1.31.2009

So I'm alive and everything. Paris is alright, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't jonesin' for that train to pull out of the station for Vienna tomorrow morning. I'm exhausted. I've been spending my evenings with Brazillians, Argentinians, Germans, Russians, Koreans, the Swiss, the French, the English and the Japanese. The languages flying around the kitchen at night are enough to make your head sink. And I definitely know more Spanish than I realized -- apparently I'm quite conversational.

Details, of course, when I return. For now, I'm making it an early night so I'm sure to wake for the train in the morning.

Just a note to say that everything is okay. It'll be even better around 10:30 tomorrow night.

By the way, I really, really miss Korea. I'm not kidding.

1.26.2009

Don't you know that only fools are satisfied?

Well, kiddies. It's been slow 'round these parts the last few days. Been catching up with a few people from back home, or I guess really the idea of "back home", since most of them don't actually live in Texas. Contacted the family to let them know I'll be out of commission for a while. Plus, no work and everything's closed for Lunar New Year, so there hasn't been much to report. Just packing, running numbers, trying to sort things that are impossible to sort these days. When did travel become such a goddamn middle class thing? All the booking in advance, online, credit card, traveler reviews, five star ratings. Well. I'm going to try to do this the old school way -- turn up with a light enough bag to carry and a few addresses and go from there. That's the way things should be. And the way they've got to be, when you're me.

The official plan is five days in Paris, then the overnight train to Vienna, where there's a beautiful girl, a cappuccino and a cigarette waiting for me. Life could be worse. And certainly has been.

Dunno if dispatches from the other continent will be possible, or if I'll even be bothered. For now, consider a sign hung on the door.

1.24.2009

Wide, wide open.

Well. All writers are exhibitionists at heart, but there are some parts of our private lives that should definitely stay offline. Even if they get written down elsewhere. That's what posthumous publishing is for, if someone somewhere deems you worthy. Or maybe you could just wait twenty years.

At any rate, I went out last night and met a fairly nice fella. It was good to speak fluent English (for seven hours, no less). It really is amazing what a difference studying abroad makes. And I was even firmly instructed in Korean, for a while, after my pointing and nodding cigarette purchasing skills were duly observed and laughed at.

Most things are simpler in Korean -- numbers are not.

And it turns out that no matter how much American men go on about how territorial Korean men are about "their" Korean women, some of them don't stray far from that characteristic themselves.

Don't know if we'll hear from this fella again -- not sure that it matters. It was sort of a complete encounter, in and of itself. Not compelled, myself, to actively pursue the situation, although not entirely closed off to the idea.

It snowed again this morning, which brought some (but little) relief from the bitter cold of yesterday. Went to withdraw money this afternoon, but was only allowed so much -- there's some nonsense floating around about my bank closing for three days, starting at midnight. And by closing, I mean apparently no withdrawals or purchases with cards even will be possible. I have no idea if such a ludicrous thing can actually occur. If it does, I may be sleeping in train stations in Paris after all. Just for a couple of nights.

After, to the coffee shop, just to be out for a while. Running on just about zero sleep, which probably means an evening in with Godard's Contempt, packing and early to bed for this kid.

When I read my tarot earlier this week, it was full of pleasant predictions, mostly pertaining to a new openness, eagerness, bravery and passion for life and all things that will come across my path. I must say, I'm inclined to agree. I can feel some functional part of me shifting from inherently hesitant, careful and afraid to simply wide, wide open. Thank God for that.

Happy Seollal.

1.22.2009

The past, it is a foreign country.

So, thinking about this trip to Paris, I kept getting this sort of Iva-like feeling -- that one that comes every now and then, when the universe decides to push us in the same direction.

Well, I thought I would just say hello anyway. Tell her to give a shout in the direction of France next week, see if I could hear her from Vienna.

So. Trains. Munich. Vienna. What?

You know we couldn't just leave it alone.

We're ironing out the details. But we made a promise last time we met in New York that five years would never go by again. It's already nearly been two. And I can't think of anyone better to make ridiculous plans with, last minute. I think we'll meet in Munich, after I spend a few days in Paris on my own. Maybe take the train back to Vienna after a couple of nights in a hostel. Then I'll have one hell of a haul back to Paris to get to the airport, fly to Dubai (one place I said I never wanted to be... wouldn't you know it?), then on back to Incheon.

Now that I'm looking at my actual flight times (they do finally exist) though, I'm thinking we're going to have to choose either Munich or Vienna. The girl gave me tonight to think about it. Hm. What to do.

So much for a genuine "vacation". I suspect I'll be half-dead upon my return. I was only saying that to make up for the fact that it was all looking to be a bit boring, anyway.

Ah. Exciting.

Well, I've got a lot to do in the next few days....

My small victory for today was successfully using an ATM in Korean. I think some of the romanizations of the bank names are quite off, so I had to navigate the whole thing in Korean in order to pay a bill. I'm a fucking genius. You always knew it.

1.19.2009

The more I know, the less I believe.

Why is my life semi-hilarious?

When I got to school this morning, I was greeted by the sound of opera being sung in a deep bass -- the music teacher was emptying trash out of his car into the school dumpster and giving one hell of a performance while he was at it. We obviously cannot communicate much, given his lack of English and my lack of Korean, but ever since the infamous noraebang bus night, he has greeted me so warmly in the mornings that I can't help but give the girliest of sheepish smiles, which is always rewarded with a big emphatic grin in return. What a fantastic way to start the day.

That university student guy has been sending me emails in literally the most broken English I have ever encountered, besides out of some of my students. And the best part is his suggestion (I think) that I respond in Korean. But at this rate, I might as well. The idea of a language exchange is a beautiful thing, but I don't think either one of us is at the level yet where it's a productive activity. I might tell him if he wants to meet to work on English out of a book, that's cool, but this whole conversation thing is beyond us both at the moment. Unless he wants to just hang out playing darts again.

At least he's trying. Mad props for that.

I also ate nine jeju oranges today. There was a particularly generous group of teachers in the office and ever since the Michael Magnes Persimmon Incident of '08, I'm really nervous about trying to take them home.

VP has gone and broken my heart by not even giving my awkward (and pointless) presence a second look today. I guess I'm incarcerated for the week, after all.

Uh. On a more serious note, I feel like some sort of major apology is owed by me -- not to anyone who reads this, but to people to whom it may not be given, due to its context.

I've really been a fool.

Coteacher was in the office today, and as a result, the other female teachers were much more open toward me for the first time. When I told Coteacher about my trip to Paris, she gasped and pulled up a chair -- wanted all the details. Suddenly she suggested that we take a trip to Indochina together in the spring, and while the initial notion filled me with dread, I found myself easily persuaded for reasons I couldn't altogether pin down -- something in the fragility, the eagerness of her tone.

I've made certain short-sighted and rash judgments about my female coworkers, without giving them a proper chance. I should know by now that culture, especially as it relates to gender, cannot be understood in a glance.

Every morning I see the women bustle into the office dressed to the nines -- make up and stilettos -- and watch as they fix the coffee, wash the cups and giggle conspicuously at the male teachers' jokes, as they bring them their coffee and tea. Even while at separate tables in the lunch room, the conversation (as far as it is conveyed to me, anyway) remains on the vague, the pleasant and the superficial -- who's getting married, who bought their shoes where, who's losing or gaining weight.

I don't know why I made the automatic assumption that how the women are around the men is simply how the women are....

And I haven't expressed much interest in them up to this point because of this assumption.

I should know better by now.

Today after work ended, Coteacher invited me to have dinner with her and some of the other female teachers. A little fearful of the result (Korean conversation and me, locked out), I agreed anyway, thinking it's better to at least try.

The conversation at dinner quickly shifted to the subject of my impending trip - how lucky I am to be young, how smart to be unmarried. I was fucking shocked to hear the women suddenly speak very frankly and intelligently about their own marriages, or (in the cases of the unmarried) perceived issues about marriage -- the roles they are expected to fulfill as Korean women, how they feel they must choose between a lonely future or a life spent hiding and denying who they really are.

