Monday, 28 November 2011

November 19, 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

November 12, 2011

No snappy intros and such tonight. I's a tired waegukin and I needs my sanity sleep. PS, according to T, it's possible that some of my students think I look like Harry Potter.

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

Turns out it's called Ppeppero Day.

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

Sick and Teaching No Mixy.

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

Ramblesaurus Hex.

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.


I am typing this from my apartment. Because my internet WORKS. I am buying my bosses several billion cookies. 
Let us continue.

November 4, 2011
So I have almost made it through a fourth week here in South Korea! I have learned one new phrase, some proper pronunciation, and can now remember five or six letters of hangul out of forty-one (I need to sit down and write them out sometime!), and I feel like I am improving (somewhat) with the job every week.
There is some drama happening as one of my coworkers is being let go, but he has to stay on until a replacement can be found, or by the end of the semester or something. It’s been a bit tense at the office, but I think the bosses are glad to know which corner the rest of us are in. Very likely things are going to be pretty busy as a result, but we all know I’m not one to shy away from such a creature. I’m just glad it didn’t happen in, say, my first or second week here.
As it is, the new semester is soon changing, so new kids, new classes—right when I’ve finally got my routine down-ish. At the same time, it will be nice to kind of start fresh. Or I’ll be back at square one, tearing my hair out. Probably not as much though, since I can actually do prep now (yay), and know my textbooks better.
Internet is still MIA. Boss and Miss K, bless ‘em, were at my place for an HOUR today, on the phone with their provider, trying to fix the issue. Likely we will have to start all over, and I will likely be without internet again this weekend, but I have books, exploring is good exercise, and I can write, draw, compose some postcards…
I’m too much of a web junkie anyway, and not holing up all the time is a good way to combat culture shock I hear. I imagine I’m still not over it either, especially since I still find myself doing a countdown as to how long it is until I go home.
By the way, nearly four weeks down, so just over 48 to go.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

October 27th - Nov 2

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.

October 26th

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.