the stand was super nice and friendly so I will likely go there again. PS, street food is so very cheap! I got a decent-sized serving for only 2000 won!
Some of the street vendors also provide a place to sit, so I figured “why not?” and plunked down next to the warm warm skillet to eat my very spicy dinner. There was an American family beside me (in case I haven’t mentioned, Songtan is home of the Osan Air base and many US troops) and they were enjoying the same dish. We all agreed that it made an excellent meal on a chilly day.
There were some older gentlemen hovering around, one of whom was the vendor’s husband, I think. They were enjoying themselves, sharing a bottle of soju—apparently you can just drink in the street here?—and cracking jokes in Korean. There was much banter that I did not comprehend of course, but the mood was light, and it made for a meal free from awkward silences! Partway through the meal I was given a boiled egg to put in with my noodles. It’s probably why I was too full to finish them, but it tasted really good in that sauce! Actually, the sauce was a lot thicker compared to the stuff I had yesterday, and there were hardly any onions to speak of (yay), but no cabbage at all! The delicious of the noodles and the heat of the spice was on par though. Hoo. And there was lots of fishcake too! (edit, Nov 29: for those who have never experienced the glory of fishcake, I shall simply give you the description of them I came up with that made T laugh his head off: “It’s like a shrimp a and a saltine had a baby!”)
I wanted to be sure ad compliment the meal in Korean since I was treated so well, so I dug out my phrasebook and stumbled out with “ma-shiss-oss-o-yo!” which means “that was delicious!” Methinks my pronunciation was a bit off (shocker), since the vendor grinned and repeated it for me a bit differently (of course I can’t remember it now), using the tone and expression I often employ with the kids when teaching them a new word or phrase—and then one of the soju drinkers piped up with “you numba one!” And I think a few other locals passing by might have applauded a bit too. I am so going back there.
But alas, it was growing dark and cold. I had obtained my sweatshirt and street food, so I decided to head back to Pyeongtaek.
When I got back to the Pyeongtaek station (I would like to add here that like four trains rolled into the arrival side of Songtan station before even one appeared at the departure side, growl and grr), I ended up exploring around AK Plaza—think the Eaton’s Centre on top of Union Station. There were a pile of different shops and restaurants, food courts, and toilets that attack if provoked (read: bidets). Eventually I wound up in Daiso, which I think is kind of like a dollar store. Have I mentioned the security at some of these places? They have people whose job is to stand by the theft detection devices, watching people come in, and also you have to put your bag in a coin-operated locker. This means you have to grab your wallet out first, or you can’t pay for your purchases. A bit annoying, but ask me sometime about how low Korea’s crime rate is compared to Canada’s. Anyway. At said fortress of shopitude, I first obtained some slippers, since my floor tends to murder my socks with filth and my bathroom tiles are so cold that I swear my feet are gonna freeze to them sometime… then I bought a nice big bowl for having my ramen in, and a magical device that is said to kill mosquitoes, but it did not come with the little cartridge that it needs to make it work, alas. Assumptions, friends. Yeah.
The night is getting cooler and I honestly don’t know if my place has heating in it or not, aside from stove use. My bathroom and laundry room are not fun places to be just now.
I think I’ma watch the Korean drama I downloaded. Hooray for subtitles!
Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Nov 12, 2011
Here’s what I don’t get. I got maybe 3-4 hours of sleep last night, I went into Suwon and back, I worked all day, and it is now 2:30 am, and I am still quite awake. I bought groceries, I went to the PC Bang (Korean cyber café) because my home internet is still opseyo (does not exist), and I worked some more on my wall mural, made more hangul letter cards (next I will make flash cards!), and there was dinner in there somewhere too. Why the hell am I still up? I don’t want to sleep half the day away again like last weekend! I want to go and take more photos at this neat park I found, maybe go and shop for rollerblades, use said rollerblades… grah.
I would like to add at this point that I have a very popular K-pop boy band song stuck in my head tonight. Fiction by Beast. It’s oddly catchy, though the only word I know from it is “fiction”. I hear the odd “nida” and “nika” in it, and I swear there’s an “opseyo” in more than one place. I will learn!
Today I did something a little… borderline insane I guess? I bought a book. …wait for it. A Korean book. To translate. Yeah. Go big or go back to Canada, ne? I’ll need a dictionary at some point, but for now I’m just gonna focus on translating the characters into something I recognize, and get myself familiarized with them. I’m sick of being illiterate. How I went nearly five years as a kid without going nuts is astonishing to me. Ahh, and therein lies the line between before the soju hit, and after.
I may or may not have teared up a little when I found real maple syrup at the store tonight. I don’t know if that was the homesickness or the 18000 won price tag talking, but it totally happened! I didn’t buy it though as pancakes and waffles are currently opseyo.
Also, my throat is sore tonight. Can I get an “oh. Fffff—”
Maybe it wouldn’t be remiss to attempt sleep.
November 12 (après sleep)
The germs have, without a doubt, taken hold of my immune system and given it a good swift kick. My throat feels pretty raw this, uh, afternoon, and my sinuses feel a bit iffy. It is the stage where the cold is deciding between attacking my nose with congestion, or my chest with a nice rattling cough. I’ll know soon enough, I’m sure.
