Not to be redundant....


I got to school at my normal time today (thirty minutes early) only to find a cold, empty, dark building with doors locked left and right. I went up to my classroom and got dug in, hoping someone would show up eventually....

Around nine, I went down to check, hearing noises in the building. The VP and four other teachers (including Mr. C) were in the office. When I came through the door carrying files and obviously already working, the VP busted a gut and said something in Korean to the other teachers. Basically, he thinks it's pretty funny that I come in early and stay late like the other teachers, and that I was there on the holiday. But the thing is, my coteacher doesn't tell me when I don't have to come in. In fact, sometimes she tells me that I do have to even when I don't. I really don't think she likes me. She seems to have it in for me on some level, and I don't know why. But anyway. I had a feeling I wasn't supposed to be there today, but what am I supposed to do about it? I have no way of confirming that. So I showed up. At my usual time.

Mr. C was lurking around my desk for a bit this morning and I was doing my best not to appear to notice. He finally rested his arms on my computer tower and said, "Ah... did you.... go home.... safely last night?"

Fucking. Adorable. It really is a shame he's leaving before we even have a chance to get over our initial awkwardness.

He then proceeded to chat it up for quite a while. Thing is, there were no other English speakers (that I know of... I've suspected for a long time -- and last night confirmed it -- that just because someone doesn't readily speak English doesn't mean they can't) around. If we had more chances to talk without Mr. K, the peanut gallery, hanging around.....

Anyway, it's pointless now, since he's going back to his home town soon. Way to go, Mr. C. So much for you learning English for me.

It wasn't long before the VP piped up with his, "Lee-juh. You anytime go home."

I think I'm almost ready for this camp, so after lunch, I did.

Ah. Now's a good time to drone on about how nice it is sometimes to be the foreign girl 'round these here parts. There are a lot of downsides to being a foreigner, but, here in the ROK at least and as a young white female, there are perks as well. God knows it's superficial, and quite awkward as a girl who's always been considered as and treated like (quite happily) one of the guys. But to have the best looking men in the group crowd around fighting to pour drinks, open doors, carry things....

I open doors. I carry things. I pour drinks....

I've always prided myself on being a gentleman, but these guys put me to shame. Mr. C won't let me make my own coffee, and last night on the bus the young PE teacher opened a bottle of water, held it out to me and said, "Ladies first." I said, no. You opened it -- you go first. He shrugged and acted as though he were about to take a drink, and then gave a big smile and held it out to me again: "No. Ladies first."

Me? A lady? Alright...

Then there was all the commotion last night as the other teachers looked on while I found my rightful place out of Mr. K's stewardship and into the company of my destiny, the handsome young PE teacher. He even dedicated his noraebang song on the bus to me and did a dance and everything. I merely mentioned in passing that I preferred the wine we had in the restaurant to the wine we were drinking on the bus. The PE teacher disappeared for a minute to the front of the bus and somehow magically returned with three bottles of the other kind. Then it was, "I kind of have to pee..." Disappeared again, only to have the bus pull over at a rest stop moments later.

Gold star treatment.

It's not a bad situation. Until you scratch the surface and find out there's not much underneath. And it took me a while to catch on that part of why Mr. K was hanging on so tightly at school was that there was some esteem for him in that with the other male teachers. I'm pretty curious to see how things will play out now that he won't be around anymore -- if the PE teachers really will take me into the fold, or if everything will just go back to normal and I'll sit quietly eating alone at lunch. Somehow I'm fairly certain the latter is the most likely. No one likes speaking English in front of everyone else, unless they're too drunk to care.

One thing I do have to say is that I'm not a fan of the habit of men snatching your cell phone out of your hand and then attempting to read the entire content and check the call records. Last night when the PE teacher did so, he mistook "Wan" for "Kwan" in the message logs, made a shocked face and pointed to Mr. K, saying, "Oh! He! Many messages...."

"No no no no...." I said, trying to explain that they weren't from Mr. K. And there aren't that many of them -- it just looks like there are, since Wan's basically the only person I contact with the phone.

He thought the "no no no no" was a chastisement for reading the logs and got embarrassed, turning his face away and saying, "Oh, sorry. I'm very sorry."

He's got this fucking baby face -- it does my head in. I couldn't stop thinking of my students at times while we were talking last night. And particularly at that moment, I was expecting, "I'm very sorry, Teacher." He assumed the same posture and facial expression they do when I'm getting on to them.

He's four years older than me, just to clarify. He's just go these big, innocent eyes.

Anyway, the point is, all of the expat men who love to drone on and on about what rough and tumble, misogynistic wife-beaters Korean men are can shove it. I'm sure they exist. They fucking well exist back home, and there are bad apples in any good sized bushel. But I don't want to fucking hear it. These same tortured, bitter assholes also like to drone on about how "whipped" Korean men are at the same time -- how they cow tow to their girlfriends' every wish and carry their bags. Fuck you. You don't get to have it both ways. And maybe if you would have treated the women back home with a little kindness and respect, you wouldn't be here chasing the fucking disgusting myth that Asian women are naturally submissive and getting your asses kicked by the reality that they won't put up with your shit either.

End rant.

Anyway, the point is, I'm enjoying my meaningless single mingling, even if there are tinges of wife-hunting and an abundance of superficiality around the edges. I've fought hard in life to be treated like one of the guys -- it affects every aspect of my presentation, and I've done well there. But it's nice to have that completely ignored sometimes and, for reasons completely unknown to me, be treated with complete chivalry.


These guys sound like home.

I dedicate this one to my hangover. I really did not want to get out of bed to get ready for work this morning. Luckily, I'm armed with a few Advil I bought for a million won in Itaewon. Emergency use only.

I think Satan himself invented rice in all of its fermented forms.

My apartment is completely trashed, due to the fact that I'm never home anymore for long enough to do anything besides add to the mess.

Happy New Year.


What the hell was that?

I don't even know where to start. Which is good, because I'm drunk out of my mind on Korean rice wine and shouldn't be typing anyway.

Let's just say, hiking was the fucking least of it.

Noraebang disco bus. I ate raw liver and squid (or fucking something....) tonight. Squat toilets are now my bitches. The country here is... well, like the country back home.

Mr. C, Mr. K and Mr. Lee are all leaving my school. I have no friends.


There are three genuinely good looking teachers at my school. All three are PE teachers and two of the three have completely ignored me until tonight. I don't know how to explain what happened, except to use a phrase my favorite of the three (the one who originally didn't ignore me) coined, which is "alcohol English". That about sums it up. Mr. K is a good man, you know, deep down at the heart of it all. And after he confessed to me that he's leaving (for reasons I altogether do not agree with -- I think he's making a huge mistake), he brought me to the table with the PE teachers and from then on they were my companions for the evening. He's leaving me in good (if somewhat to extremely intoxicated) hands.

Remember the PE teacher Mr. Kim told me was very handsome and single? Well, he's both. And tonight he decided, I guess, to make his move. He was pouring me drink after drink and on the third one, the entire restaurant started chanting, "LOVUH SHOTUH! LOVUH SHOTUH!" Which apparently meant we were to link arms and do our "one shots" that way. There is (unfortunately) photographic evidence of this.

PE teacher no. 2 (as of here yet unnamed) then asked me, "What do you think of him?" Referring to the first.

I said I thought he was very nice.

He said, "I think he's very foolish man."


He then relayed a story about how PE teacher no. 1 fell down the stairs at school this week. I got to see the scrape and everything.

I said, "It was only a mistake."

To which, PE teacher no. 2 responded, "His life is a mistake."

On the bus ride home, PE teacher no. 1 sat with me the entire time and continued pouring drinks, which accounts for my current state. His English is fucking magnificent for a PE teacher and I had no idea. I guess Alcohol English is a hell of a lot better than Lunch Table English.

It figures.

The music teacher is now my new best friend. He says he doesn't need to speak English because we speak the language of art and free spirits, which transcends the ordinary language barrier. He sat on my lap, told me I am very beautiful, and taught me how to play a game that, as far as I can tell, involves the words "sal" and "boriuh" (or something) and grabbing your opponent's hand.

PE teacher no. 3 is the one who lives in my apartments. He doesn't speak much English (even when drunk) but did approach me after we got off the bus to say, "Leez. You come home wis me."

Well. Okay. If you insist.

Of course, he meant that he would drive me home. And he did.

We'll see how much of this extends past winter vacation. I'm wholly counting on the other teachers returning to school and going back to being extremely ignored. Only with no Mr. K to make up the difference.

That sucks, if you really want to know. He said, you know we will still see each other.