They said, emphatically and unanimously, that I had the right idea -- told me to never marry, continue with my studies and travels, and stay free.

I tried (in the interest of balance) to explain that in my view, marriage, raising children -- these are the brave things to do. I said also that, while it's good to be single while I'm young, I sometimes worry about being alone in old age, to which one teacher wryly responded, "In old age, I think you will have pension to care for you!"

To put it simply, I've been so unfair to these women that I don't know where to begin with my regret. While my conversations with my male coworkers have been filled with the things I loathe -- lament over the lack of a romantic partner, longing for marriage at all costs, etc. -- my time alone with my female coworkers has proved to be full of intelligent, insightful and rather witty social commentary, frank and vulnerable observations about their own lives -- the kind of thing I've been dearly missing in my daily interactions.

And more importantly, I've learned to some extent for myself what's really behind this culture's current outcry about a so-called marriage crisis.

It's one thing to hear the men whine senselessly on about empty beds and no one to phone in the evenings. It's another thing entirely to hear the women explain the reasoning behind it all.

I'm still perplexed by the notion that the men should be left out of these enlightening conversations. But it's not for me to understand just yet. Now is the time to perk up my ears and pay closer attention to the things that are going on around me, so that I can better understand.

In short, what I'm beginning to realize is that the segregation I've observed between the genders is not as self-inflicted or senseless as I at first thought -- there are genuinely two different worlds at work here. There isn't just the perceived idea that men and women are different -- there is some truth to it, albeit not in the realm of biological reality, but rather within the context of culture.

As a Western woman, I have the privilege of easily traveling between the two groups. And I will definitely be using that to my advantage in the future.

I like hitting these pockets of ignorance in my own perception of things from time to time. As Coteacher put it tonight, "The older I get, the more unsure I am." She said this in response to my argument that her getting older earns her a certain amount of respect for the wisdom she has acquired, and this is not a fact that is to be mourned. Although she meant it as a rebuttal of my statement, I see it very much in support of it. As the saying goes, the more you know, the less you believe.
My apartment is a wreck, and I've got about ten or so unanswered emails in my usually tidy-as-fuck inbox. That'll all get done today, though, as I take to the very serious task that has been set for me to be a body for $20 an hour this week.

Please, VP, don't let me down. I'm way to restless to stare at a computer screen and fidget for 40 hours this week.

The truth is, I'm really stressed out about this trip. And that's just not the way it should be. I'm still uncomfortable spending the money, which is ridiculous because I never hesitated before when I honestly didn't have it to spend. I guess that's the way things go. I'm just trying to get my life straight, these days.

Spent the whole day with HJ again yesterday. She's so beautiful, I really can't get over it. It was really nice to be able to talk to a Korean about a lot of things I've been thinking about lately -- she's been thinking about them too, learning English and talking to foreigners. She asked me if it sounded strange to hear Koreans speak English, and how it was with an accent and grammar mistakes. I explained that we're used to hearing other people speak English, so it doesn't sound strange to us, but told her about how people react sometimes when I speak Korean. She said it was as I suspected -- it sounds very strange for Koreans to hear foreigners speaking Korean. I also said the more I study Korean, the more I think the very structure is different and it seems like it's a hard language, because one mispronunciation can change the entire meaning of what you're saying, whereas in English you can make many mistakes and still be understood. She said I was absolutely right. She's going to help me find a class so that I can get better.

She also asked what I've been reading lately, and I explained how, although my English grammar is very strong, I've been reading a lot about grammar and the structure of English lately, because as a native speaker, there are things I only know inherently and by habit, but don't yet understand technically. But I have to understand it technically to be able to efficiently explain it to others -- how I'm learning how infinitely complicated English really is, and I could study it (my native language) for another 20 years and not fully understand. She said that when she sat in on my classes, it was very helpful for her, because I don't just say, "You say it this way," but explain why you say it this way, why certain things are okay and why others are not -- that it's much easier for her to learn the structure than to just memorize phrases, and encouraged me to keep studying.

We also talked about the dancing incident on New Year's Eve. She said she thinks expression is on a spectrum of vulnerability -- that writing falls at one end, and dancing at the other, with painting somewhere in between. She said she thinks writing is more intellectual, and therefore less vulnerable, and that maybe I'm a more protected person -- that's why I never thought about dancing before. I said she was right -- my way of relating to other people has always been most strongly through language, and physical interaction is much harder for me. But everyday I'm learning more about its value. She said when she was younger, she was the same.

After lunch, a movie, coffee.... she took me back to her apartment to show me some books and ended up cooking me dinner. Didn't get home until nearly ten. She leaves for Indochina for a month a few days after I leave for Paris. I don't think there's anywhere she hasn't been.

Anyway, I'd better stop rambling now and get ready for "work". Ugh. Well I guess there's worse things I could be doing with my time. I'll just think of it as study hall.

1.17.2009

A cunning linguist.

Oy vey.

Put down the books, girl.

After an afternoon of hard reading in the coffee shop, I'm actually considering going back to school. Not anytime soon, that's for sure. I've already said, I've no desire to return to the other side of the classroom for a long while. But just how lovely would a degree in linguistics be?

I know that sounds like the most eye-gougingly boring thing on the face of the earth. But if you think about it, it's not a big detachment from poetry. And it's pretty fucking relevant to language education and second language acquisition, as well.

And anyway, I keep thinking of the most important thing anyone ever said to us at university (besides when Hawkey told us the first day of studio, "If you even think you can be happy doing anything other than writing, then walk away now."), when Brian Blanchfield said:

Every writer spends their entire life trying to answer just one question. You just have to find your question.

Which Mike and I were discussing again the other day, how fucking true it is.

I knew then what my question was, and it hasn't changed to this day. Never once has anything I've ever written strayed too far from that question.

Every day here is an exploration of that question -- every day not speaking Korean, meeting people who don't speak English and everything in between (speaking a little, meeting those who speak a little). Studying Korean. Trying to speak Korean. Elaborate systems of mime -- how important facial expressions have become. Touching, bowing, waving, gesturing. Etiquette and rituals. Tone of voice. Failing and failing and failing to communicate, and then, eventually and against all odds, succeeding.

Anyway. It's getting deep, kids. I should really just stay away from Chomsky entirely.

1.16.2009

Stuck in high gear.

Why is it that winter classes end and suddenly I feel like I have a million things to do? Well...

I knew these two months were going to go by quickly. These days, I feel as though I never have enough time. But in a good way. Between work, studying Korean, trying to learn to cook, random acts of socializing, planning this trip, trying to begin to educate myself on language education....

Oh dear.

Well. I suppose it's a good thing Mike's off for a while. It'll give me time to slow down a bit, maybe, or at least get around to more things on my long, long list. Anyway, I'll do my best to stay busy while he's gone. Seatwarming at work next week may allow me to cool my heels.

Tomorrow is the practical nonsense of life, which annoys me even more now that I'm so busy -- why does grocery shopping and cleaning have to happen so often? I've sort of got a head start tonight. But. The goal for this week is learning how to make kimbap. I know I've said it before, but this time I'm expecting truly hilarious disaster. To begin with, I haven't quite figured out the correct rice to water ratio to make the rice properly sticky. Also, I'm not good with things that require a certain delicate touch. But I'll try, anyway.

Then I may or may not meet HJ for lunch/coffee/dinner/whatever... can't decide if I want to tomorrow or Sunday. Then I've got to get dug in to this stuff I got at the bookshop today -- an advanced reader on second language acquisition, On Nature and Language by Chomsky, and (just for my own pleasure) Derrida's The Politics of Friendship.