It was probably the trip to Suwon that finally did me in. I’ve been sleeping way more than usual this week (after five weeks, the jet lag excuse is opseyo), I’ve been surrounded by sickies for a good month, and then yesterday I worked all day after little sleep. One of my kids was pretty sick last night too. Poor thing was snuffling and sneezing all through class…
I guess that’ll be me this week. Whee. Good thing I’m planning another quiet weekend in. Mostly. It looks like a gorgeous day out, so I’m going back to that park I found last weekend to take pictures. And then getting some rollerblades if I’m up to it!
This also just occurred to me: I’m in Korea, home of really spicy food and my throat is all raw. Eating is going to SUCK this week.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
November 11, 2011
I saw a fair number of soldiers and people in uniform today, and gave some won to a homeless man with his legs gone below the knees. Apparently there is no social services stuff in South Korea, even for someone who looked like he might have been a veteran.
There’s nowhere to buy a poppy, largely because November 11 here is actually Korea’s Valentine’s Day, better known as Puropuro day or something. You buy sweets and gifts to give to your crush, loved ones and close friends, but the big thing to give is Korea’s version of Pocky—purpero—per—p—IIII dunno what the heck it’s called. I’m still just trying to grasp basics here. Admittedly, my efforts could stand to increase. I’ve made myself a hangul cheat card to carry around, I’ve written some of them on paper and have taped them to my cupboards and I try to spot the ones I recognize when I see signs, but I’m certainly no closer to understanding when my students swear at me. Seriously, I need to find a second phrasebook, only with rude stuff, commands, demands and such-like. That’ll definitely get their attention!
We (T, D, & yours truly) went into Suwon today to get my ARC (alien registration card) stuff put together—and the day was pretty smooth sailing.
I’m pretty fried now though, and of course I have to teach in two hours. We couldn’t go on the weekend though, and we definitely can’t go after work since we get out at 10:30 pm. At least I only have to teach two classes today. Had I felt like this yesterday on my scary scary Thursday… eesh.
I love how much cheaper everything is here! We went into Suwon and back on these very lovely and quick trains, and the round trip was about 5000 won, so five bucks. In Ontario to take the GO train round trip from Oshawa to Toronto, it’s more like thirteen bucks. Of course Oshawa to Toronto is admittedly a longer trip, but even still, a round trip from Pyeongtaek to Seoul is apparently around 8000 won or so. Amazing, really.
Although, I misspeak when I say “round trip”. You can’t buy a round trip train ticket here. You buy a ticket to where you’re going, and when you arrive, you buy your ticket back. Or when you’re about to leave. It can mean you will spend an hour on a train with no seat. …Sounds like rush hour. Anyway. It sucks, but it can’t be helped. Yes, I’m going to single-handedly change this policy, using my ten word Korean vocabulary.
…come to think of it, I might be up to fifteen words now. I’d count, but it’s time for sleep.
Work. I mean work.
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
November 10, 2011
The last thing I feel like doing right now is prep. Fortunately I’m pretty much set for the next two days. Even so, I have to do some major prep on the weekend for some of my younger students’ classes. There are still five weeks left in the semester and I am finished with the textbooks for two of them. I’m nearing the end in some of my others so am going to have figure out some things for them to do too.
This whole learning on the fly thing is not the easiest of tasks. I’ve been tiredish all week, yet when sleep o’clock comes around, my brain is like ‘oh hey, what’s up? We should hang out,’ and so forth.
The fact that soju has become almost a nightly part of my sleeping ritual is a bit worrisome, especially given that I drank, well, a lot of it last night. Slept like a rock though—until someone was kind enough to let their car alarm go off for a solid twenty minutes.
Today has had its ups and downs, as every day teaching seems to.
I think I’m finally getting the hang(ish) of one of my speaking classes. The kids are motivated, kinda sorta (by candy), they do their work, they answer questions (with coaxing), and I’m told I’m actually teaching it properly (which is yay), and the one pair of girls who pretty much just like to laugh and ignore me or give me ‘teacher is a total goof’ stares, I think I might have earned some respect by learning Korean. I caught the one drawing on her desk, and said ‘hajiman’ (I think I spelled that right), which means ‘don’t do that’, and I got a couple of amazed smiles before they promptly set about erasing their artwork.
Also, I have been learning to read the letters, and I caught one of the same girls writing something on her hand, so I started sounding out the words while peering over her shoulder. I got a very surprised look, followed by the kind of laughter that follows a ‘whoa, I was totally not expecting THAT to happen!’ moment. So that class has improved. Huzzah.
But then there is the reading class. These four boys—I yell at them every week, and I hate that they always make me mad enough to do it. I separated them today and the one was demanding to know why, and I was thisclose to saying ‘because you’re an annoying little shit who is pissing me off. THAT’s why.’ But I settled for ‘because teacher is mean and evil. Now MOVE.’
One of them was swearing at me in Korean (if the tone of voice and glare were anything to go by) and I yelled ‘You’re in an English class, so SPEAK ENGLISH!’