I said, between my public schedule and your hagwon schedule, you living in Seoul and me living in Incheon, I really don't believe you.

All the more reason to make good use of my desk warming time this winter to learn as much Korean as I possibly can. It's time to get serious about this if I don't want my work life to get really miserable for no fucking reason. Several of the teachers that have gone out of their way to avoid me instead went out of their way to make me comfortable tonight. Which is all well and good while we're outside of school and all relatively shitfaced. But I'm going to have to be the one who really extends the effort here. My crutch is leaving. I'm on my own from here on out.

More (coherent) and photos tomorrow.


Hard Gay.

For some reason, I completely forgot about Masaki Sumitani. If I ever find this man (and I will be looking when I visit Japan later this year, believe you me), I will ask him to marry me. Or at least have a drink.

Same goes for Shozo Endo and Naoki Tanaka, for that matter.

P.S. -- I'm glad I'm not trying to learn Japanese. That shit looks impossible to read....

Liz the Authoritarian, the music teacher, hiking trips and goodbyes.

Lovely weekend. It's nice that we have found a couple of regular little places here in my neighborhood. One is the tiny dak galbi restaurant, where we went for Christmas Eve. Every time we go, the food keeps getting spicier. And at this point, we don't have to say a word. Just slip our shoes off, take our seats at the table in the back, and the food and ashtray magically appear. The lady who owns the place still comes around to stir for us and tell us when it's ready to eat -- we do need that much babysitting. There's also a coffee shop, where the cafe mochas at least are complete rubbish -- they taste of some sort of awful sweetening syrup -- but, we can smoke and as before, now the ashtray simply manifests itself by memory. They've got a drink called The Tuxedo that I'm itching to try -- if it's crap, I guess we'll try to find somewhere else. But it's good enough for now.

Ran into a hoard of my students on Sunday afternoon. Second graders, this time. I don't know them as well, as I only see them once every two weeks and rarely, lately, as they've been missing my classes to study for exams. They were shouting at us from across the street. When we got caught at the light, they merged with us and the first order of business was for them to inform me that they were from HS Middle School. I said, "I know."

"Ah! 'I know'," they repeated to each other.

Second order, of course, was to ask, "Boyfrienduh?"

Mike made an X with his arms, a sign we've both become very familiar with as Korean Middle School Student Speak for an emphatic "no".

I asked where they were going.

"PC bang!"

"Ah, of course."

One decided this was not a sufficient answer, as it was in Korean, and did us the favor of translating it to "pc room". Then one boy picked another up and threatened to throw him in front of the oncoming traffic.

One of the students had an earring in his left ear, just as I do, so I grabbed mine, pointed to his and said, "Earring." He smiled sheepishly and then took off running down the street.

Friday night was the bar in Bupyeong, at which we are fast becoming regulars. We peeked into another bar highly recommended by the expat community, but it didn't seem to be our scene, so we headed around the corner to the other. On Saturday night, we went to the grocery store to buy supplies to cook dinner and a bottle of red. Then, back here to cook, eat, drink and watch The Dreamers. Sunday was The Big Lebowski, which I haven't seen (to my recollection) since I was in Glasgow. Over dinner I told Mike that the scene when they scatter Donny's ashes ranks in the top ten best scenes in a movie of all time.

Today the schedule was altered at school, and yet again, I was completely uninformed of this. I had all of my classes on my own, and decided to skip the coteacher bullshit and just ask the boys what the hell was going on. After mulling my question over a bit amongst themselves, they gave me complete and accurate details. God bless the little devils.

I had my one little badass kid today. He's not really little -- in fact, he's fucking massive for a first grader. I'm not quite sure what he's up to, but today he moved himself from a decently behaved table last week to the best behaved table in the class. I didn't have an ounce of trouble out of him for the first half of class, and during the second, he turned around in his chair, looked at me, and then turned back to his buddy and began to speak loudly during the movie. I fucking ignored it, and eventually one of the other boys at the table told him to shut up. And he did. He glanced back at me, then, to see if I was watching. I don't know what he's playing at, but I suppose it doesn't matter, as this is the last time I'll have him this year.

The kid that was his sidekick during the original rounds of trouble has now completely cut himself off from him, and has become remarkably well behaved, even participating eagerly in the answering of questions during class. So something must be working, at least in part.

They were all very good boys today. Only one little blip on the radar when one of the boys I sent out in the hall last week was talking, and I approached him with my finger to my lips. He said, "Teacher. No hallway. Too cold." I said, no. No hallway. But please be quiet. To which he responded, "Okay. Bye."

I fucking cannot stand it when the boys say "bye" as though they are officially dismissing me and ending our conversation. It hits a fucking nerve even they don't expect. I leaned over then and grabbed his shoulder, pulling his face close to mine. "Excuse me? Do you want to go out in the hall?"

"No, Teacher. Sorry, sorry."

On my off period, I walked past a load of nonsense in the hall outside another teacher's class. She's a tiny older woman, and she was showing a movie. Four third graders were outside her room (obviously thrown out for bad behavior) and instead of kneeling, like they should have been, they were jumping up and down in front of the windows, sliding them open and shut and shouting. They saw me coming from down the hall and started shouting hi.

I stopped walking in front of them and surveyed the situation. The teacher looked at me helplessly through the window. Asshole kids with no respect. Sometimes I don't know what to think, other than Mr. K must be right when he says I am at a "very bad school". Some of the students respond so well and immediately to any kind of chastisement -- fucking shocking to someone who came up in the American public school system. But then there are others who have the balls to behave worse than I've ever seen any American kids do. Which is just bizarre considering the amount and frequency of discipline I've seen at my school.

It seems to rest wholly on the individual teacher. My classes with my one coteacher who never shows up anymore are terribly behaved. They were even worse when she was still in the room -- it was just her who took the brunt of the disrespect, instead of me. Yet Coteacher's boys are positively angelic, even when she isn't there -- but it's hard to get them to participate in class. They have a tendency to sit quietly and stare. They always greet me with deep bows in the hallway -- some of the only students to do so, other than some of the third graders who have never had me for a class. Mr. K's boys are loud and rowdy, but never disrespectful. They greet me warmly and with great enthusiasm when I pass them, and usually pause to chat for a bit.

Anyway, I wasn't sure if I'd be stepping on toes or whatever, but I couldn't just walk past those boys without saying anything. They were completely tormenting this poor woman and her entire class, who were trying to get on with the movie.

"Hey guys. What are you doing?"

They slammed the classroom windows a few more times.

"Hey! Stop it. Stand still. Why are you being horrible?"

They positioned themselves evenly spaced in front of the wall and knelt.

"Be nice to your teacher, okay? Stop being bad."

"Okay, Teacher."

Can't believe that worked. I don't know what happened after I went back up to my classroom, but I hope they stayed put. It probably helped that they realized I was ten paces away from the principal's office. I'd fucking love for him to walk out into the hall and catch them in the middle of that absurd behavior.

Today at lunch, one of the gym teachers gestured at me and said something to Mr. K in Korean. The gym teachers, on the whole, don't seem to acknowledge the fact that I exist, except for a couple of the younger ones. They don't really acknowledge anyone except their own, and a couple of the other male teachers who, I suppose, sufficiently meet their standards of manliness. Me, I hang with the other group of male teachers -- the ones who clearly fell on the other side of the jock/nerd divide back in school (which apparently still exists) -- the academic teachers.

Anyway, Mr. K seemed just as shocked as me that the gym teacher had suddenly decided to address the two of us. He looked at me and said, "He wants to know if you know we will go camping tomorrow."

"...... Pardon me?"

"Tomorrow teachers will take camping business trip." The term "business trip" seems to be a catchall for any activity related to work that takes place off campus. But this "camping" thing was throwing me for a loop. No, I had not heard of any business trip, first of all, and second of all, you don't by any chance mean "hiking", do you?

"Ah yes. Hiking. Not camping."

Well, thank fuck for that, anyway.

And thanks for telling me. I wasn't sure for a minute if i was just being informed that the other teachers would be hiking, or if I was somehow figuring into this scheme. The gym teacher, who had been watching the exchange, said something else in Korean.

"You must come."

Mr. K and I have had a discussion about "have to", but it seems to have curtailed his usage of this phrase exactly not at all. Even though when he asked me, "Do you think I speak aggressively to you?" I responded emphatically in the positive. He seems to have decided a clever way around the "have to" ban is "must", deciding that my suggestion of "should" is apparently not sufficient.

Perhaps I should say that he "has to" stop telling me that I "have to" and "must", instead of that he "should" stop.

"Well. Okay."

"It will be, I think, three hours on the bus. Away from school. We leave eleven, come back maybe nine. You must dress warmly tomorrow."