And this trip. This fucking trip. I'm trying not to stress out too much. I know it seems a shame in some ways, but I'm thinking I'm really going to take this as an actual vacation. IE sitting around eating lovely food, drinking wine, and catching up on all of this reading. I'm not going to put too much pressure on myself to see and do everything. But I have got to find a hostel that's fairly certain they'll have room, because -- minus a credit card -- I can't find a way to make a reservation. That's just begging for trouble I know, but surely the backpackers pull this shit all the time....

Possibly meeting these uni guys at the regular tomorrow night? Not sure how I feel about that. Well, I'm sure how I feel about that -- not good, minus my wingman. I don't like the idea of wandering into that somewhat disgusting place without my trusty Mags by my side. I guess I'll see how restless I feel by the end of the day tomorrow. But, outlook: not likely.

Mags also left me some Godard and other random good stuff to keep me company. But I'm sure there'll be time for that later in the week.

And studying Korean. Come hell or high water, I've got to get myself into some sort of class when I get back from Paris. It keeps getting moved to the back burner, and I really shouldn't allow that anymore. It's way too important for everything else to run smoothly.

How the hell did I get stuck in high gear?

Braving the cold.

The Magpie has officially begun his flight back to New York. Safe travels, Mags. And hurry back soon. You will definitely be missed.

Today's classes were kind of lousy in comparison to the others. 'Swhat I get for thinking I was a decent teacher for a minute. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. Anyway, the classes weren't terrible -- just really, really quiet. It wasn't until near the end that they started to loosen up and talk a bit. Meh.

Minerva is not that interesting. Can we stay on the subject of Choi Jin-sil please?

It snowed quite a bit this morning. I'm no good in the snow. But. I'm currently attempting to force myself into making the trip into Seoul, where Kyobo has the most decent English language collection I've found so far, so I can get a reasonably priced guidebook for Paris and start planning this trip, now that my winter classes have officially ceased to rule my life. Also going to look for those TEFL theory books I mentioned. I wonder if Paris will have a wider variety of literature in English? Should definitely check that out while I'm there.

This is why Sylvia Beach was important.

Globalization's doing its best, though.

Uh. One of those uni guys from last weekend actually called. Color me shocked. Not sure what (if anything) will come of that.

Also, Koreans don't trust you to remember their names. But then I guess no one in a bar really does.

I managed to snag a copy of Taschen's Picasso (in English) randomly last night in Mike's neighborhood for just 14,000 won. Also picked up a copy of Brahms' Symphony No. 1 and Tragic Overture and Beethoven's No. 4 & 5 (since all of my Beethoven files seem to be fucked for some reason).

Let me tell you -- you haven't lived until you've listened to Beethoven's 5th while walking in the snow.

1.15.2009

We think you look like rock star.

So I've been startling adjumas in a different dong these last couple of days, as I've been doing "teacher training" at another school. It is actually called "teacher training", by the way, but no one (neither the student teachers, nor the teacher teachers) seems to know what we're actually meant to be doing. It was nice to meet a few other native teachers who showed up with the same what-the-fuck mindset as myself -- commiseration is important, so long as it doesn't begin to border on misery loving company.

Anyway. Ah. You know me. I kick and scream nine miles to hell before having to admit, once again, that I really like what I do -- under almost any circumstances. I started each class by once again undermining the popular education mindset that it's a terrible mistake to lay all your cards on the table. I explained that I wasn't entirely sure what I was supposed to be doing, but I had some of the things I did in class with the boys with me, and had also prepared a conversation class, and which would they like to do? The answer in all classes so far has been, "Both!" Then I explained that I have only been teaching in Korea for three months, that this was my first time teaching teachers, and I was a little bit nervous.

In between classes, I heard a lot of bitching from the native teachers about how cold and uncooperative the other teachers were in their classes, and that really scared the hell out of me. I'm by far the least experienced native teacher doing this ridiculous workshop -- if the others were having trouble, what was I in for?

But it hasn't been so in any of my classes so far, and I supposedly had the worst one this morning. There were a lot of cold hard stares for the first half hour, but after we got going, they warmed up quite a bit and conversation was rather forthcoming.

In my first class, I walked in to be greeted by "Wah!"s and a little huddle of Korean whispering. Uh... whatever. I'm going to go get a cup of coffee. When I came back in, one younger male teacher stood up and said, "We think you look like rock star!"

Haha. Well, I try.

Actually, it was fourteen fuck-off degrees when I left my apartment this morning, so I bypassed any allegiance to professionalism and went with a thermal shirt/hoody/bomber jacket/scarf combo. Fuck it. I'm not spending the morning freezing my ass off in a button-down while the other native teachers are sporting university sweatshirts.

The same teacher approached me during the break and said that he was really impressed. Let me back up a minute and explain that the most common thing I hear about the material I use in classes (child and adult, alike) is that it is too difficult. When I handed out the articles I brought in for discussion, sounds of panic began to ring out around the room. But I'm not going to let anyone flounder. The point of teaching a class, as I see it, is not to repeat things the students already know, but to make sure that, whatever material you are working with, they are able to handle it by the end of the class.

These teachers just do not have enough faith in themselves, or their English abilities. At all. And this is one area I know my way around extremely well -- I have worked through Nietzsche with university students whose English was lower level than some of these teachers. If you can teach Nietzsche in a foreign language, you should be able to teach anything. News articles are nothing to panic over.

After we read the article through once, the teachers pulled out their electronic dictionaries and started to translate. They protested at first when I insisted on going on with my explanation instead, but aren't we all being pushed to teach in English only, and to drop translation out of the equation as much as possible? I don't always see how this is possible with my boys yet, but with teachers, it's no problem at all.

Anyway, the teacher said that he was very surprised to find he could understand everything I explained. "When you talk about a word, it's like I see... a picture. What did you study at university?"

Poetry.

"Oh! I think you have a gift with words. You are able to say the right words to explain. I think you have natural talent for teaching language."

Oh man. Can I keep you in my pocket? What an enormous (and much needed) ego boost.

He went on to say that this was his first year teaching, and he finds it quite difficult and has a lot of doubts about his ability. He said he thinks the best thing for him to have more confidence would be to have more conversation with native speakers. I asked if they had a native speaker at his school, and he said yes, but he was very old and conservative and not much fun to socialize with.

I held my tongue. I'm being more careful these days about seeing little things like this as opportunities to form a social network -- it hasn't been working very well so far. After class, he approached me again and said that he hoped he would see me and talk to me more. I said, simply, that I hoped so too, and left without offering my number. If he wants it, he can ask for it.

I know, I know. But just ask Mike -- I did the right thing.

Anyway, I've had a great time in these classes so far. I get a sick thrill out of watching the teachers go from being mortified at the length and difficulty of the articles to having full-fledged lengthy discussions and debate on the subjects. There is nothing I love more in life than meeting and overcoming a challenge.

The truth is, I should probably be teaching adults. But I'm not willing to give up on the kids yet. I have a lot to learn -- that much is certain. But I had just as much to learn when I started teaching adults nearly three years ago. I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning, and I'm sure if you asked some of my first adult students, they would tell you I was the worst teacher in the world. But over time, I learned how to do it. I'm just as determined to make this work with the kids. Which is why much of my vacation in Paris will consist of sitting at cafes and reading up on TEFL theory and methodology (as well as studying Korean).

Which reminds me -- there is much still left to do with the day. I suppose I had better get going.

1.14.2009

1.13.2009

The Beginning of the End.

Ashi. If one more thing about my winter schedule changes, I'm more than likely going to fly into a homicidal rage. At the moment, I'm still taking shit as it comes. I was told my teachers' classes were to be conversation-based -- design a subject to be discussed and discuss it. For ninety minutes. Fine. Whatever. No one wants to actually speak English, but I will find a way to force these (adult) people to do it for an hour and a half straight. And I'm fairly certain that I did. But I had just finished this, and was preparing to go in and do my last English camp class, when a call came into the office for me.

Apparently, the nameless person on the other line thinks it will be good if I show the other teachers Powerpoint presentations about how I teach the students.