They’re supposed to only speak English at the school anyway, but no one enforces that rule. At least it worked though because he and the others finally shut up and let me teach.
There are two girls in the class who are absolute sweethearts. If I could just teach the two of them and duct-tape the others’ mouths, that’d be swell. …I wonder if I can get away with threatening them with that… So tempting.
I try to strategize in advance, tell myself to stay calm, but no dice, alas. It all evaporates when I enter that classroom with those kids.
My last two classes (I only teach four on Wednesday instead of five) were excellent. My one writing class is motivated by candy, and we had a lot of fun today I think. My night class is just two girls who are good friends and we have fun too, which I like. I had to explain ‘keeping in touch’ to them, and using only other words with the same meaning doesn’t always work. I had to outline the concept using myself as an example. I told them that I am in Korea, but allll my friends and family are back in Canada, so we send emails, write letters, use messenger or skype to talk and then I don’t feel so far away. You can tell when students actually get it, because they often just nod sleepily when you ask if they understand, and more likely mean ‘I don’t want to admit I am lost, but I would like to move ahead please.’ But when they get it, their whole demeanour completely changes. They just light up with excitement. I love those moments.
Tomorrow should be peachy. It’s my six class day, but the younger kids are easier, the older kids are livelier (which is sometimes a curse), and my writing class topic is actually fun, so that should be less torturous I hope.
Have I mentioned the ‘bookshelf’ I’ve been building? After posting some photos of my place to facebook, I was told that the walls look bare, and I tried to remember what covered my walls at home. Nothing. Except wall to wall bookshelves. So I taped up a bunch of paper I pulled out of my sketchbook and have been adding and colouring in titles since Saturday.
It’s possible I am the biggest nerd in the world ever.
Saturday, 12 November 2011
Yeah, so I've pretty much been fused to my laptop since I discovered my internet is once more functional.
There was a lovely four-hour visit with my parents--I have not seen their faces or heard their voices for close to four weeks--a chat with my brother, a chat with one of my best friends... It's been a very good day, and tomorrow there will be prep and exploring, and hopefully my cold symptoms decide to vanish into the night. For now, let's work on getting you caught up!
November 7, 2011
Kimbap, you are glorious and delicious and make an excellent dinner and I love that you only cost 2000 won.
We’re totally hanging out again soon, you and I.
November 9, 2011 (early o’clock)
This post may or may not make it to the interwebs, given that I currently contain soju.
Tuesday writing class still borders on awful. One kid is just… ugh. He needs a good slap or something. Even with half the class missing tonight and twenty minutes taken up by monthly testing, it was still… scary? Thank Santa the semester ends soon and maybe some of these… ‘children’ will move to different levels and they will maybe behave better. Not bloody likely though.
I got one whole essay back tonight. None of them do their work. It borders on stupid. This group does not care, and I often debate just not showing up because I bet they don’t actually care and wouldn't even notice. Just talky talky talk for the whole time. Bah. I know they’re buried in work. I get that. They’re under an insane amount of pressure and their parents are pretty much legally allowed to beat them if they don’t perform. But I am also supposed to do my job and they are not making it very easy. I do what I can, but there’s only so much I can do.
I need to find the mailing address of every teacher I’ve ever had or met, and send them a goddamn thank you card for putting up with so much shit.
Someone told me that Korean students are better behaved than most North American ones? I suppose only yelling at me for trying to help instead of pulling a knife on me would constitute better behaviour…
Tuesday and Thursday. Hrn! EVIL.
I have classes I love, and classes I could live without. I am told this is the teaching way.
And it’s 3AM. Sleeeeep.
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Tomorrow is my one monthiversary of being in South Korea!
Have some more stuff that I wrote!
Nearly October 27
Hey, um, tomorrow? If you could possibly suck less than today, that would be super.
4.5 hours into October 27th
Perhaps I should have skipped watching those three episodes of Castle I got hold of, given how late it is now (early?), but I NEEDED THAT. Evidently two Canadian actors, witty banter and grisly murders are a brilliant way to unwind.
And now I must go, for the old alarm clock is sounding in just over eight hours. Whee.
PS – my apartment door is magnetic and when I get in from work, it often has takeout menus stuck to it. Much of it looks super tasty and super unhealthy so it’s probably just as well I can’t actually call and order anything from them. Having a phone would help too, probably.
October 30, 2011
I finally went out and took some pictures of my neighbourhood today. Of course I still don’t have internet so I can’t actually upload any of them until tomorrow when I get to work.
This weekend has felt all too short, which I guess is partly from all the sleeping I did, as well as actually going into work yesterday (Saturday) to get the filing and marking done I’ve been meaning to do, as well as to get some extra help with the class I’m really struggling with teaching. T came by to help, even though the poor guy is ravaged with a sinus infection. He helped a lot though, since he confirmed that some stuff I’ve been doing right all along, and talked me through some of the stuff I’ve been utterly clueless about. Of course, with the one group, half of my issues are simply keeping them in line.