Yeah. And pray for a decent seating arrangement on the bus.

After the gym teachers left, the music teacher sat down next to us. I love this man. He's fucking magnificent. There are two teachers I really, really wish I could speak to in the school -- one is the music teacher and the other is the art teacher. The music teacher is this fantastic bear of a man -- 45 or 50, I'd say -- with a drastic baritone voice. Lately he's taken to wearing delicate silk scarves knotted around his neck. He always gives me a big smile and bow when he comes into the office in the mornings, but something about his sort of fatherly demeanor makes me shy.

When he sat down, he pointed at my tray and said something to Mr. K.

"Ah. He says, do you not like strawberries?"

I do, as a matter of fact -- very much. But with coffee. Not immediately following spicy Korean seafood with no water to clean the palate. I looked at the music teacher's tray, which contained a heaping pile of strawberries. He said something else to Mr. K, but Mr. K didn't translate.

Normally if I address another teacher who doesn't speak English, I will still speak directly to them, even if I know it has to be translated anyway. Because it's the way I prefer to be spoken to in Korean. But, as I said, the music teacher makes me a little nervous. So, without looking at him or gesturing in any way, I told Mr. K that I always hear his classes in the hallway and want to come in. Mr. K nodded and continued eating. I put down my chopsticks and stared at him.

"Ah... uh..." He translated what I had said to the music teacher. Yes, it's annoying, I know, but it's not as if we were in the middle of having a meaningful conversation ourselves.

The music teacher responded. I didn't have the guts to look up at him while he did.

Mr. K "neh"ed him and went back to eating. I put my chopsticks down again.

"Ah.... he said next year he will invite you in his classes."

"Thank you."

Today my very favorite third grader, the one with the beautiful smile, came in with a friend after classes had ended to say goodbye. They'll be off to high school after this. I certainly will miss them. His friend sat quietly next to him while we talked, staring at his shoes.

"Hi," I said. "How are you?"

He looked up for a split second and then laughed, shook his head and blushed.

"He is shy," the one with the smile informed me.

"Ah! Me too. I'm very shy."

"Really? I don't think so...."

"No I am. Very, very shy." I leaned over and caught the other boy's eyes and said, "Me too."

He laughed and shook his head again, looking away.

"Jesus. He's adorable," I said more to myself than anyone else.

"Ah, he is cute? You think?"

"Yeah. He's cute."

The boy with the smile translated.

I said, "So now.... onto high school."

"Yes. Very pressure. High school. Is very..." He clutched his chest and did an impressive mime of a panic attack.

"Yes, I know. You boys are too young. You should be having fun instead of studying all the time."

"Me too! I think so!"

"Well, best of luck to you boys. Don't forget to come back and visit sometimes."

"Visit! Yes! How long are you here?"

"A year, at least. Hopefully longer."

"Longer? Chincha?"

"Yes, really. I hope so."

"Okay. I visit. Okay. Bye bye!"

That gorgeous smile one last time. I really will miss my third grade friends. Don't even want to think about what saying goodbye to all of these boys eventually will do to me.


Fit but you know it.

Erasure: The Return.

I've picked up my massive erasure project again this morning. I don't know why I always leave it setting for so long. A few recent pages, then.

artists painted nature as
they saw it
tempered by the
straining eyes across the
the far-off sky, there hung
or was it anything at all?
"It's gone."
So must the chorus ever go.

an immense
what you actually see
the at-
mospheric quality of
disappointment snapshotting travellers
who time their pictures as they would at home.
a century
or twenty thousand
some devout women
able-bodied men

for the sake of cadence
We say O without thinking, just
as you begin with 'dear sir,' in writing to a stranger
the full English poly-
syllabic of respect.
suggesting purity is
difficult for the beholder
the fool who fails to appreciate
a creature
however grand

A Celestial
Suburb -- French Cooking and Frock Coats -- From a Car

any other place.
the steamers
anchored off the port
authorities board you as you
lie in the harbour
to which at last you are warped in
the ship moves slowly to her berth
inevitable suggestion brilliant flower
gardens agitated by the wind

Through this garden of chattering,
fluttering human flowers we made our way
a jumble of
insignia stamped upon
always led, and
when left to stand, front legs
rows of little houses,
only partly concealing
By some containing
by others
Dogs of breeds unknown sat placidly
before their masters' doors

the women smiled, and the children smiled
the roadway
a splattering of light and shadow.
And what with all these things, a glimpse of a
But instead of climbing onward up the hill to
heaven we swung off
graceful and dignified

dress -- but by far habited
in European style: the younger men
widely favoured are also
convenient in
a land where shoes are shed on entering a house.
from the seaport
small boats
two men, three
shall presently discover
military exploits
first-rate English


My package from home arrived today. Clothes that fit. Well, sort of. Now I have jeans that hang off of me and jeans that are just every so slightly too tight. That's fantastic. But hey. Give it a few more weeks.

I also got my movies from home, which I stupidly, stupidly forgot to pack. Even though I specifically remember laying on the couch the night before my flight and drilling it into my brain to grab them on my way out. But now they are here, safe and sound, and I am a very happy bunny.

I should have asked for this for Christmas:

Laundry's done. Hair has been cut. Bathroom is clean. Now I'm dealing with a stinking, fridge hogging kimchi situation head-on. In the meantime, I need to make up my mind about whether I want to go out tonight, or if I want Mike to come here so we can cook dinner and lesson plan and then watch The Dreamers (it has been far, far too long). I think I'll end up going for the latter. Then tomorrow can be a time wasting, dicking around out-and-about day.

Days are way too long when you wake up before the sun and don't have work. But I kind of like it.

In other news, all of my Peaches songs are stuck in a stupid format because I stupidly purchased them from that awful iwhore company that ruins people's lives. So now I can't put them on my non-iwhore mp3 player. I'm well pissed off about this.

Right. Time to tackle the kimchi.

Up with the sun (warning: boring teacher post)

Last night I spent 65,000 won. On what, pray tell, you ask? On my effing students. And this camp. Which better be fucking fantastic. The sad thing is, the money will not cease to flow at this point. If these poor little fuckers are going to be left completely in my charge for two hours a day for two weeks, then I'm going to do what I can not to bore them to death. While also getting down to the nitty gritty of the structure of English. Lordy.

Coteacher informed me that it's very good that I have a creative writing degree, because Korean students have an infamously limited access to writing education. I don't know about this, not having come up in the SKorean education system and all (and let's face it -- the American system isn't tops when it comes to learning how to express your own ideas), but I do know that more than a few illegal two-three hour hardcore sessions in New York were devoted to me and a Korean uni student sitting down and hashing out exactly what an essay was. Pratt was especially liberal in its expectations for papers -- you made them all your own if you wanted a high mark. None of this regurgitation nonsense. Which was hard for them.

Coteacher told me that the Korean system does not focus on forming arguments, but on repeating adequately. And I heard the same thing from my students in New York, who were endlessly frustrated by trying to understand exactly what their professors expected of them.

Of course, these were some of my favorite sessions. Argumentative essays is one place where my structure is really strong. And it always felt like some sort of massive breakthrough was being made. Extremely rewarding.

So anyway, one item on the list is a notebook for each student. I'm not sure how well this writing thing is going to go over, based on some of the levels I've seen in my classes, but I think it's also a way to really gauge where these guys are at -- if they have time to write whatever they want in English. I'm going to stress that it's not a time to worry about grammar or spelling, but just to say as much as they can in English. I think they'll find, when the native teacher isn't staring them down and waiting for a response to a question, they know much more than they realize.

Plus I'm excited to see what they have to say.

Also on the list of purchases is a CD player with a multi-user headphone jack for English music (God knows where I'm going to find any these boys will actually like), a webcam with built-in mic for skyping with Mike's classes and possibly my 14 year old cousin and his friends, back in Texas (if it can be arranged), English language comic books, Boogle and Scrabble (being shipped from the U.S. by my lovely mother). In short, a lot of ideas I've been kicking around for a while for spicing up the English Jonuh for a while. I also spent approximately four hours on Tuesday cutting and taping little number words on three decks of playing cards. The little shits better appreciate it.

Lesson planning lesson planning lesson planning. It'd be easy enough to just download random crap off of ESL sites, print it out, and throw it at them in bald form. But the thought of that makes me cringe. So, instead, I've been making my own worksheets -- particularly for the parts of speech, which I haven't found anything at all decent already in existence. I really don't think we're supposed to be teaching that.

I've also asked my little cousin and his friends if they would make a short video talking about their daily lives -- at school, at home and what they do with their free time. My camp boys, in return, will make a video (in English) for them, explaining the differences and similarities and what life is like as a fourteen year old in SK.