Fucking... what? What does that even mean? I thought these were English classes, which I guess you can kind of argue I'm somewhat qualified to be teaching, but this is starting to sound like teacher training -- in fact, that's what the woman called it. First of all, I'm dead certain these actually qualified Korean teachers are not going to take kindly to me trying to tell them how to teach. And secondly, they fucking well shouldn't either. I'm so new at this it's not even funny -- I don't have a degree, I don't have any formal training and I don't know jack shit about the Korean education system, compared to them. Also, it's less than twenty four hours before I'm supposed to start teaching these classes -- if you wanted something that goddamn specific, you shouldn't have left the topic field as "open" on the paperwork.

This is insane. Actually insane. Everyone warns and warns and warns that you have to, have to learn to go with the flow if you're going to survive in the Korean education system. And I think I really have come a long way in that department. But less than twenty four hours notice is a fucking deal breaker, as far as I'm concerned. I'm taking in my original lesson plan tomorrow. I'll also take in what we did in class today to show them if they want to see it, and I'll be happy to talk about the various things I've noticed work best for getting the boys to speak and whatnot, but I'm not doing any fucking Powerpoint presentation -- that's for sure. I don't know what the obsession with Powerpoint is anyway. And I'm not even going to attempt to tell these teachers anything about their own profession.

Jesus.

Other than that, it's been a good day. I had my first conversation in Korean with a random ajusshi on the street today. I think I did pretty well. I was able to understand and answer his questions regarding my name, where I'm from, where I live, how long I have been in Korea, if I am an English teacher, where I teach, that I only speak very little Korean, and that yes, it is really cold. There were a few sentences that completely bypassed my comprehension level at this given point in time, but overall, I'm pretty proud of myself.

The boys were brilliant today. I'm sad to see camp end. There may be a "to be continued" to that, though.... I think Coteacher is plotting against me from home on her vacation. But I'll wait until I have more details on that to discuss it. For now, I'm relying on the god-like status of the VP and his word being final (that word being that today was the end of English camp).

One mild success for Sungsengnim today -- there will be five boys in next year's classes who no longer say that their assignments are "finishee".

And I was actually able to get into some more high level stuff with my "low" level class today, regarding the structure of asking and answering questions, and how there is no other plural form of "you" in English. It's good to feel like I'm actually teaching something, for once.

And now, I present the comics:





by: Casanova, aka Sanguk.





by: ADHD, aka Joonyup.




by: Little Man, aka Taesoon.





by: Irritated Older Boy, aka Byunghyun.







And my absolute favorite, "Love in the Desert" by: Deadpan, aka Sungjik.

1.12.2009

My best friend is poople.

Ah. I love my boys. I would give just about anything to have small classes everyday all the time. Of course, the second is still my favorite.

The "classroom" was a fucking ice block today. It's really not even funny. The boys were chock full of, "Ah, choo-wuh!" I know, babies -- I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do about it.

It still really, really confuses them that I can understand something they say every now and then, but not everything. Despite the fact that it's the exact same situation for them with me in reverse, they just can't seem to grasp the concept.

The absolute quietest kid in the beginning has turned out to be a real attention seeking little comedian. He's completely deadpan, so it took me a while to catch on, when he was still speaking mostly Korean. But I started to notice that he would mutter something under his breath with a completely serious face, and then all the boys would fall out of their seats laughing. Now that I'm really pushing, "English! English!" I'm starting to understand why. He's now the loudest boy in the class and a lot of our class time centers around him making us laugh. Perhaps a little too much. It took them ages to finish the first worksheet today, because he was giving a performance of his answers out loud, as he finished each one. "My born twenty century!" Yeah, my born twenty century, too. Now hurry up and finish. And stop distracting everyone else (including me). "Okay, Teacher. My mouth -- zipper." Good idea.

The best answer from today's worksheets? "My best friend is poople." Yeah. Mine too.

I don't know where they're getting them from, but they've also started coming out with English idioms. Today's hits were: "Stop kidding yourselpuh!", "Grow up!", and "Enoupuh is enoupuh." I've started trying to push them on pronunciation, and dropping the the "-uh"s (especially since today we were working on question words and the "what is", "where is", "when is" etc. can get really "-uh"-y) but for the most part, I'm just happy they're (mostly) giving in to my cries for English.

One of the older boys has apparently taken quite a shine to Teacher. A regular little Casanova, when he finished making his PB&J, he did an elaborate bow and offered it up to my mouth with both hands. No, thank you. And today, handing out candy prizes for the game, when it was his turn and I asked what color he wanted: "Teacher favorite color." The other older boy is quite annoyed at these antics, and when Casanova loitered around helping me pack my bag after class, he rolled his eyes and took off out the door without him.

Cute.

The ADHD kid has apparently decided to forgive and forget -- last week when we were doing, "What makes you angry?", he wrote in Korean on his worksheet that it makes him angry when his teachers make him talk to the foreign teacher. Unfortunately, the kid picked three of the Korean words I actually know. "It makes you angry when you have to talk to me?" Profuse nodding. But he's been my game buddy the last few days of class, and now seems to be quite happy chattering away to the foreign teacher. He ran into a wall today. If I could legally steal someone else's child, he would be the one I would choose.

After work, I shuddered my way home, and then to the subway station to meet Mike. There's no cure for this horrible, god-forsaken weather like dak galbi. And I love that every time we go back, it keeps getting spicier. The lady that runs the joint is gaining faith in us. The number one thing Mike and I are getting these days, now that we have lunch with a different shift of teachers every day (many of whom have not had much one-on-one time with the foreigners yet), after, "Do you know kimchi?", is, "But I think this food too spicy for you...."

If there was one thing I never had to hear again....

At first, I would just explain that I'm from Texas, and, being quite close to Mexico, our food is pretty damn spicy. Now I just do my best to look confused and say, "Spicy? This? No....?" They're just trying to be nice, I know -- but I swear to God, you hear something everyday for three months....

To be honest, the bibimbap from the place we've been ordering from could do with just a tad more gochujang. It's actually a little on the bland side.

The one thing studying Korean has done for me so far is give me a little more peace of mind in the workplace. I've mentioned before how frustrating it can be to hear your name quite distinctly drifting over from a cluster of coworkers in a cloud of Korean and laughter, no matter how convinced you try to be that there's nothing nasty being said. Now I know for sure, at least in some cases. Today there was a whole little argument over who would have to come over to ask me what I wanted for lunch. Once they settled on one teacher, she was trying to ask the others for confirmation on what to say, but they refused to tell her, because I would hear the English and know they were talking about me. Then, the cluster and laughter afterwards was just them reassuring her that she had done fine speaking English.

I wish there was a way to make everyone understand that I don't give one solitary toss how broken their English is -- that if anyone has sympathy for having to deal with someone in a foreign language in this situation, it is definitely me. That I don't think it's funny or stupid, but I'm just eternally grateful for the effort, and more so for any conversation (no matter how confusing) anyone has to offer up.

Eh. Every day it gets a little bit better.

1.11.2009

Korea: One Night Stand.

Don't ask me how it happened -- I don't know. But there we were, five o'clock in the morning in the VIP room at a noraebang.

It started with a day full of mild successes -- finding a store in Hongdae using my freakishly psychic navigation senses, Tex-Mex in Sinchon. Then, another shit bar. Another half hour wasted sipping a beer in silence while we wondered where we had gone wrong.

When we got back to Bupyeong station, we marinated.

"I feel like shit. And I don't want to go home feeling like this, but I don't want it to get worse."

Ultimately the decisions was made to fuck both the subway and midnight and head to the regular.

Somehow we became entangled in a game of darts with three Korean men -- university students who didn't speak much English. They all wanted to take my picture. Sometimes you can't help feeling like a shopping mall Santa Clause. They asked for my number, but I can't imagine what they'll do with it (given the no English situation).