I just feel tired today. Maybe it’s the lack of caffeine or lack of iron, I don’t know, but I slept for thirteen hours last night. And I don’t know if I had a fever or just too many blankets or what, but I was drenched with sweat when I woke up, and even now, ten hours later, the pyjamas are still damp. Yay for extras. Because of said sweat, my hair looked like it does when I wash it before bed and skip the drying process.
…I am so boring today that it hurts.
Furthermore, I lost the set of chopsticks that came with my apartment today. They are lost to the abyss between my cupboard and wall. Little buggers. I need to acquire more of them post-haste, as eating ramen feels utterly wrong without them.
HAVE I MENTIONED THE CHEESE RAMEN YET?? It is the greatest thing EVER. Here is how it is done. When the noodles are cooked to perfection, and you’ve added the broth flavouring, your chosen meat and veggies (I load mine with cooked shrimp, shredded cabbage and broccoli), you stir in a slice of processed cheese until it melts. It is crazy delicious and the cheese takes some of the edge off of the spicy broth. Glorious. Truth be told, I don’t think non-spicy broth exists anywhere in this country. I’m not complaining though. It gives me an excuse to keep ice cream in the freezer for after.
Blerg. I require a shower and some air. Then it is time to do some damn work!
November 2, 2011
I would like to make mention of the fact that I got mistaken for Korean today because apparently when my head is ducked down, thereby hiding much of my face, I totally don’t look foreign at all.
I also had a random woman in her car holler, “Hey! Teacher! Where you work?” when I was looking for a cab. It was unexpected and kind of awesome. She also seemed impressed by my answer. My school has super powers.
The thing about not having internet at home is that youse guys get time-delay blog entries. …Or it’s because I’m writing from the future. That joke is never ever going to get old. For me. I can’t speak for you. Anyway.
Finally had my first practice lesson.
Truthfully, it could have gone better. But it also could have gone worse. My boss gave me a lift home after though, which was very kind.
It figures that he is intent on seeing the lessons I am absolutely appalling in, between kids who either insist on blasting through the material so fast that we have a pile of time left, or kids whose skulls I occasionally contemplate introducing to a large rock. These same kids are also crazy smart. Why are the smart ones often the most trouble?
I’m supposed to do the practice lesson for my boss again tomorrow, with the result that it’s going on 3AM and despite being on glass three of soju, I am wide the fuck awake. Awesome.
At least I have some idea of what to do now, but seriously, this class is really HARD. The subject matter is complex for ME to wrap my head around, and it’s written in my first language and I’m not thirteen years old! Somehow I am supposed to explain it to these kids and they’re giving me the correct answers when I ask, so they must grasp it more than somewhat, right?
The one group for this class I have a hard enough time controlling as it is, and now I have to change my method, which seemed to be working for me, but is apparently wrong. Or at least not completely right. This same class is also taught to them in Korean and PS, I am behind. I’m supposed to be on unit 7 and I am on 6. Frosting.
I still don’t have internet at my place, though boss says the company told him it should be working. If I get to the end of the week and still have no net, I shall have to be a pest again. Sigh. I don’t know what’s going on because my TV works just fine. I may or may not have found the Korean HBO the other night and watched some Game of Thrones.
Also I get to go and have my medical check done on Monday. I have to get blood work done and I would bet every won I possess (I have no cents here… or…anywhere… get it? Lord, I’m lame) that I will already be short of blood that day for other reasons. If I pass out in front of my students, I will be very upset once I regain consciousness.
One step forward, two steps back?
Just when I thought I was getting the hang of this…
PS - things have totally improved since I wrote this. Just in case you're worrying about li'l ol' me.
Saturday, 29 October 2011
After my first afternoon in Korea, I was invited by my fellow teachers to a part of Pyeongtaek called Songtan. Miraculously, I had obtained a fair amount of sleep since arriving so I was all for joining in!
It took about twenty minutes by subway to get there, which let me know that Pyeongtaek is no tiny town! In Songtan there is a US military base and a large American presence. Further, as a result of said presence, there is a sort of black market for a lot of stuff not normally available in South Korea. D said it’s more like a grey market because it’s not like they’re selling hard drugs. It’s more like popular snack foods, candies, and certain kinds of alcohol. I may or may not giggle every time I think of black market Doritos. I haven’t actually purchased any of these contraband corn chips (yet), as I have discovered a Korean equivalent that I have dubbed “Koritos.” I am such a nerd.
Anyway, Songtan. It had so many shops and markets, cafés and restaurants… I was reminded a bit of the P-Mall back in Markham in its setup and structure, only everything was outdoors. There were shops and booths everywhere selling all kinds of awesome and odd stuff. I saw swords, knives, ninja stars (no word of a lie), and these were right next to a shop with novelty writing tools—example, a pen that, erm, moans when you put it to paper. The clerk was amused by our amusement. There was a lot of cool stuff and I wanted to buy everything in sight, but everything was cash-only payment and I only had a few hundred thousand won to last me until November when I get my first pay. I know a few hundred thousand won sounds like a lot of money, but it ain’t. The 1000 won bill on my dress might get me a can of soda. Pop. I mean pop. Everyone calls it soda here.
Ooh, that reminds me. Cider. It’s like ginger ale and Sprite had a baby! A delicious fizzy baby.