And yesterday I received my first post card for the class, from good ol' reliable Brendo. It reads:

Hello friends --

My name is Brendan. I am 25 years old, I live in New York City, and work as a librarian. In a library. On Thursdays. I like to read and write, and would be very happy to receive your letters. Also, can I borrow a dollar?

Then he drew a picture of himself frowning.

Hard times, Stateside, I tells ya.

I told that guy he needs to get out. Teach English somewhere for a while. He's already been thinking about it. New York has become even more brutal in the last few months, from the sounds of it. A graduate degree and no fucking work is ridiculous. But last in, first out reigns supreme. As does the rampant nepotism that has had NYC in its clutches for as long as I have known her, anyway.

He sent another for me:

Greetings from New York, circa 1975. Richard Nixon has resigned the presidency, the band Fleetwood Mac is quite popular, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is unstoppable on a basketball court. Also, my name is Brendan, and I have yet to be born.

Funny guy. Hello, if you're reading. And thanks for the mail, buddy.

In other news, it's fucking cold, I have an earache, and I can't stop waking up at 6 am. Today I will cut my hair, lesson plan and study Korean. Possibly go out with Mike to run more errands tonight. We've vowed to stop eating at one particularly awful restaurant in Bupyeong just because it's comfortable and the mandoo is fantastic, because the rest of the food is pure shit.

And last night we may or may not have been harrassed by a large group of male university students -- sometimes it's hard to tell. I'd like to assume it was just drunken nonsense, but after that incident in the restaurant with the other big group of uni boys, I'm a little more careful. Let's just say speaking loud, obnoxious English with your pals, swearing in Korean and laughing loudly and aggressively in a foreigner's face doesn't seem to me to be a genuine effort at making friends.

Some people seem to take offense to our very presence, and as much as I'd love to throw down sometimes when this nonsense starts in, I don't think street fighting as an immigrant is the best idea. So for now I just stare straight ahead and try to keep the eye rolling to a minimum while I finish my cigarette. I'm not going to wind up in a police station, lose my job and get kicked out of the country for the sake of trying to prove a point to a bunch of hipster retards.

But let it be know: I could totally take them.


The Language Barier, part 149.

I really, really like Mr. Lee. By the way, does anyone know why they add the L in English? I didn't realize that until I saw the name written. I assumed people saying "Mister Ee" was because of the r at the end of "mister" and how fucking hard the r/l thing is (I know because I find it impossible to make the sound of the Korean equivalent -- I always end up making a hard r or l). Anyway. It's not like the hard e sound is something we don't have in English. I'm confused. But then that's the natural state of things, these days.

Anyway, today I was waiting for Mr. K for lunch when one of his students delivered the jumbled message that, for one reason or another, I should go ahead without him. Mr. Lee came down and I passed this on -- double translation is no good, by the way. Mr. Lee was even more confused at my message than I was at the student's. But we went to lunch together. I tried to give him the easy way out by suggesting we sit at the end of a table of teachers he usually sits with, so he could speak Korean and not worry about taking the native English speaker on his own, but he said it was too cold by the door, and suggested we sit at our own table instead.

He's far more confident in English with Mr. K there, even though Mr. K rarely has to translate for him. Suddenly, he was acting bashful. I told him his English was very good, and I was just happy to have someone to talk to. He kept getting frustrated while he tried to convey more complex ideas than his English would allow. He finally just had an outburst -- threw himself backwards in his chair, and said, "Ah! I want to talk to you!" I laughed, and he said, "It's very... it's so.... aash!"


"Yes! It's very frustrating!"

"I know. This is me, everyday, with everyone."

Just then I looked over at a few of the gym teachers, including the handsome one, who were gathered at the water cooler. Mr. Lee said, "You like Korean teacher?"

I wasn't sure if he meant one in particular, or just in general, so I just laughed.

"Anyway, that is why I am studying Korean. I wish I could talk to more teachers...."

He laughed, hard, and looked over at the handsome gym teacher. "I think by next year, you will be able to talk to him."

His perceptiveness startled me. Am I that fucking obvious?

He's the first person, at work at least, who I think has really understood what it's like for me, on the level of not being able to converse with anyone on a daily basis. I've stated it to Mr. K before but I don't think it ever really sinks in.

Anyway, today is his birthday. Yesterday was his and his wife's first Christmas with their baby. He seems to be a fucking magnificent husband and father.

As we parted ways, I told him happy birthday, and added, "And thank you. Thank you very much for having lunch with me." I turned to walk up the stairs to my classroom, and he grabbed my arm.

"Uh... thank you...." He looked up at the ceiling trying for more words he couldn't find. He put his hands together in front of him and bowed, slightly. "Thank you thank you thank you."

The other English teachers, by the way, should really stop torturing the students by sending them to give me messages. Today I was in the middle of lesson planning when a sweaty first grader burst through my classroom door.


He was clutching a CD of some sort.

"Sunsengnim.... Teacher.... uh....."

His total enthusiasm in delivering whatever message he had was fucking adorable, in light of the fact that it seemed to have completely escaped his notice that he would have to give it in English.

"Uh....... uh........... uh..... English........ uh........ teacher............................."

I laughed a little. "Okay. Hold on. Who is your English teacher?"


"Sunsengnim.... English.... who?"

"Uh.... glasses!"

"Glasses? Uh.... Kim Sunsengnim? Yu Sunsengnim?"

"Uh..... uh...... bye bye!"

And he never came back.



Dak galbi. Ondol. Soju. Smoking at the table. I understood/spoke enough Korean to order properly and answer the questions the waitress asked. Even understood when she told us the vegetables were ready to eat, but the meat needed just a little more time, even without the mime. Fucking brilliant.

Dak galbi is our favorite, because it's actually spicy (as compared to all the rest of the food everyone tries to take away from us because we are waegookin and it's too spicy except that it isn't at all) and it doesn't take as much effort as bulgogi, even though you still get the lovely effect of having it cook at the table. Cooking at the table is brilliant. Koreans should win a Nobel prize for doing it so often. Ditto sitting on the floor and taking your shoes off.

Yeah. I'm also drunk blogging again. Hence the enthusiasm.

But it really is brilliant.

I think one of my students may have been seated at the next table while Mike and I capped our meal off with more soju and a series of cigarettes. Can't wait till that gets back to school. I don't know what it is about my school and gossip, but even as I pass students on the street with Mike, or anyone else, they make big "Oh!"s and pull out their cellphones to start texting.

If I'm smoking.

If I'm wearing sunglasses.

Or especially if I'm, God forbid, with a man.

Then the next day at school it's, "Sunsengnim. You. Sunglasses."

Is that really news-worthy?

There just the slightest bit of work talk over dinner, which I had formerly forbidden for this evening. But I think that we are both starting to feel that we have our massive camp projects well in hand (or at least partially in hand) and we will survive, even if we do still have a lot of lesson planning to do in the next week and a half.

Anyway. I got quite a few Merry Christmas's and Happy Holiday's at work today -- enough to make me forgive and almost forget yesterday's school-wide silent treatment. But really what did it was finding out that the whispering and gesturing was apparently about how I shafted Mr. K, and not anything else really. Because I'm an evil bitch. And technically, that makes the gossiping about him. He did a fair job of making a public show of how buddy-buddy we are today though. I wish I could trust that it was just him making sure we're still cool, but I really don't know if it was for my benefit or our coworkers'.

One thing that struck me this week, noteworthy at least in my mind, is how touched every one of my students looked when I ended our class with, "Hey!" And when they turned around expecting instructions of some kind, I simply said, with a big smile, "Merry Christmas, guys." Massive smiles and big, sincere Merry Christmas's in response. It affected several classes to the extent that boys who were out the door turned back around and pushed all the chairs in, picked up all the trash before leaving. It was the same when I told them all good luck for their exams. I even got a round of applause in one class.

I don't know what that's about, other than these were a couple of occasions when I must have seemed really human to some of my classes for the first time. Most of them can't communicate with me in any real way, and I know from experience that when you're speaking another language that you aren't that familiar with, in a strange way it can feel like play-acting a lot of the time. For the other person, when you speak their native language, it feels like very real communication. But for the person on the other side, it feels like -- quite literally -- you're speaking in code. Almost as if you're pushing a button in some sense. If that makes any sense.