One of them looked at me and, after muttering again, "Ah. English. Very hard," said, "You? Uh friends Korea have?" A few, I guess. "Ah. You. Me. First American friend." It's a bit soon to be throwing out the friend line, don't you think?

They'll never call. They'll just have the uncomfortable photograph of the shy, reluctant 외국인, whose name they can't remember.

Sitting at the bar near three am brought on very sincere wishes for death. There is something very, very wrong with this community. I know there are good ones out there, and they're probably not in a bar at 3 am, but the expat men just really are too much. I'm not usually one to generalize groups of people, but I've pretty much got my mind made up at this point that I will do my utmost to steer clear. Not that I'll need to bother, mind -- I'm not a Korean woman or another cock-waving white male. They'll be going out of their way to avoid me as well. And that suits me just fine. If only I could somehow escape the agony of having the misfortune of being able to understand their (loud) (and disgusting) bar conversations.

I made the mistake of mentioning to a Korean friend that I think the bartender is "handsome". Handsome isn't the word at all, but it was the only term I knew to explain it. More like, he seems kind, and I've got that feeling about him that doesn't happen very often -- the one that says this is a good person. There's nothing in particular you can accredit this to -- it's just a feeling. But "handsome" is easier to say.

I don't know what she said to him, exactly, but she disappeared for a while, only to reappear and tell me that she told him he should talk to me, and he said his English isn't good enough. I'm definitely calling bullshit on that one -- he works in an expat bar. And I saw several Westerners pull him over to have small conversations throughout the evening. But I guess, given that he seems like a kind person, it was the kind thing to say. I don't know what to do in this world where any interest in the opposite sex connotes romantic (or sexual) interest itself. Whatever happened to just talking to people?

Whatever she said (and I really think I'm better off not knowing), it must not have scared him off entirely, because he did come over to show us how to use the dart board. I guess I can still show my face.

So, noraebang. What?

I dunno.

On our way out, a small group of expats caught us literally on the stairs. Mike and I were just trying to get to an open shop to buy more cigarettes before we caught a cab home. Somehow we ended up making our way across the littered streets and down the stairs into a room full of shimmering lights and tambourines.

And now it's nearly 8 am.

The other expats took my number, but they're from out of town, and (again) I'll die of shock if they ever call.

When I came out of the noraebang to find the bathroom, I ran into a young man mopping the hallway. We stood there facing each other for a moment, as the sound from various terrible songs sung in drunken stupors into microphones echoed down the hallway toward us. But there, it was mostly quiet. I wanted to say something to him right then. Something about how I'm sorry we're here teaching English, and I'm sorry that he is expected to learn English. I'm sorry that my salary is higher than his and this isn't even my country. I'm sorry that he has to mop up the beer we spilled on the floor after we leave.

I'm sorry that I don't speak Korean, and you're the one who has to feel bad about it. I'm sorry that I don't even know the Korean for "excuse me", so I have to shove past you while you're mopping without even acknowledging the fact that you're there.

But I couldn't say any of that, anyway.


The truth of the matter is, this is the most of all transient situations. Koreans are amused by you for a while, but ultimately have an entire other life here that you don't figure into. And at some point, the English almost always runs out. The expats are a bizarre breed I've only just begun learning to navigate, but mostly just here for one exotic year.

It all begs the question, Korea: one night stand? Anyway, that's not my style. When I invest in something, I invest with my whole heart. It's not about values or morals: it's just the way I'm designed. I will learn the language, and I will learn the trade. The rest, I can only assume, will fall into place or it will not. But everything good takes a little time.

On the train ride into Seoul today, Mike and I were discussing his impending trip home. I was telling him how going home for the first time after I moved to New York changed things for me, and to be prepared for that. None of this really counts, until you've been back home. That's why I'm putting it off -- I already know what going home will mean.

We were talking about how we can feel that there has been a line drawn in the sand. Coming here has set us apart from everyone we've known before, in a very real way. It's not something I can explain here -- it's something that I think only Mike will ever understand. Just a feeling in your gut. Something is different now.

It's the coldest it's been since I've been in the ROK this morning. The sun's coming up, and it's nearly 8 am. I think it's definitely time for bed.

The Old 97's: "Melt Show"

1.10.2009

Sleep: At last.

So, I'm a douchebag (and extremely, extremely exhausted) and I managed to leave the apartment this morning without the movie that was my lesson plan for today. Luckily, yesterday I had already prepared a lot of small things to do next week, including all of the necessary items for making PB&J sandwiches (a lesson on command forms).

Over and over and over again I am struck by two things out of my students:

1. Despite the general nonsense behavior, how careful most of them are not to do anything without asking permission. I've heard a lot of EFL teachers complain about students ransacking their desks, stealing candy right in front of their faces, or going through their bags/phones. My boys won't touch anything that's on my desk, even if I tell them to -- I have to move it to a table first. And if I put something in front of them, they make sure they've heard the English for "it's okay to touch this now" before they move a muscle. They won't even eat the candy I've been giving out for winning games this week until they've asked permission -- every single time. And no game begins until Teacher says, "Go!"

Learning their names, I think, and having them in such small groups has had a strong effect on them -- that, or else I just have a really, really good group for camp. I dunno. I'm used to doing things myself and feel really bizarre about the boys cleaning up my classroom, running errands for me or carrying things. I don't ever ask them to do these things. But these boys do it all voluntarily. Teacher doesn't stay after to clean everything up by herself -- she's practically shoved out of the way while the boys do it all. And they carry everything down to my office for me now (since I don't have a classroom anymore) as well.

And:

2. How grateful they are for the smallest things. I've touched on this before, with how touched they were with my wishes for good luck on their exams and a happy Christmas. I've only seen that exponentially expanded during camp. Knowing my boys and their habits of coming to class with nothing but their beautiful smiles, I made sure to buy and bring in enough notebooks for everyone. The looks on their faces when I called them each up to my desk the first day to choose one from the pile were absolutely priceless. "Teacher, for me?" Fucking hell. Melt my hear, why don't you?

On the first day of camp I asked the boys what English language musicians they like. One of my older boys mentioned "Let It Be", so the next day I brought in a burned copy of one of John Lennon's albums for him. You'd think I'd presented him with the keys to a Porsche.

And it was the same today with the PB&J. They were simply astounded. It was so surprising to them that -- after we had finished the lesson on command forms, and I had taught them all of the necessary vocabulary, and then we went through the instructions one by one, with them making the sandwiches -- they all sat with their plates in front of them staring at me.

"Well? Don't you want to eat them?"

"For us?"

"No. We will throw them in the trash now. Yes, for you."

"Chincha? Oh, Teacher thank you!"

And both classes were greatly concerned that Teacher wasn't eating a sandwich herself. But this seems to be a general Korean culture thing, as far as I can tell -- the "what did you eat last night (this morning/this weekend/yesterday/an hour ago)/what are you eating/aren't you eating/why aren't you eating/here eat some of this" thing.

Of course, there was loads of nonsense that went on during the making/eating of the sandwiches as well, including a lack of patience that led to the decision to "pour" the jelly instead of waiting for the knife, which was, at the moment, occupied in the process of peanut butter spreading. I told them not to do it. I tried to explain that the inherent gelatinous nature of jelly does not lend itself well to pouring, but they just wouldn't listen. Now there are going to be some very confused mothers when they go to do the laundry this weekend.

One kid also refused to blow his nose on a napkin (there were no tissues at hand) because it was "pretty".

The ADHD kid had a fucking fit because a dab of jelly got on the peanut butter slice of bread before he had put the two together. So one of the older boys, in a show of gallant valor, put a smear of jelly on his peanut butter slice as well, to show the kid that it really was okay. "SEE? That's okay!" Excellent English. A grand spirit of solidarity then swept through the room, and all of the other boys added a drop to their peanut butter slices as well.

Ah. If I could only have them six at a time, all the time.