….So. We wandered around some more so M, who I would be replacing, could buy some more souvenirs to take home, and then we met up with teacher L (a fellow Ontarian!) before popping into a coffee shop while we waited for another teacher, teacher I, one of our Korean coworkers, who would be joining us for dinner. I had an iced green tea, which was very tasty!
Once more, because I am made of all things brilliant, I do not recall the name of the place we went for dinner. I only recall that it was amazing. All you can eat Brazilian Barbecue. I really wish I hadn’t started feeling so nervous about starting work the next day, or I would have been able to eat so much more. Although upon reflection, I did eat a fair bit.
They bring various cuts of meat to you on a sword and then you tell them how thick or thin you’d like your meat to be, and then they slice it right onto your plate. The meat is also somehow cooked at various levels so on the same piece you might get a well-done or a rare piece. The buffet was filled with rolls, fresh vegetables, and a potato salad that was more like really buttery, cooled mashed potatoes.
They brought us sausages, beef wrapped in crispy pepper bacon, beef that was so tender it nearly melted in your mouth, garlic beef, sweet beef… amazing. 30 000 won per person, so about 30$, which is pretty pricey around here, but the quality of meat we had and in the quantities they served would have cost closer to sixty at home I bet. Canada, I love you, but you are expensive! Also, here, price tags are what they say! NO TAX. NONE. If the sign says 1400 won for a bottle of soda, you will pay 1400 won. No more, no less.
I digress. I may or may not be enjoying a wee taste of soju to help the ol’ thoughts flow (I might need to edit this later).
Anyway, Brazilian barbecue = AWESOME.
I was definitely starting to flag by the end of dinner, between yet more jet lag, a very busy and exciting afternoon in Songtan, and the sudden feeling of live eels crawling around in my gut. I remember thinking that it was good that I had eaten such a big meal because it would probably be awhile before I could stomach anything much again.
Do I know me or do I know me?
We returned to Pyeongtaek station, grabbed a cab back to Avalon, and the others walked me home with the assurance that that would come and pick me up for my first day of work!
Despite my utter exhaustion, I took two sleeping pills and it was still an age before I slept. It was nearly showtime, and as I had expected, I was fuckin’ terrified.
But now it’s two weeks later and I’m still standing. I’m figuring out with students really like to learn and which ones I would happily punt through a wall—er, none of course, HAHAHAHA! (you saw nothing. NOTHING.)
While I’m still pretty homesick for familiar places and people, Pyeongtaek’s slowly growing similar as well. It doesn’t feel like home yet and maybe it never will, but it’s gotten less scary. My phrasebook was a wise purchase and soon I will teach myself to read. I do not care for being illiterate.
Tuesday, 25 October 2011
I never really got around to writing about my first weekend here, did I? Not during my first week anyway. I’ve been attempting to chronicle it bit by bit in my paper journal so it doesn’t get lost to the passage of time, and eventually you might even get some photos of the places I mention here. I still haven’t even photographed my apartment yet and I’m here all the time.
I will now share the After Airplane Adventures with you. Heh. AAA. Don’t they specialize in travel?
October 17, 2011
Holy shit, you guys, I’m still alive.
Last week was the most epic, exhaustion-inducing week of my life. I think half of the reason I got so dehydrated was because I was crying and sweating so much. And stressing. Shirts that once hugged me are much more casual with their affection now. It’s like they don’t even know me at all anymore.
Today was a million times better. Still fairly stressy and nuts, mind, but less… hm… what’s the best word to describe last week? “AAUUGHRGHLBLEGH?”
Sounds about right.
It occurs to me that so far this has been a journal filled mostly with a lot of whining on my part, and I do apologize for that. I shall try to recall my first and second days in this very cool country, rather than rehash my scary scary first week at work.
When the plane was approaching Seoul, part of me wanted to whip out my journal and write everything down—but then I would have missed so much!
The sea (yes, SEA) was dotted with what looked like tiny little boats, that were in actual fact pretty large, considering how high up we still were. Every ounce of tiredness I was feeling toward the end of the flight—POOF—gone. Instead, I was damn near bouncing around in my seat with thoughts along the lines of “Ohmygod, that is KOREA, we’re landing in KOREA, ohmygod,” and other such eloquent turns of phrase running through my head.
Once I left the place (after thanking the captain and stewardesses with a ‘kamsa hamnida’), suddenly I was paranoid about my luggage having gotten mislaid. When my cousin went to Oz for school, some of her stuff was nearly a week getting back into her hands, but Australia and Canada share a mutual national language. Korea and Canada, not so much. I was lucky though! Everything arrived safely! And because I am a giant dork, while I was waiting on said luggage, I whipped out my laptop and made a Facebook update to let everyone know I was in one piece. It was a very thought-out, detailed update. Something like: “So, um, I’m in Korea. Like this second.” I’m nothing if not articulate.
From there, it was just a short trip through customs, and then I went in search of a sign—a sign with my name on it, to be precise. The gentleman meeting me didn’t speak much English, so the drive from Seoul to Pyeongtaek was pretty quiet. I probably would have dozed off except there was so much to look at!