So for that split second, it was like I was really directly communicating with them. They weren't just straining to understand my instructions so they could finish their worksheets, or repeating vocabulary out of the book that they may or may not know the meaning of. It seemed to strike a chord with them in the sense that I remembered and cared that they had exams, and that it's Christmas for me too. I don't know.
A lovely day at work, minus the Japanimation. That stuff is so filthy. But Mr. K insisted on showing it in the two classes I had with him today. When he asked if I understood the plot, I said vaguely. He told me sometimes these kinds of films can be very complex and I informed him that them being in Japanese with Korean subtitles didn't help much.

Mr. K. I don't speak Korean. Why is that so hard to remember?

We had a slight confrontation in the office this morning when he came in to tell me he had waited for me for fifteen minutes for lunch yesterday. I guess I accidentally caused a commotion, because I went to pay a bill after, and he came into my office right after I left looking for me only to be laughingly informed by the office smartasses (Sharp Dressed Man and his doofy gym teacher sidekick) that I had just put on my shoes and coat and left. Loss of face, and that. I just told him the alternative schedule confused me (which, to be fair, it did....). "How about having lunch together today? We will meet same spot as usual."

Er. Okay. Sorry.

After lunch he forced his class VP to speak English to me and then suggested we go for a walk off campus to smoke. Which means ALL of the students, who were out on the field, saw us walking out together. So much for appearing independent.

Some of the little snots from the prestigious and expensive school up the road walked past and shouted hi in my face. He said they were very rich and very well educated. I told him they were also often very rude. He laughed and said, "I think they recognize you because you are foreigner." Precisely. And I don't like their little tyke attitudes when they do. He said our students are very poor compared to them, and I told him I would take our students hands down any day of the fucking week. Minus the fucking. Because I don't swear at work.

Third graders in droves today. Up to about forty or fifty of them now. They're all taller than me as well, so I feel quite intimidated when they crowd around. My Friend was pretending to be a cowboy, because I'm from Texas, and I got loads of attention when I informed them that I had shot a gun before. CHINCHA?! Yes, chincha.

They have a habit of bringing newcomers to me and introducing them by pointing out an odd (and often times unflattering) physical feature. Today was, "He. Pig." I said he looked quite strong to me. "Football player."

"Ooooooooh. Football player. You very strong man." He flexed.

Then there was, "He. Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig head." I said his head looked quite normal to me.

And finally, "He. Monster." This one confused me. This boy looked rather ordinary. Then they gave him an order in Korean and he stuck out his tongue, which was fucking massive. "Oh my god..."

"See? Monster!"

Yeah. Maybe a bit.

I also took one of Coteacher's second grade classes alone. They were carrying on a bit while I was trying to introduce vocabulary (to kill time, really) before playing the film. I shouted at them. "HEY!"

Immediate silence.

"Wow. Thank you."

They all laughed at this reaction.

I hold the belief (firmly) that second graders are at least 65% more human than first graders, who are still predominately animal in nature. I can't even imagine what it's going to be like with the new babies coming in. I've heard around town that sixth graders (grade before first in middle school) are infamous nightmares to teach. Great. I can't wait.

Ah. And shortly, I will leave to meet Mike at the subway station for our fantastic Christmas Eve. I'm starving. I've been looking forward to this all day.

See? I had classes today and I'm like a fucking ray of sunshine. The students really do make all the difference.

In other news, when Mr. K took me to his office today for coffee, I confirmed that the gorgeous gym teacher is indeed the one who lives in my apartments. "You have been introduced to him?" Mr. K asked. I said no, but I would like to be. Mr. K looked over at the gym teacher for a minute, then back at me. "Ah. Maybe next time."


Happy Christmas.


I'm having a hard S.Korea day today.

To be fair, I always have rougher days when I don't have any classes. It's harder to keep a positive attitude. But while I do think my appreciation of a lot of things is on the rise at the moment, and overall, I'm becoming more comfortable and more confident, I am also starting to realize a lot of things that naivete prevented me from seeing before.

I had an out-of-body rage moment when I was walking out of the school to go and pay a bill during lunch today. Most of the boys were out front kicking balls around and throwing snow at each other, and there was the usual rounds of his and hellos, which was fine. I greeted them cheerfully, although I wasn't in the best of moods. But then one kid got right in my face and screamed, "HI!" in the most aggressive manner possible. I stopped walking and it took all of my self-control not to grab the shit by the collar (he was significantly bigger than I am) and tell him not to fucking scream in my face ever again -- that I may be young and a foreigner, but I am still a fucking teacher (whether anyone else wants to see it that way or not) and I will not tolerate that kind of fucking disrespect.

And really, it's not about being a teacher and him a student -- it's about being a person.

Next time, I don't think I'll stop myself. None of the other teachers seem concerned about addressing some of the rude behavior I receive from students, which is all the better, because it's really not their place. If I'm going to be shown any kind of respect in the workplace, I'll have to start with the students, and I'll have to do it on my own.

For similar reasons, I went to lunch on my own and early today, instead of waiting for Mr. K. I sat at the men's table, as always, and watched as all the teachers who normally say hello to me when Mr. K is there filed past whispering to each other and pointing instead. I wanted to test out going to lunch alone and see what would happen. I got my answer. Not one person spoke to me the entire time.

I know there are all sorts of issues wrapped up in this, not the least of which being the language barrier. But the high school atmosphere is starting to get me down. Being left alone is one thing, but being gestured at and talked about is an entirely different matter. These are adults, we're talking about, after all. And the fact that they don't even attempt to be subtle is, I think, what bothers me the most. It's as if, in their minds, my not speaking Korean gives them free reign to treat me like a dog. I don't mean in the sort of demeaning traditional sense -- I just mean literally as something in the room that has no awareness of what's going on. And while I'm absolutely positive to the core of my very being that not one ounce of it is at all malicious, it starts to wear on you after a time.

My students in New York used to talk about it all the time.

Anyway, there's nothing to be done but to study harder. You can't control other people, and you certainly can't make them aware of things that may not have occurred to them -- such as how they would feel if I burst into fits of laughter every time they spoke a word of English to me, as some of them have a habit of doing anytime I say anything in Korean -- if you don't even speak their language.

And if I don't want to continue being touted as Mr. K's dong-saeng, then I'm going to have to break some of the reliance I've had on him up until this point. I'm not sure how to do this without seeming somehow averse to him, but I'm going to have to figure it out.

Anyway, I'm starting to understand what the other expats mean when they talk about Koreans befriending you for "free English lessons". I wouldn't phrase it that way at all, and as with all statements that include a title of one particular people, it very much needs to be clarified. I think what they are referring to is that we hold a peculiar position as foreigners in this country (and probably several others, I'm sure), in that there is some esteem (in some cases) associated with being a native English speaking Westerner. There is a novelty about it that arises on some occasions early on in the form of what appears to be a genuine hope for friendship. But because of this associated esteem, once the novelty wears off, at times so does the interest.

I don't want to become a more guarded person -- fuck knows I'm guarded enough as it is. But suffice it to say, I'll be a little more wary of gracious greetings until more time has passed, from now on.

Anyway, tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and Mike and I have a lovely evening planned. I'm going to do my damnedest to pull myself out of my funk and really try to enjoy myself.

I'm doing my best to remember how harsh things were the first six months I was in New York, and how much of what was merely conditional I took personally and internalized for a really long time. For the most part, the ROK has been cake compared to my first few months in New York. There are a few really truly lovely people I've met so far and who, I trust with all of my heart, have the most sincere intentions. And that's a hell of a lot more than what I can say for how things started out in New York. But I got there, eventually. It takes time to really establish yourself in a new place. Any new place.

What I need is patience. Patience with others, with my situation and, most of all, with myself.


The I Love You Dance and the Great Escape.

I ran away from school today to avoid the retirement party. I feel guilty, obviously, but I just couldn't take hanging around school for an extra hour, and then going to dinner where everything would be in Korean and I would be bored out of my mind. Plus, I don't really feel like "playing" with Mr. K tonight.

I got a phone this weekend. I met HJ yesterday and we ended up spending most of the day together. Chinese food (amazing) and then coffee, talking about art and poems, and the importance of community. She pointed out, as we wandered through my neighborhood, that I recognize a lot of my students out of their uniforms for someone who sees them once every week or two and has about 850 of them. I told her that they usually travel in packs, and there's always at least one among them that I know. She said, "Ah yes. Some you remember. One: good student. Two: bad student." Exactly.

She gave me the biggest compliment over lunch when she told me that, attending my adult class, she realized immediately that I had teaching experience. She said she has attended many of the native English teacher's classes over the years (she works part time as an art therapist for disabled students in our district) and that I was set apart from the immediately. I told her she couldn't know how much that meant to me. More than anything else right now, I want to be a good teacher.