Well, I don't know if they're actually learning anything. But they're speaking far more English than I've ever heard anyone do in my regular classes, and they seem to be having an alright time.

I did gain some insight into my "high"/"low" divisions today, though, when I asked the boys about their weekend plans. My morning class -- the "high" boys -- informed me that tomorrow is more classes. And then asked me if we would have English camp tomorrow.

Ahniyo, my little darlings. Sunsengnim is exhausted. Even God needed at least one day to rest.

When my second "low" class came in, I asked them what they would do tomorrow. Sheepish grins, blushing and the burying of faces in friends' necks.

Uh. Okay. Will you study tomorrow?

Confused faces. "Teacher, tomorrow Saturday!" Yes, angels, I'm aware of that -- are your parents?

"Okay. What will you do, then?"

"PC bang!"

Of course.

For me, there is no discernible difference between the levels of my two classes. In fact, because the low class was smaller from the start and I have made more of an effort with them (because they were so goddamn sheepish in the beginning), they are more comfortable with me, and therefore appear to speak even more English. But I'm going to go with my hunch here and assume that the first class tests better. And therefore, they are the high class.

Anyway, what a boring little space on the internet this has become. But I warned you all from the start -- my job is, first and foremost, what I am here to do.

And now, I am going to go to bed and not come back out until I absolutely cannot stand being there anymore.

1.09.2009

I'm just thankful to be facing the day.

It's been a long time since I've been this exhausted -- not from anxiety or just the general awfulness of life, but just from working hard and not getting enough sleep -- output of energy exceeding input, etc. Still, the weekend is short, and these days I feel the need to wring every drop out of life I can get. So. It's off out to Bupyeong. As the saying goes, I'll sleep when I'm dead....

This video nicely sums up both my current outlook on life, and my profession.

1.08.2009

English Zone: X

This morning when I went up to my classroom to turn the heater on and start setting up for my first class, I found nothing but a dusty pit full of construction workers smoking cigarettes and wielding sledgehammers, smashed windows, walls in the process of being torn down.

Um.

Luckily, Mr. Lee was in the office today and, although he was being inexplicably mousy about his English again, I managed to explain what the situation was so he could explain the situation to the VP, who doesn't speak English.

I learned about two weeks in not to ask unnecessary questions at work. Or anywhere, really. It just causes more confusion and rarely results in an actual answer. So. I don't know what's going on or why no one thought I needed to know about it. I just followed Mr. Lee to an office on the fourth floor, where only about half of the boys eventually showed up. An office, I would like to add, with no computer, no projector and -- worst of all -- no board.

So. Let's assess this situation, shall we? Me. The students. No coteacher. No computer for powerpoint presentations. No board to even write anything down.

I did my best "aigoo" and explained to the boys that, given the circumstances, we were really going to have to work together and they were going to have to listen very very carefully. They nodded, their little eyes brimming with sympathy. Poor Sunsengnim.

It doesn't help that Sunsengnim has not had very much sleep this week.

Somehow, working together, we pulled it off. It was nice, actually, to have the boys in a smaller setting. It worked wonders for getting the first class talking more quickly. The second class went back to ice cube mode today for some reason. We got through the first worksheet okay, and moved on to the second, which required actual personal answers, rather than just filling in the blank. These worksheets are actually a ruse, if you want to know.

Let me explain. Today, at lunch, Mr. Lee asked to see my materials -- what I was working on with the boys. I showed him the first worksheet which was based around articles -- when to use "the" and when to use no article, specifically (no "a/an" -- it's too much for these guys at the moment). He gasped and said, "But is very hard! They cannot know this! I cannot do this!"

I know it's hard, I told him. But it's really very simple to start with. You simply think in terms of "all" or "some". Which is easy enough to explain to the boys without translation. If you can put "all" in the blank, you leave it blank. If you can put "some" or "one" in the blank, you use "the". Simple as that. And the boys had no trouble at all, once I had walked them through the first three using the "some/all" analogy.

To wit: "____ milk is on the table. Is ALL of the milk in the ENTIRE WORLD on the table?"

"No, Teacher."

"Is SOME milk on the table?"

"Yes, Teacher."

"So what do you write?"

"'The'."

"______ milk is good for your bones. Is ALL of the milk in the ENTIRE WORLD good for your bones?"

"Yes."

"So what do you write?"

"Blank."

After that you just explain that other "the"s in the sentence are a big clue that you should use "the", although this isn't always true, and that "always" and "never" are words that usually mean no article.

Easy peasy.

When I showed him the second worksheet, he all but fell over. It consisted of several phrases that mean "It makes me angry when..." and then a bunch of places for them to write in what makes them angry with various kinds of people/in various situations.

"No no no! No way they can do!"

That's when I explained that a lot of the worksheets I give are actually a cover for conversation practice. These lower level students are absolutely in no way capable of filling in entire blanks with full sentences. So, what happens? They start asking questions. And they have to do it in English. They ask about the words they don't understand, and ask for examples of what they should write -- and they have to listen carefully to my answers (in English). Eventually, the entire class is having a conversation (in English) about what makes them angry. And they don't even realize it. If I were to stand in front of the class without handing out a worksheet and say, "Okay, now we will have conversation about what makes us angry," there would be nothing but the sound of crickets. And it would get us absolutely nowhere. But when they think they are getting away with not doing their worksheets on their own, it's a different matter, altogether.

Sneaky teacher.

The second class wasn't having it today, though. They just stared at me with big apologetic smiles and didn't move a muscle. "Oh my God, guys. What is wrong today? Okay, we will take a break. Break, now. After, we will come back to this."

We played One Card during the break, and I had the opportunity to bust out several of my little Korean expressions. When we first started playing together, everyone went out of their way not to hit Sunsengnim with the aces or the jokers. But after Sunsengnim started sighing and muttering in Korean, it became a task to see how often they could hit me with, "Sixteen card now. Teacher take."

Very funny, guys. "Aigoo, chincha! Six worksheets tomorrow!"

In response, they started throwing out various English slang. "Hey man! Oh my God!"

After the game, which conveniently took only fifteen minutes (two boys out of cards, the others holding two or three, and Sunsengnim with most of the rest of the deck), I said, "Okay! Now!" I slammed my fists on the table. "Come on guys! What makes you angry?"

It worked. They chattered on for the next thirty minutes. It bothers them when the teachers hit them, it annoys them when their best friends take their food, and it bugs them when their neighbors play Go Stop (they can hear it through the walls).

Next was a game that involved putting nouns with verbs to form sentences. One particularly adorable kid was teamed up with the afternoon smartass. The adorable kid is the lowest level kid I have, and if I had to guess, I would say he's also probably a touch ADHD. He's bright -- really bright -- but he's not altogether mentally present a lot of the time. I was sitting back eavesdropping to make sure there was no, "Jane. Make." going on instead of what they were supposed to be doing, which was forming sentences, like "Jane makes hats." For some reason, the adorable kid got stuck on "Ken" and was repeating "Ken" with every verb, over and over. The smartass kid eventually had an outburst in Korean in the form of a question which contained both "Ken" and "what" (in Korean), which caused me to completely lose my composure.

After that, the last ten minutes of class consisted of using the game to try to make the teacher laugh, including an entire round of "Sara likes kill," "Sara makes kill," "Sara plays kill".

Sara likes to kill.

Sara makes people dead.

Sara plays... at killing?

But suddenly, again, they were far more interested in actually using English.

So, although I now have no lesson plans, no coteacher, no computer, no classroom and no blackboard.... well. I guess it's still possible.

1.07.2009

Dirty, dirty whores of MOE and kachi in school.

Meh.

Today was alright. Turns out, two of my coteachers have the same last name (well, actually two sets have the same last name -- but I only just found out about the one set) so the one who came in to give me the document is actually the only coteacher I have who speaks really fluent English (she speaks German as well -- color me impressed). I really like this coteacher -- she's the only one who actively co-teaches in class (at least somewhat) and the students really like her as well and respond better in my classes because she's there -- they call her "Cute Teacher". She is pretty cute.