First, there was all the water. The daylight was shimmering on its surface, the boats were indeed enormous, and I nearly blurted out “KOREAN SEAGULLS!!” when I spotted some winged seabirds that resembled the Great Canadian Shithawk. I didn’t get a close look since, but I think it was a bit darker in colour and maybe a bit smaller. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen many birds since getting to Pyeongtaek. Maybe even none at all. Mental note.
The roads to Pyeongtaek were fairly busy, it being mid-Saturday afternoon and all. The skyline of Seoul reminded me a bit of Toronto’s with its big gleaming towers and company logos, but at the same time, it was completely different. They make the towers into different shapes here, not just big tall rectangles (no offence, Toronto). I don’t even know how to describe them, but they were just plain cool. Another feature that differed between Seoul and home was the expanse of mountains looming in the distance. Mountains. I’ve never seen mountains like these, big and dark and covered in forest from bottom to top. All evergreen, I think because I saw zero trace of autumn colours, but then it might just be too early in the season. South Korea’s a bit further south than Southern Ontario. (Truthfact: one of my students said she wants to visit Canada because it has better snow than Korea. It is of pretty excellent calibre, I will admit.)
So these mountains. We were driving THROUGH some of them. The highway actually tunnels through them, which I thought was kind of awesome. Of course in Ontario we’ve blown through the odd rocky hillside in the name of transportation… anyway. Couldn’t have slept even if I’d tried.
After a lot of scenery and car-watching (I honestly had not expected to spot three Chevys, but I did), I started to feel a bit drowsy and might have dozed off but for my driver’s talking GPS, and these stations along the highway that we kept having to slow down for. They might have been toll booths except we didn’t have to pay for anything that I could see. In fairness, I was a little tired, and I couldn’t read what the signs said to see what these places actually were. I really need to learn more than k-o-k-a k-o-r-u-r-a (if you know me at all, you will be utterly unsurprised by what that word is)
A lot of the other highway signs had English too though, so I kept my eyes peeled for the ones that said Pyeongtaek, and after nearly two hours of driving, we were pulling off of the highway and into the middle of a city.
The main streets of Pyeongtaek are broad and busy, and the intersections would be like to make even the hardiest driving instructor say “whoa.” I have since spent a lot of time watching the lights and the actions of the drivers and I really can’t figure it all out. Needless to say, I obey my pedestrian signals! By comparison, the side streets are very narrow and filled with parked cars, thus making them narrower. I have since walked several of these narrow streets and to not watch your surroundings it to potentially get nailed.
At one point during the drive into Pyeongtaek we were actually face to face with another car down one of these streets. The other vehicle simply reversed back onto the street it had previously been on, let us pass through, and then it resumed its turn. Not a single car horn was sounded. I think that’s about when I clued in that I was definitely not in Ontario anymore.
We drove down a few more side streets and stopped so my driver could make a call up to one of my new bosses to let her know I had arrived. Only minutes later we were moving again, off to what I would quickly learn was to be my home for the next twelve months.
I’m glad that I knew to expect a small place, or I probably would have fallen over in shock when we first opened my apartment door. It’s a very nice place though, bigger than my bedroom in Oshawa, and I don’t require much more space than this, but lord help me, I would kill for a soak in a bathtub. You see, in most Korean apartments, the bathroom is also the shower. Not ‘has a shower’. It IS the shower. There’s a drain in the floor next to the toilet, and you turn a handle on the sink to switch the water flow from sink more to shower mode. A member of my family might have since commented on the brilliance of this setup, as it allows for the ultimate in multitasking in the morning: Shower, shave, shi—aaaaanyway. Ahem. My god, I miss them.
Right. Story times.
My fellow foreign teachers were called to come to my place to meet me and to help me get settled in. I was praised for my Canadian outfit (Olympic hoodies, woo!), and then informed that I was being taken to the grocery store to pick up some basic needs like, y’know, food. Afterwards, there would be dinner. My hungry gut approved of these plans immensely, so off we went to Lotte Super, a local grocery establishment.
Lotte, I would soon learn is one of many companies that owns a metric ton of everything in South Korea, including restaurants, a baseball team, and (dadaaaah!) grocery stores. I picked up some basics. Rice, fish, veggies, eggs, and some drinks. Lotte Super is pretty much a corner store in that it’s literally around the corner from my place, so I figured I could buy more things later. I could only carry so much too, even with the others to help me, which was nice.
I don’t actually know the name of the place where we had dinner, only that it was close, that it specialized in beef Korean barbecue and it was AMAZING. Two words: Beef. Bacon.
I think I have mentioned this experience in another entry, but I left out just how much FUN Korean BBQ is!
First of all, you cook it yourself. They bring you spices, sauces, spoons, chopsticks, a bowl of rice each, and water. The water is an especially important part because some of these spices and sauces are hot enough to peel paint from the roof of your mouth or something. Then they bring you your chosen cuts of meat and a pair of scissors to chop it into smaller pieces for cooking.
But before they did all that, they brought a pan of hot coals to heat the metal grill pan with, and they would periodically change both so we always had a hot, clean grill to cook our meat with!