Anyway, she's amazing. And when she found out I still didn't have a phone, she marched me straight over the Home Plus to sort the situation out. It was a little demeaning, at this point, to have everything done in translation, especially as the first company we approached turned me away just for being a foreigner. Sometimes I think I would prefer the humiliation of muddling through in broken Korean/English. But it was really good that she was there to explain everything to me. And I probably would have dragged the phone thing out for ages without someone forcing me into it. Anyway, I'm really looking forward to getting to know her better.

I sent more kids out into the hall today, a couple in each class. I tried to be as good humored about it as possible -- I still don't feel comfortable telling other people what to do, even if they are my students. It wasn't so long ago that I was in the back corner of the class not paying attention and rolling my eyes, after all. But I realized my one coteacher is basically never coming back. Which is frustrating as far as hoping to accomplish anything in class, but there's one week left in the semester, so for now I'll settle for quiet when I request it and a base level of order in the classroom.

When I stepped out into the hall to tell the boys to come back in, they assumed the appropriate position, which is new to me, but something I've seen many times in front of other lecturing teachers. Head down, eyes on the floor and at least the semblance of a very serious countenance. It's a little awkward for me, considering I grew up in a "look at me when I'm talking to you" culture. I still take direct eye contact as the most pertinent sign that someone is showing me respect and listening to what I am saying. Not that they can understand what I am saying anyway. Instead, I just put my hands in my pockets and stared at them for a minute. Then I leaned over in order to meet their downcast eyes. "You wanna come back in?"

A flicker of eye contact.


"You'll sit and be quiet?"


Leaned over a little further, this time with a bit of a smile. They raised their eyes up and smiled back. "Be good boys, okay?"

"I am so sorry, Teacher."

"It's okay. Let's go."

"Thank you, Teacher."

And perfect angels for the rest of the period. Every last one.

My one fucking turd of a student decided he would sit at a more well-behaved table today, after spending the entirety of last class out in the cold hallway, but when I went to hand him his worksheet, he refused to take it. I leaned over and got very close to his face. "You want to just go out in the hall now?" He didn't understand. His friend translated.

"Ahni." It doesn't escape my notice anymore when I don't get the polite endings for words. Or when a student doesn't hand or receive something with both hands.

"Take the paper, then." He took it with both hands.

I've stopped ignoring the oh-so-clever, under-the-table cell phone action, as well. I really am starting to wonder how much crap I thought I was getting away with at school, every ounce of which the teacher observed. I've just started saying, "Choice: your pocket or my pocket. Which?" It's not that the cell phones bother me. Nothing bothers me as long as they are sitting there and shutting up. But it's about establishing some amount of respect.

And any guilt I felt about showing the movies has vanished, as today my most effective coteacher told me that she thinks it is a very good idea, because the boys are tired from exams, and is excited to have them watch shows like this in English, which are easy for them to understand. When I told her what lesson ideas I was kicking around for next week, she said, "Why not if you have another show like this one? I think it would be very good."

Well. Okay.

And now, the third graders. The first video... I probably should've been trying to stop that instead of filming it. To be fair, I told them multiple times not to do it before they started. It features the boy with a beautiful smile, who the other boys like to make fun of, saying, "She is very pretty." I told him they're just jealous. The second is My Friend, doing the I Love You Dance. If you see the ring on his pinky, it's the same as the one on my thumb. Today he put his against mine and said, "Couple rings."

"I don't think so."

He asked his friend to translate what I said.

"Aash! Why no?"

"Too young."

"Aash. Me. High school."

"Too, too young."


Oh. And when I passed a few of my students on the way home, one of them just looked at me and said, "자지." I'm not sure what his point was. Now, if it had been, "ne jaji na bal a ra" (not even going to try in Hangul), we would have turned around and marched straight back to the school together. As it stands, it was just sort of stupid.

That's right, boys. You better watch out. The textbook's not all I've been studying.


They say the third month is when the honeymoon runs out. I guess it's fair enough, because in everything that's come before, I seem to operate on a different schedule. Today I think I realized that the honeymoon, for me, has finally begun.

When we were standing on line at Lottemart, the conversation shifted to what we should do on Christmas eve. It occurred to me that the most wonderful thing in the world that I could think of was sitting on the floor with the heat from the ondol beneath me on a cold Christmas eve in a small bulgogi restaurant. No shoes, a cloud of cigarette smoke, and meat cooking over an open flame right there at the table. Even soju is getting the pantyhose covered lens treatment with me in these visions.

We've been terrified to go into these little places (which are absolutely everywhere) without a Korean, due to the lack of picture menus and the necessary "yogiyo!" technique. But as we wandered around looking for the safe, Westernized version of bulgogi we ate a couple of weeks ago (special English menu and a business card handed to us directly by a man who appeared to be the manager), my fingers began to lose their feeling in the cold and Mike started doing the pee-pee dance. We crossed a street and there it was -- one of the menuless wonders I had been dreaming of. I didn't have the heart to think twice about it, and before I knew it, we were inside.

The waitress and I fumbled through the ordering together. It should have only been humiliating for me, but she was sweet enough to look sheepish as well. I don't care anymore. I'm tired -- exhausted, in fact -- of playing it safe with the English. We're not fancy, Westernized restaurant kind of people. As far as I can tell, these little bulgogi places are the Korean version of a diner. And if it kills me with shame, I will learn how to navigate them comfortably.

We made short work of the ssamjang, which our coteachers constantly remind us is probably too spicy for us Americans, smothering the beef with it as we wrapped them in green leaves. I even got up the gall to order a bowl of rice for Mike when he complained that he needed something starchy to help soak up the soju.

Later in the evening, I used a squat toilet for the very first time. I'm happy to report that it is not, as I had suspected by simply contemplating the situation as an outsider, impossible to do while wearing pants.

Too much information? Too bad.

I'm happy here. Really, truly happy here. And getting braver and bolder everyday. When I think of the things that used to intimidate me on a daily basis back home, I can't help but view the difference just two months have made as nothing short of remarkable. Coming here has challenged all of my weakest, most fearful points. I know there are thousands of us -- millions, if you look at the population of immigrants the world over -- and it's nothing special.

But I'm just one person. And for me, it means something.

Unfortunately, my little honeymoon is beginning just as Mike has had just about enough. He commented on this on Thursday as we sat in the same restaurant where a month before he had gulped down bibimbap while I pushed kimchi around with my chopsticks. On Thursday, I sat happily spooning my doenjang-jiggae, while he gave his bibimbap the evil eye. He still ate nearly twice as much as me, but only because he's stubborn.

Today I accomplished the shoe mission, but still gave the phone a pass. Mostly because these days I'm afraid to give Mr. K my phone number. And because those coiffed phone men with the microphones on the sidewalk scare the living shit out of me. Especially as they often seem to think it's absolutely hilarious to shout, "Hiiiiiiiii!" into said microphones as I walk past, and then laugh like a mad person while everybody stares.



And I got an electric kettle because I'm tired of boiling water on the stove for coffee, which just goes to show what a lazy snob I've become. We also saw the two most perfect bunnies in the world at Lottemart, who will hopefully still be there later this week, after I force someone at work to write precise directions to my apartment from Jakjeon in Korean for me, so they don't have to endure the winter weather/The Hill. They're way too tiny for that. Even Mike's cold stone heart was moved by these two bunnies, one of which, he's now decided, he has the right to name.


SS501 reenact English class.

Give it a few years. Only my students will be repeating, "Hey guys! What are you doing?" and "You seriously need to chill out."


The Unbearable Awkwardness of Being.

I am now apparently the official Marlboro spokesperson at HS middle school.

I was nervous today because I had a class with Coteacher and I was showing a movie again. I thought she would have something to say about it, but all she said after was, "How exciting!" To be fair, I think I worked a lot out of it, and got to teach the boys a bit about how American English differs from British English as well. These were second graders, of course, and my brightest class by far. With the first graders, it was:

"Okay guys. Do you know what 'mystery' means?"

Blank faces.

"Uh... do you know what 'love' means?"

Blink blink.

Fuck it. No coteacher = no translation = just shut up and hit 'play'.

The first graders are getting mighty chatty before and after class though, which makes me endlessly happy. I had another student from the Home Plus group confront me today. We held the entire class's rapt attention as he interrogated me about Oppa. Then there was a class discussion in Korean afterward, which ended with them all looking at me with satisfied little grins. Gossipy little gits.

Mr. C came back to the caf today, and even sat with us. I strategically positioned myself directly across from him. For some reason, the handsome PE teacher decided to sit with us as well, though he didn't address me or Mr. K or speak a word of English throughout. Apparently he lives in my apartments and told Mr. K that he told me this, although I don't recall him ever speaking a single word to me, other than when he told me (in Korean) that Mr. K wasn't in for the day when he broke his foot.