We haven't spent much time talking because Mr. K adopted me pretty early on for lunch room shenanigans, and we're in completely separate offices, but she has always made an effort to spend a few moments after class asking me how my weekend was, etc. We don't have too much in common, but I really appreciate her general kindness.

Anyway, this teacher classes nonsense isn't going to be as intense as it was first described to me -- Coteacher making things sound worse than they are, as usual. Also, once again when an issue was taken to my lovely VP, he completely overruled Coteacher's decision that I will have to work as much as possible, and insisted that, instead of coming back from the teacher classes and doing my afternoon student classes, and rescheduling my morning student classes for the following week, I can just go home after the teacher classes -- only work a half day.

I objected at first, saying that I didn't want to shirk the boys out of three days of English camp, but the VP just looked confused, as did Cute Coteacher. "Lee-juh you go home." Okay, VP. You're the man.

And Cute Coteacher added, "I think the boys will be very happy to have three days vacation." Yeah, you're probably right, but I just wanted to make it known that I don't mind finishing the camp.

I'm not pissed off about the cancelled student classes, now that all of my original lesson plans are kaput anyway. That time has already been wasted. Still, I would rather teach the boys than random teachers I don't know. But you know. We do what we're told.

Anyway, Coteacher was right when she told me I would be teaching 3-4 hours a day for three days. What she didn't tell me is that, except for one class, I will only have each class for 90 minutes. So I only have to make two 90 minute lesson plans. Three hours of last minute lesson plans is a lot simpler than twelve.

The challenge will be, as usual, finding a way to make them talk. I'm generally pretty good at this with adult students though, as I've been doing it for over two years now. And at work, it's been a daily challenge anyway, trying to get people to stop being afraid to speak English to me.

Speaking of, Cute Coteacher and another incredibly cute Korean teacher had lunch with me today, and somehow it came up that I'm studying Korean. They were showing me a menu for lunch, and were surprised to find that I was able to read all of it, and knew what most of it was -- the base words, anyway (-bap, -jiggae, etc.). Cute Coteacher asked how I've been studying, and I said just on my own with a book. She kept pressing for me to speak some Korean, but an episode yesterday where I thanked a teacher in Korean and the entire office burst into pandemonium made me revert back to English-in-the-office-only mode.

I know most of these teachers have probably never actually heard a foreigner speak Korean before -- it must sound pretty fucking bizarre. As an American, I am used to hearing my own language pronounced with strange accents and in broken syntax, because I have been exposed to foreigners all the time, from the time I was young. But it's different here. I try to keep that in mind every time someone has an outburst if I say something in Korean. But I already feel pretty self-conscious about the whole thing, especially since I don't really know my way around the different levels of speech yet, and I'm absolutely terrified I'll say something in a less polite form than I should.

Nonetheless, the two teachers kept pressing. Cute Coteacher said, "Can you introduce yourself in Korean?"

I did my little textbook recital, from memory. And even though I know I botched the -ieyo/yeyo endings, neither teacher batted an eyelash. They just said, "Wow! You can speak Korean!" Which is a lie, but really encouraging. Much more so than Mr. K's "What? I cannot understand you..."

Going to the coffee shop to study Korean has proven to be a really good idea. It's just me and the book, and not any spots on the table that suddenly must be scrubbed or socks I've just remembered must be folded. I went again today and made quite a bit of progress. Instead of getting harder, at the place I'm at now, it's only getting easier. Still, listening to recordings on a CD and circling answers in a book on a given subject is a hell of a lot different than having someone fire questions at you and having to come up with the right words to reply. But at least it's progress. Language comes one half baby step at a time, right? Just have to keep walking.

This morning I was preparing the classroom before the boys came in, when the students who were cleaning the school (they have to come in to do this even on vacation) started screaming and running up and down the hall. They're one of my regular first grade classes -- students I know well. I went out into the hall to see what was going on. "Sunsengnim! Kachi! Kachi in school!"

Sure enough, there was a massive fucking magpie swooping down the hallway. The boys, doing their best mental legwork to sort out a way of handling the situation, had decided to take the approach of running screaming toward the bird waving their brooms wildly, and then running screaming away from the bird when it fluttered upward in response.

The poor thing was terrified and the boys certainly weren't helping. It was flying back and forth down the long corridor, occasionally turning off course to slam into a closed window.

"Quiet!" I said. "Windows. All. Open. Slow. And very quiet." They fell in line behind me, creeping slowly forward and sliding windows open as we moved down the hall toward the bird. I slid the last window open and watched as the bird flew directly out of it and landed in a tree on the mountainside across the way.

Seeing a magpie is supposed to mean good luck in Korea. I wonder what effect this situation will have.

1.06.2009

Ooo-eee-ooo I look just like Buddy Holly.

Ah. Today was a good one.

No good teachers in the office, but I made a lot of progress with the camp boys. Originally I had intended to use the last fifteen minutes of class as sort of free time -- put on some English language music, bust out the comic books, games and playing cards and let them do what they willed. And spend a little time just talking and getting to know them. To my utter amazement, however, instead of rushing out the door as soon as I call time for the fifteen minute breaks, they stuck around and got dug right in. It took a while for them to actually touch the things I'd laid out on the table for them -- lots of dawdling around in front of the table muttering in Korean, looking at me, looking at each other. But once I took the stack of comic books and spread them out across the table, they dove right in.

And suddenly, the little buggers were talking. To me. In English.

Big Man didn't show up today -- I don't think English Camp is his cup of tea, but I made a real effort to make friends with The Rain Cloud. His is the first name I learned. When he came in today, I told him I was sorry he's stuck here with the little kids. I don't think he understood. During the second worksheet (we were working on "can"), he wrote "I can play basketball." When I saw this, I pointed and said, "I bet you can. You're very tall."

"Sorry... mwa?"

"You." I raised my hand above my head. "Tall."

The grumpy bastard actually cracked a smile. "Ah. Thank you."

Under the "What can you not do?" section, he wrote, "I cannot love."

I guess some things are universal at sixteen, melodrama being one of them. Cute.

During the card game, I tried putting him with a first grader as a partner, but the first grader looked like he was going to pee his pants. I don't know if this third grader is some sort of known badass, or if it's just that intimidating to deal with someone two years older than you at that age, but it wasn't working. So I changed the first grader to another partner, and took the third grader myself. He loosened up a lot, even though the game was stupid and childish for his age, and actually started smiling and "aash"ing when I was beating him. It ended in a tie.

Anyway, he didn't storm out of the back door when class was over today, like he did yesterday.

One kid in my first class teamed up with another kid and they had their phones out and were writing on a slip of paper. I went over to scope it out -- they were using their phone dictionaries to translate the fact that he won't be in class on Friday because he's receiving an award for cooking? Fucking hell. Maybe he can teach me. I told him girls love a man who can cook.

And as for my second "low" class, ah. Well, I'm in love with them. Today during the break, the two older boys grabbed a deck of cards and consulted each other for a moment. "Teacher, would you like to join us?" Fucking hell -- where did that scrap of impeccable (and polite) English come from? How can you say no to that?

They taught me how to play One Card, which even the Korean teachers didn't attempt in English when they were playing it on the bus. When a loud and emphatic "씨발!" erupted from the card game adjacent to ours, and my head snapped over, there was a moment of universal panic in the classroom, as the boys realized I'm not entirely unversed in Korean.

I also learned "obso" today. I heard it approximately 30 million times.

Oh. And there was the vocabulary word "puck", as in "hockey puck". As the image came up on the screen, I said, "Now. Careful with this one boys..." Riotous laughter.

In way of explanation, let me just say that "koepi" means "coffee", here. And it's not uncommon for foreigners to have random Koreans look at them on the street and say, "Puck you."