Once the meat was ready, we took our chopsticks to it and dunked it into the sauces and spices, and put it onto a big lettuce leaf with kimchi, other spiced and pickled vegetables. Then we rolled the lettuce and its contents into a dumpling shape—or in my case, burrito—and consumed. The trick is to manage this without wearing a lot of it. It’s super delicious and definitely something I will miss having easy access to when I get back to Canada. Toronto has a Korea Town though, I hear. And who knows, I might yet decide to stay. But right now I’m still very homesick, even after two weeks. Every day I wear my Inukshuk necklace that I got at the Toronto Zoo last winter, a fake maple leaf tattoo, and I keep a single Loonie in my wallet, like they’re protective talismans or something.
Feeling more settled, but still vaguely unsettled.
Next, my adventures in Songtan!
Sunday, 23 October 2011
I was basically a basketcase for my first week here. I was tired and jet-lagged, dehydrated, starved, but too much of a nervous wreck to put anything with more flavour than an egg in my system. The idea of eating anything at all made me feel nauseous, but meanwhile I was so hungry that I felt sick. Stupid body. Really I needed a week to just recover before I started working, and had I gotten my papers in order a bit faster, I suppose I could have wrangled it. However, it is entirely too late for that now, and despite spending a week feeling like a weepy wreck and feeling ashamed for how poorly I felt I was handling things, I’m still here. I’m in Korea.
I still miss Canada like crazy though. I still keep half-expecting to wake up.
Anyway, have some stuff I wrote during my first week when I was bordering on certifiable.
October 9, 2011
So, awesome news. Turns out I’m gonna get two whole hours of training before I start teaching tomorrow. I’m somehow oddly calm and terrified at once. Just have to remind myself that I did voluntarily sign up for this. I have brought tonight’s inevitable lack of sleep on myself.
Not entirely over my jet lag yet it seems, and I still have one more class to teach tonight.
First class went okay (with help), second went pretty well, my third was bordering on chaos, and my fourth was rather quiet because it had three girls who all looked as sleepy as I felt.
My last class tonight is a writing one and I remember nothing from my instructions at all.
New friend D is my hero. She gave me a hug when I was basically freaking out before my first class. Information overload combined with no chances to observe or anything or practice, ack. Furthermore, my head is beginning to ache and after work we’re apparently all supposed to go out to say farewell to M, who I am replacing, and to say welcome to me.
Supposedly I am expected to drink. It’s a thing. And it’s rude to not. And I’m already fried so it’s gonna knock me flat after like, a sip.
I highly doubt my next group will be a lively bunch, but it’s a writing class so I’m kind of looking forward to it. According to one of my fellow teachers, it’s a writing class for essays, but according to another it can be creative too. Try and see if I can get them writing stories, or at least about something that interests them. Describe a place, an emotion…
At least the classes are only 50 minutes. None of this hour and fifteen stuff I did in high school.
Better get ready. Nearly showtime.
[edit: here’s where I get really nice and basket casey…]
I really, really, REALLY need to stop crying. It’s stupid how on edge I am today. I was still teaching new classes and my brain kept deciding to abandon me when I needed it most.
I’m so drained that it doesn’t even begin to resemble funny. I had better sleep like the dead tonight or I’ll be joining them tomorrow. Technically I’m teaching seven classes tomorrow because we’re doing some monthly practice evaluation before my boss and other teachers tomorrow, plus a full, full, FULL (six classes back to back to back etc) day. Friday looks comparatively calm but still full of stuff I haven’t taught yet.
In other words, tomorrow I’m gonna be just as bagged but at least I’m no longer dehydrated. I think I consumed about four litres of water today and none of it made a bid for a escape, if you catch my meaning.
Also, this morning when I went shopping I spent three dollars on a single apple. It was the single most delicious thing I’ve eaten since arriving here. I actually started bawling when I took the first bite.
It tasted like home.
October 13, 2011
This has been the longest damn week of my life. And it’s only Thursday. Today also gets to be the longest day of my life.
I teach six classes, plus a practice class in front of my bosses today, and I get a 15 minute break today in which I can wolf down a Clementine and some chips because they’re all I can stomach right now.
…Um, so yeah, that was basically my first week. There was a lot of crying, being a homesick wreck, and leaning almost too heavily on my new coworkers. They were super about keeping me reassured and reminding me that I had only been in the country for a few days and things would soon improve.
I spent most of my first full weekend here wrapped up on my bed with my laptop, talking to friends and family, doing some lesson planning, and sleeping like a fox. I was very nervous about the impending Week the Second, but suddenly it’s Saturday again, and here I am. Killing some time before going out with coworkers for some dinner and drinks, and then tomorrow I will do some lesson planning, buy some more things I need for my place, and begin the countdown to week three.
Fifty weeks to go.
Saturday, 15 October 2011
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Monday, 10 October 2011
Sunday, 9 October 2011
Also also ALSO! COCA COLA! It comes in cans that are about the size of a can of Red Bull and it's not as syrupy as I'm used to, but that's probably a good thing. And a cup of really nice green tea after.