Who fucking knows.

Anyway, for some reason I got really nervous about trying to think of something to say to Mr. C. I know that his English level is much higher than he thinks, because of occasions early on when he was forced to talk to me alone. But every time I spoke to him today, he would look to Mr. K for translation. Mr. K would then either not translate what Mr. C said in response back to me, and Mr. C and I would be left staring helplessly at each other, or when he did translate, he would shift the conversation into rapid (more rapid) English and Mr. C would just look back down at his tray. It was kind of awful.

Then Mr. K decided to tell me in front of everyone that he had a dream about me last night and that he couldn't get back to sleep for three hours after he woke up from it. I really hope no one else understood that. It's not the first time he's said something horribly offensive to my overbearing preference for privacy in the lunchroom for any and all to hear -- a couple of weeks ago he informed that the night before he had written about me in his journal. I want to crawl under the table when he says things like that and do my utmost to immediately change the subject.

Anyway, when lunch ended, I followed Mr. C out to stand in the breezeway instead of waiting for Mr. K to finish his water (no water during meals here -- just a small glass chugged afterward). It was fucking bizarre. Mr. C just kind of looked at me for a minute and then slowly meandered off down the hallway without saying a word. Mr. K came out to find me standing there staring bewildered after Mr. C's departing profile. "What?"

"No. Nothing..."


Mr. C did perk up when I mentioned that I'm studying Korean, so I'm doing my best to believe it's just a language thing, and not that he's horribly offended by my presence or something. He asked Mr. K to ask me to say something to him in Korean. Mr. K translated this, but didn't translate my response, which was that I would be happy to speak Korean to Mr. C, but not in front of Mr. K because he will only laugh at me. Mr. C patiently waited for the translation, and when it wasn't forthcoming, it was back to tray staring.

I don't know. I'm no good at this taking initiative thing. And let's face it, kiddos -- my witty reportoire (if you can even call it that) is about the only thing I've got going for me in the first place. I guess the only thing to do is to hit the Korean books even harder.

Oh, and I have a coffee date with one of my adult students on Sunday. She's a painter. I knew from the moment she walked in for the first time last week that she was my cup of tea. A woman who loves art and who speaks a decent amount of English. Thank fuck for that.

It's a nice surprise after finding out that my favorite of all favorite students from New York, Jungmin (also a painter -- and a fucking brilliant one, at that), won't be able to afford a trip home this winter.

The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call
poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful...

-- Milan Kundra


Oppa II, the return of Queen Elizabeth and Mr. Chin.

I was confronted by a gaggle of my students about an incident that happened on Sunday today. One of the boys was with a group of students who happened to be standing at the same intersection as Mike and me when we were on our way back to mine from Home Plus. One of the students and I had had a conversation in mixed Korean and English about my family earlier in the week. He asked if I had any brothers and sisters, and I said one brother. He asked, dong-saeng or oppa? I told him dong-saeng. It reveals a great deal about the ignorance of my students regarding my situation here that when he saw Mike standing next to me holding groceries, he asked, "Dong-saeng?" Assuming that I am here living with my family, as they do.

I laughed and said, "No. Oppa. English teacher."

I had my suspicions that it wouldn't take the boys long to confer amongst themselves and realize that I don't have an oppa by blood, and get curious about who exactly Mike is. One of the boys from the group collected six or seven of his friends and confronted me in front of my desk today. What I heard was this:

"Korean Korean Korean oppa Korean Korean Korean Home Plus."

I looked up from my work to be greeted by sixteen or so accusing eyes.

"Best friend. Friends for five years."

They turned their backs to me in a huddle and discussed this in Korean, then turned back around.


"No. Close friend. Very close friend."

They stared at me unconvinced.

"He is a friend. Now go away."

Today I decided to cut the boys and myself a break and show the new episode of Wallace & Gromit. No coteacher today, so when the class where the fights break out came in, I handed out the accompanying worksheet, put the show up on the screen paused, and sat down at my desk and started to organize my files. The chattering hum in the room persisted and eventually one of the students said, "Teacher. Let's go!"

I moved my hand in the air in the universal gesture for a moving mouth and went back to my work. At this point, my little gem who can't behave himself unless he is at the center of my attention said, "Teacher. Be quiet? You want?"

I nodded.

He moved to the front of the classroom in my usual position. "YA! Hey guys (an excellent imitation of me)! Everybody! Shut up!" When his shouts were met by nothing more than passing glances, he assumed a dominant adult posture and began to move around the room swatting boys in the head and telling them to shut up and sit down. After a few rounds of what I like to call The Wave (because the nonsense behavior tends to move around the room like the wave at a baseball game in exact accordance to the furthest point from where you are at any give moment), he approached the desk and stood with his hands on his hips, giving me a very serious look. "Aaash."

I peered up at him. "Not so easy, huh?"

"Teacher. They are bad boys."

At this point, the South African kid addressed me. "When will we watch the movie? I have not seen this one...."

"I know. It's new. Just came out. First one in a long time."

"When will we start? I want to finish it. Make them be quiet."

"Kiddo, today it's not my problem. There's nothing I need to teach, so they can talk as long as they'd like. They're just wasting their own time today."

After overhearing this exchange, it began to move backwards through the classroom in translation until, only moments later, they were all looking up at me with closed mouths and big innocent eyes.

During the show, I moved to one of the empty seats at a table in the back. Back center -- the quiet shy ones I don't usually get to spend much time talking with because I'm too busy juggling the loudmouths and miscreants. Or at least I thought they were quiet and shy.

They took the opportunity to get to know me. "Sunsengnim. Uh..." They discuss in Korean how to ask what my name is. "Sunsengnim. What is name?" That shows how much they've been paying attention in class.

"My name is Liz." I wrote it on his paper, along with "Elizabeth" and circled the "liz" part. "It comes from this, see?"



"Ya!" He turned around to the table behind him and started tapping boys on the shoulder, telling them my name was Elisabesuh. After mulling this over for a while, they turned back around. "Sunsengnim. Queen?"

"No. Now be quiet."

"Sunsengnim. My name. Romeo."

I leaned over and pulled his jacket toward me to read his name badge.

"Huh uh. Junchae. Junchae, be quiet and watch the show."

"Sunsengnim. Boyfrienduh?"

"No. Seriously... be quiet."

I also learned today that for some reason kicking the back of the boys' chairs is extremely offensive to them. I took great pleasure in being the aggravator instead of the aggravatee in the classroom for once.

I've been feeling quite stir-crazy the last few days, due to three days earlier in the week with no classes. I'm not designed to sit still at a desk for nine hours a day. At all. Yesterday after I got off work, I wandered around aimlessly for a couple of hours before coming home, just to release some energy, and today I decided I positively had to get out. Mike and I met in Bupyeong for dinner and coffee.

I tried to explain why I've been irritated with Mr. Kwan lately, other than all the "I don't have a girlfriend" blubbering. For one thing, Coteacher keeps popping up anytime Mr. Kwan and I have an "appointment" outside of school. I used to think that she was inviting herself, and I'm quite sure that she is. When we had just sat down at the restaurant on Tuesday, ordered, and started a decent conversation, Mr. Kwan's phone rang. Mrs. Kim had heard that we were out together. I understand not wanting to be rude, especially as she is his superior at work and elder, but come on. He didn't even warn me that she was coming, and I can't express the irritation I experienced when she came in with another teacher who doesn't speak any English.

Like I said before, I don't fault anyone for not speaking English. Obviously. But my daily conversation is extremely limited, and I was looking forward to having an evening in English that didn't involve me staring at walls for fifteen to thirty minutes at a time, waiting for someone to throw me a scrap of translation. My mood, despite my best efforts, visibly declined when they walked in, and I think Mr. Kwan knew he fucked up.

He's offered to make up for it on Monday when we will have to go out with all of the teachers for someone's retirement party. In the backseat of Mrs. Kim's car on the way home, he leaned over and whispered, "Monday night. After party. We will play together all night long, just you and me." Someone should probably explain that "play with me" and "play together" have quite a different connotation in English than they do in Korean, especially when coupled with "all night long". But it isn't going to be me.