Lo and behold, the last class stayed for forty-five minutes after class was over, playing games, listening to music and chatting, until phones started to ring with concerned mothers.

Anyway, I feel like this camp (as horrible as the time leading up to it has been) is going to be a fantastic learning opportunity for me as a teacher. Everyone reading this blog by now knows how desperately I want to not suck at my job. So even though I was up until 11 last night altering lesson plans, and will probably be up just as late tonight, I'm taking it all in stride. And with rewards as great as I got in class today -- and even though the guys staying after meant 45 fewer minutes for lesson planning at work -- how could I stay upset?

These boys, on the whole, though -- it has to be said -- have absolutely abysmal taste in music. Must work on this.

1.05.2009

Outta Mind (Outta Sight).

저는 리스예요.

Fucking hell. What a disaster.

First of all, I'm not the only person Coteacher's dicking around with her disorganization apparently. The boys were given the complete wrong schedule and -- given that there were no teachers downstairs who speak English -- we had to spend fifteen minutes of class time while I tried to sort out: 1. If they were given a different schedule or if they were just showing up late, 2. What schedule they had been given, 3. Who's schedule was the correct one, 4. If I changed the schedule to mine, whether or not they would all be able to come still.

In addition to this rocky start, the "high" level students -- the best in the school -- I've been promised are nowhere to be seen. Which means high level everything with lesson planning is going straight into the garbage. These boys have no fucking clue what's going on. ALSO I have two third graders in a class that, otherwise, consists entirely of first graders. And they are not happy campers. At all. They both looked as though some terrible mistake had been made as soon as they walked in and saw all the little kids happily doodling their names with colored pencils. I feel so, so, so bad for them. But I've got to work on the level of the majority, here. They're already clearly being forced into this, and now they've got to play fucking games for candy... oh God. Cringe cringe cringe.

I don't know what to do. They're sort of disrupting class -- one is just one massive grumpy rain cloud of sixteen-year-oldness and the other has got his Big Man attitude on and laughs uproariously at the little jokes I've taken to making under my breath that the boys almost never understand, which makes the other boys endlessly confused. He is the only one that has a decent level of English, though. And he's not being disrespectful. He was a little at first. Then, when we were sorting out the schedule problem, he asked if they would leave at the scheduled (earlier) time today, or stay until the later time they had been told. I said, well it's up to you -- you want to go or stay? He shouted, "GO! I'm hungry..."

To which I responded, "What?! You don't want to spend your vacation here? With me? In the English Zone? Weeeh-eeh-eeh?"

I seemed to have won him over after that.

Maybe I'll just pull them aside tomorrow and explain that I know it sucks, and I know they're too old for this, but there's nothing I can do about it. And try desperately to come up with something for them to do that won't make them want to die. Although with boys that age, absolutely nothing is cool enough. Especially if you're technically an authority figure.

One of the first graders came out with "shut up" in response to something I said -- I don't remember what, but he was asking a question in Korean and "shut up" was just mixed in with it. I don't know what he was trying to say, but I was aware at the time that "shut up" wasn't directed at me. After class, he approached me and said, "Teacher. Oh. Teacher I not say 'shut up' to Teacher!" I just laughed and patted his arm and told him I knew that already, not to worry.

I was more prepared for disaster once the second group came in. They are sweet as hell. A little bundle of the biggest nerds I've ever seen. They all cited "computer games" as their hobbies, and when I asked what music they liked, one kid came out with Peter, Paul & Mary. I don't even know any American kids who know Peter, Paul & Mary.

I don't know where it's coming from, but all of the boys are suddenly incredibly meek and quiet and bashful. Behavior is definitely not going to be an issue. But getting them to talk is. With the second group, near the end, they got going a little bit. But there's a whole hell of a lot of shoe gazing and blushing -- it feels like the beginning all over again.

Aish. I dunno what I'm gonna do. But I'm determined to make this time out of their vacation in a freezing cold classroom as painless as possible.

Anyway, all the technical lecturing is getting dumped in the garbage. They aren't going to be able to understand anything without translation. Tonight I'll be up late trying to find games and other activities that will get them talking as much as possible, and requires as little direction as I can manage.

The good news from work today is that it looks like I'm not going to go back to being ignored. The two PE teachers that don't speak English were in the office -- the one that lives in my apartments and another one who's married with a beautiful baby. They startled the hell out of me when I walked in after my last class and they both stood up and waved wildly, shouting, "Hi!" One has never, never acknowledged me at school before, and the other has only ever given a very serious little bow, when I've managed to catch his eye contact and bow first.

They were sitting over at Sharp Dressed Man's desk having coffee and congregating near the heater. Sharp Dressed Man, never one to let an opportunity to mock slide, looked just as shocked as I felt.

"Mwa?! 'Hiiiieeeee!'" He waved frantically in imitation. Then he pointed at me and said something in Korean that I think probably amounted to, look you scared the shit out of her. That or, why are you tossers being nice to the foreign teacher? I really have no idea.... (must study harder).

There's also another older female teacher who has decided that it doesn't matter that I don't speak Korean -- she will talk to me anyway. In Korean. I have no idea what she's saying, but I appreciate the effort.

There was some sort of calamity going on with a storage cabinet in the office this afternoon. There's something really classic about watching the teachers carry on in Korean and not being able to understand what they're saying. It was almost like watching a Charlie Chaplin film or something.

Anyway, I'm getting bolder now the school is mostly empty and the teachers have fuck all to do except be warm bodies. There was a group of boys standing out on the front stairs this morning when I came into work, and for the first time I approached students instead of the other way around. You can see it on their faces when they see me coming -- I'm well aware that, to students and teachers alike, I'm the equivalent of an English hand grenade they see rolling toward them with the pin already pulled. I know the feeling -- it's the same look I'm sure I have on my face when the waitress at an out-and-out Korean restaurant starts to make her way over. It amounts to:

Crap. I'm going to have to speak that other language I don't really know now.

But hell. We're all just going to have to get over it. Because I refuse to become a social shell of a person, or to have come this far in challenging my various social phobias, only to have it all putter out into an existence at work that amounts to a silent white face that passes without recognition in the halls.

Anyway, the boys were there so early for hand ball practice. They were cold and tired. And two of them, "Englishee. No."

Maybe tomorrow I'll bring in my Korean book and entertain the meager office staff with a pathetic rendition of, "저는 리스예요. 저는 미국사람이에요." Hell, it's only fair, if I'm going to expect them to keep trying to talk to me in English.

Oh dear.

1.04.2009

Java Shitty.

The coffee at that place really sucks. But, you can smoke inside. It's just one of those things, my darlings.

Spent another four million won (about 80 thousand, actually) on the brats today. That's like 300 thousand won, all told. And some little snot-nosed shiteater had the gaul to steal a deck of cards out of my desk last week. Unless I misplaced them. Which wouldn't piss me off, except that I had spent approximately a lifetime taping little English labels on them. And a deck of cards apparently costs five bucks here. I wouldn't feel so bad about spending all this money if I thought I would get to take this shit with me when I go, but I have high suspicions that my students will manage to steal/break/shred/throw/kick/maul/eat most of it before you can say, "Lee-juh. Contract. Re-sign. You want?"

Feeling better about things. Only slightly. Studying Korean continues to make me wish desperately that I wasn't half-retarded, but at least I'm doing it.

So. This teaching nonsense for two weeks, a week of desk warming, then vacation/Paris for two weeks -- I made sure to leave myself some free days in Korea as well. Then another week (or two?) (or three?) of desk warming before the new year starts. I'm starting to get the strange feeling that the next two months are actually going to go by very quickly.

Meh.

Anyway, back to the Korean now. And probably the rest of the cheap Italian wine while I'm at it. God help me. Someone help me. Why am I so stupid?

On the upside, I got this sign at Home Plus and hung it on my bedroom door. You know. Just so Anti-English Spectrum Cafe doesn't have to worry about this waegook sunsengnim.