Friday, 7 October 2011
Wednesday, 5 October 2011
Tuesday, 4 October 2011
Saturday, 1 October 2011
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Sunday, 11 September 2011
Friday, 9 September 2011
Thursday, 8 September 2011
So. It's been sometime since I possessed one of these puppies. A blog, I mean. I kept one or two in university because it was apparently what all the cool kids were doing, and frankly I liked it as a means of sharing random cool stuff I found on the internet with my friends. Then Facebook came along and said 'here, let us do that for you instead!'
Anyway, two things happened recently that have prompted me to start one of these up yet again.
First, a friend of mine, a fellow lover of words, suggested putting together a writing group. We could write anything we want, a short story, a blog, a sarcastic grocery list, whatever, just as long as we made sure to write something new every week. I think my response was something along the lines of 'hell yes, that is a fscking brilliant idea!'
Second, I've been trying for about a year now to get a job teaching English overseas, and I thought perhaps, should I be successful in this endeavour, I should write about it. A completely original idea, I know. As is my hope of landing a book deal, I'm sure.
I've been pretty much up to my neck in interviews for the past few weeks, and remembering my friend's idea, I thought I would get started. Plus I was going a bit nuts and needed to unwind. Below is what I've been penning. With my keyboard. Someday someone is going to look at a pen and ask what it is, and I might cry a little. I'm not always this boring.
August 25, 2011, 11:09PM, Korean time: 13 hours in the future.
It would appear that the first rule of attempting to secure overseas employment entails never leaving your home in the evening. Further, it would appear that a nightcap lacks wisdom as well.
On this fine night, after a short shift at my current place of employment—herein called The House of Books*—I returned home, feeling rather tired, given the borderline craziness of my week. Having procured a bottle of Coca Cola—truly a fine beverage, unmatched in its syrupy, caffeinated essence, although I admit Pepsi is also excellent—I opted to add a wee (see: epic) dash of rum to it, thinking it would be a fine way to unwind, and perhaps obtain a good night’s rest… and the phone rang.
As my luck is of the awesome sort, the person calling was someone wishing to interview me for potential teaching positions in Korea. Supposedly they had attempted to reach me a few nights ago, but as I was not expecting a call, I was not here. Rather, I may have simply been out on the front porch with a friend of mine who was visiting, enjoying the cool August night, listening to the crickets, watching the Toronto Blue Jays game on his iPhone (they lost 6-3 to Kansas, bah!)… Anyway, I contacted the school after learning I had missed their call, and informed them I would be available the next night (yesterday) and kept a vigil of sorts by the phone, which then had the decency to be silent all damn night.
We return to tonight. Given how tired I was before said magical beverage, the effects of the few sips I’d had were akin to running into a wall. Couple this with mild deafness, brought to you by my new pal, Random Summer Cold, and the sound of my brain laughing its ass off at me for this predicament, I am frankly amazed that I made it through the call intact.
Thank Santa it wasn’t a video call.
…That’s for another night. Lord help me.
*not the store's actual name.
*not the store's actual name.
August 26, 2011, 9:11PM, Korean time: Saturday morning.
It is entirely possible that I might die of tired and stress from all this delightfulness.
One of the schools whose attention I have managed to capture has asked that I write a short essay as part of the application process (I almost wrote paplication… let us move on from that image, shall we?), and so I have been trying to come up with valid points to make, wondering if the internet will be a valid enough source to cite from (if in fact they want citations), and I have around one day in which to write it since they would ideally like it before my skype interview on Sunday night. It is Friday.
I am exhausted largely due to last night’s unexpected call from Korea, which I was already tired prior to, and bordering on tipsy (see previous entry), and then afterwards I was entirely too awake to get to sleep as planned, and so at two o’clock in the morning, Eastern Standard Time, which is the time we have always used in my beloved Ontario (to my knowledge anyway), I think unconsciousness finally claimed me. However, I had to open the bookstore today. Very very glad I had the foresight to purchase that extra bottle of coke when I bought gas earlier. Needed it. Also, AwesomeBoss, Travis, was greatly amused by the tales of my escapades last night. I am 100% sure he thinks I am a raging alcoholic, but he seems to approve wholeheartedly.
Phone seems to be blessedly silent. Watching The Avengers (the 1961 tv series, not the hotly anticipated Marvel Comics film) with friend Ian and thinking I might actually sleep soundly tonight. I do approve of that possibility. Immensely.
August 30, 2011, 11:01 PM, EST, KST – lunch o’clock
It is surprisingly difficult to stare into a camera and talk about myself. I need to think more like Gaston.
September 1, 2011, Korea time: The FUTURE.
On a note completely unrelated to Korea, today one of our regular customers and I got into a discussion about cannibalism. Two things about this conversation were hilarious. One: This is about par for the course for me and this guy, and two: We couldn’t decide if people meat would be rich in protein, like chicken, or in iron, like beef.
September 7, 2011
Holy shit, I'm moving to Korea in a month.
...Word of warning? This is what I'm always like. I would also like to mention that I now own an e-reader and Hell now has an ideal climate for starting a hockey team. I do hope they know that New Jersey already has a lock on the Devils for a name.