The other thing that's pissing me off is his habit of moving "appointments", at least where S and Mike are also involved. This alone would be fine enough. But I've also started to notice something at work that wasn't bothering me before, but is now. Mr. Kwan has a habit of boasting to everyone within earshot that he and I are "very close friends" and that's why he can understand my English, and I his, so well. He's even started to refer to me as "dong-saeng" to other people at work, which he doesn't know I understand. And every time we go out, I am greeted by rounds of hassle from the other male teachers the next day, who ask me why I don't look more tired, because they heard Mr. Kwan and I were out very late last night drinking together. And. I've noticed he has a habit, when other men join us in the men's room at work to smoke, of telling me to come sit closer to him, and touching me in small ways -- to put cigarettes in my pocket, rather than my hand or leaning in to pick a piece of lint off my sweater.

If these things were to happen in private, I wouldn't mind them. But I'm not comfortable with things like this in public, particularly in the work place. And particularly considering how much mystery and fascination tends to surround the foreign teacher, and her already questionable habits of sitting at the men's table and smoking in the men's room. I'm not out to get a reputation -- I would like to be respected, at least in some amount, eventually. It's not that I give a flying fuck what anyone thinks, at least regarding the smoking and loitering around with men. It's that I don't think the impression Mr. Kwan is giving is fair. To be honest, I'd be happier talking to the older male teachers at work -- particularly the music and art teacher, but they don't speak enough English. The younger ones are the ones who are more comfortable with English, so those are the ones I hang around with.

Anyway, Mr. Chin. It's been conveyed to me, through the grapevine (which is alive and thriving with gossip, always, at my school) that he is unhappy in Incheon and put in for a transfer back to his hometown. It is said that he has no friends here, no family, and is lonely and bored. I told Mr. Kwan that I understand him, very well. His transfer has been denied, and since this news came down, he hasn't been eating in the cafeteria -- I don't know where he is. Mr. Kwan said he asked if he wanted to come out with us on Tuesday to cheer him up, but he said that he was not in the mood to socialize, and would just go home and go to bed. For someone who claims to be one of his best friends, Mr. Kwan seems confused every time I ask where Mr. Chin is and how he is coping with his bad news. "I don't know. I have not heard from him. Why are you asking?" Because I know how the guy feels. And it might be nice for him to hear that from someone who is very far from home, and who is also (for the most part) alone in this city. Even if it may only be conveyed in very broken English.

And because I like him. On Tuesday, I waved for Mr. Chin's attention from down the table. I got every one's attention in return. A hush fell over the entire table and all eyes were on me. I said, "President Bush. Shoes." Mr. Chin thought for a moment, translating in his head. And then he threw his head back and laughed. Although almost everyone at the table technically understood what I said, only Mr. Chin really understood what I was saying. Mr. Kwan, in return, said, "I hear first president Bush own baseball team at one time. I think he must be very good at baseball." And then looked upset when I didn't laugh at this joke. My attention lingered on Mr. Chin who was still looking at me.

The point is that language is not always the most important thing when it comes to being able to communicate with someone. And, though I talk about it all the time, I realized it in a whole new way as I returned Mr. Chin's gaze while the conversation in Korean continued around him, and Mr. Kwan continued speaking to me in English.


There are a lot of things I could say about today, but I'll spare you. I like to get to the point when I've been drinking.

It's a historic moment. You heard it here first, folks. I'm throwing my hat in the ring for the first time in absolute ages.

Mr. Chin, look out. You may not speak a whole hell of a lot of English, but I've got you in my cross-hairs.

This'll be a disaster and, I predict, last no longer than a month.

Anyway, I'm studying Korean tonight for the first time in a week.


The plague, role reversal and accents.

Well, guess who's sick again.

I keep thinking this all goes back to that annihilating version of the plague I had back in April, when I was fine one day and woke up the next in need of a shot in the ass and 8 rounds of steroids, somehow. Every time it feels like a milder version of that. Or maybe it's just a result of China's little love clouds drifting over every other day. Or maybe Mr. Kwan is right and I need to wear proper clothing for the weather.

It's a funny vibe in the office this week. Some serious role reversal going on. Three half days of exams for the boys, and no classes for anyone. After this week, it's all one downhill roll to the end of the year, and the Korean teachers are basically living it up. Pastries, oranges and koepi for everyone! Except me.

I worked my ass off today. In three weeks, I will have two weeks of winter English camp, while all the other teachers are on a super long paid vacation. One of the few times of year when it sucks to be me. Anyway, I did the math, and although they are right -- technically I'm not going over my contracted teaching hours for those weeks -- I'll be doing 7 and a half months' worth of my usual lesson planning in three weeks' time. Whereas I normally need two 45 minute lessons a week, during the camp I will be teaching two 2-hour classes a day for two weeks to the same boys everyday. That's 40 hours of lesson plans for two weeks -- more than thirteen times the amount I'm usually expected to do each week.

Meh. The other teachers take enough crap year round. I can put up with this, I guess.

I'm not looking forward to whatever the hell it is that's coming this summer, though.

I guess my biggest issue is not with the amount of work -- I had quite a good day furrowing away at my desk today. And let's not forget what a gigantic fucking nerd I am at heart. I've had a lovely time doing my introductory "parts of speech" lessons, and drifting a little too deeply off into essays on grammar. This is my shit, people. I'm right at home in this.

My main coteacher, who I have decided (for today) that I don't really like that much, made my place quite clear to me when I approached her about an after school program for the boys who still can't read English at all. I am for pronunciation and conversation only. I'm to leave the proper teaching up to the proper teachers. But fuck that. I don't know how I'm supposed to teach anything so long as these kids don't know what a noun is. Even if they just need to be taught the English vocabulary for the parts of speech, and that's what the problem has been, my job will be a lot easier (and their understanding a lot clearer) once I can refer to sentence structure and have them know what the fuck (generally) is going on.

Anyway, my issue is with the amount of time I've been given to plan all of this. I know it's a cultural thing, or whatever, but I really get freaked out by last minute announcements. I still don't have a fucking clue whether there will be 3 or thirty boys in each class. But it's nothing compared to the hell Mike's school is putting him through. He's been somehow sucked into this MOE nonsense that Mr. Kwan did me the fantastic favor of lying to my main coteacher about. While we were out a couple of weeks ago, she phoned him to ask if I wanted to do it. "Do you want to ________?", by the way, is coteacher speak for, "You have to ____________." When Mr. Kwan saw the look on my face when he asked me if I wanted to do the MOE camp, he said, "I will tell her you already planned vacation." God and everybody else bless that man and his complete and total lack of company loyalty.

My parents' class is supposed to end this Friday, but the mothers informed me that they'll keep coming anyway. I'm getting pretty good at just being informed of things.

So why so down on Coteacher today? Well. Mr. Kwan was bored, what with the exams and lack of work, so he came to get me to go to lunch early so we'd have time to get coffee and dick around in the smoking room after. We had just sat down when Coteacher came over and interrupted our conversation to have one with Mr. Kwan in Korean. I mean literally interrupted. As in I was mid sentence in English and she jumped in over me in louder Korean. He kept trying to switch back to English, and would translate when she would give him enough time to, but it was no use. I know I'm in South Korea and I'm working on the Korean as fast as I can. I don't get irritated when the other teachers speak Korean, for more than one obvious reason. But you have to understand that lunch with Mr. Kwan is about the only time I have anything resembling a fluent conversation on a daily basis.

Mr. Lee, on the other hand, continues to speak Korean, slowly and deliberately, directly to me and I continue to shock myself with how easy it is to pick up enough to respond. And I don't know if it's a direct result or of this or not, but I've found myself responding in Korean naturally far more often to my other coworkers and not being nearly as intimidated when they address me in Korean. I'm able to calm down now and pay attention to what they are saying, instead of panicking and hearing everything as a big cloud of unintelligible nonsense. I guess he's a pretty good teacher.

I still won't speak any Korean in front of Mr. Kwan because he makes fun of me too much and claims he can't understand a word I'm saying. Which could be true. But that's no reason to gloat. The worst came when we were out and he told me to remember the name of a restaurant in case he couldn't. When I repeated it after him, he said, "Ah! You look Korean!" A few blocks of walking later, he asked if I could remember. When I repeated the name in what I like to think was a flawless accent, he said, "Ah! You do have a brain in your head!" Asshole. He made up for it though, by thinking to himself for a moment and then muttering, "Uh... no I don't want to say that." Of course, I insisted that, after mentioning whatever it was out loud, he had to say it. To which he responded, "Actually, I think you look very smart." "Look" and "seem" are words that get mixed up a lot by non-native speakers. I don't know which he meant, but I'll take either one, any day of the week.

Coteacher told me today that my accent is turning English. As in, British English. Mr. Kwan told her she was just adjusting to my accent and understanding me more easily. I'm not sure what either one of them were driving at, but I'm pretty sure I'm not speaking with any kind of an English accent. At least I hope not. Because that's weird.