4.30.2009

Lollilollilollilollilolliaoitjenoanteknagenaithe!!!!

This:



is about to drive me insane. Granted, it's not as bad as not being able to say "nobody" in class for nearly four months, or the fact that I still get an uproarious reaction, and resounding choruses of one of two songs, anytime I say "sorry". I'm not likely to come out with the word "lollipop" on any given day. Still, it hasn't stopped them so far. Good God. Well, I guess it's good practice for their L's anyway....

Still. TOP's pretty, isn't he? Something about a deep voice, especially in Korean. He's too young though. Really, really. He is. I swear. And, he's type B. Ooooooh, bad boy.

Packing to head out to Boseong. I'm going with my co-teacher, for those still not in the know. I'll be staying with her parents. I'm a little nervous. What are the odds of me choosing her hometown to vacation in?

No. It should be good. Parents love me. They always have. Unless I was dating their child, in which case, I might as well be the spawn of Satan. But I'm not dating my co-teacher, and older Korean people seem to have a particularly odd affection toward me, given that I'm waegookin and tattooed and a smoker and all. It will be fine. So why do I still feel a little nervous?

In other news, Gil, the male co-teacher I've not had much time around, has begun his approach. Apparently he's taking me hiking sometime soon. I will do everything in my power to weasel out of this. As I told the kid earlier in the week, I already know where this is going, and that's nowhere. I do my best to steer clear of any Korean men over (or even near) the age of 30 these days. I don't have a fucking clue what the problem is with them, but there definitely, as a rule, is one. Awkward doesn't even begin to describe it. He's interested in hanging out with the foreigner, trying out his English on a native speaker. He's still new to this -- I'm not. And I've finally gotten into a cozy little, all female niche at school. I'm not about to go back down the bizarre Korean male co-worker road.

Sorry. It's probably not fair, but he's already started acting bizarre.

More on that later, I'm sure. For now, try not to miss me too much. Back in a few days. Take care, my lovelies.

4.29.2009

More and more.

Oh Lord. Some NETs highly recommend using some Korean in the classroom. I'm coming around to the idea -- it's effective on a lot of levels. One: They don't need to learn "be quiet" in English. They already know what it means. But saying it in Korean makes their darling little heads snap around much quicker. Two: Oh my God. Teacher speaks Korean. She's a real person, kind of. Three: It really does thrill their little souls to know that you are undergoing the same arduous task that they are, and that you care enough about them (this is all connected -- they are Korean, they live in Korea, Korea's language is Korean) to at least try to learn it, and it helps them to connect to you on a much deeper level.

However, I mostly reserve my Korean moments for outside of the classroom. Because there's nothing like letting one little Korean word slip, in context, in response to something they've said in Korean, to turn the entire class on to the understanding that Teacher speaks Korean, obviously fluently.

And then it takes ten minutes to explain that, although you did understand that Jihoon was asking Jaein if he had an extra pen, and that, "obseo?" was an appropriate thing to say to Jaein at that moment, you cannot understand all of their answers to the daily lesson's questions when shouted at you, en masse, in Korean. And besides, they are supposed to be speaking English. Whether you can understand them in Korean or not.

Today I had another charming moment with the old hag teacher when she decided to ask how my after school classes were going. I told the God's honest truth -- one class, the other teacher's students, was absolutely beautiful. Her students were a total nightmare, due mostly to the fact that their levels vary wildly and they have shitty attitudes. Well, I didn't say 'shitty attitudes', but it was definitely implied. She wouldn't have understood if I did. And that, without a co-teacher (which I gracefully neglected to mention was legally obliged to be in the classroom at all times), it was hard to keep things moving fast enough for the high students, when some of the students are so low. She gave me some great advice. Are you ready for this?

"I think you should let the students to understand you."

Yes. Thank you. I would love to let the students to understand me. I'm not quite sure how to do that, however, when the students don't understand any English, and that (for all intents and purposes) is pretty much all I speak.

I've given up on my co-teachers understanding this situation and giving any helpful advice. I think that SK's English education, and their utilization of the NETs, would take wonderous strides forward if all co-teachers of NETs were required, at least one time, to teach an entire lesson entirely in English. No Korean translation, no explanation in Korean, no directions in Korean, and no discipline in Korean. Only English. Then, and only then, will the co-teachers really understand what it's like to be a NET in a classroom alone. And not even really then -- they, at least, still have the intial respect of being Korean to begin with.

So, I've had no other choice but to turn to the other NETs. They've been fairly helpful with suggestions, and also have made me feel like less of a tool in the entire situation. Many NETs are having, or have had, the exact same problems. Although most of the problems are symptom of a problem with the system as a whole, that doesn't negate the fact that, at this point in time, I'm the only one responsible for finding a way to fix them. And they're not going to just go away. So. Well. I've got some work to do.

Today I helped proctor an exam with my main co-teacher, just to see what it's like. Boy, are they ever serious about cheating. The classes were mixed in with each other, to prevent any cheating, and as a result, some of my after school students from the good class ended up mixed in with the third grade class we were proctoring for. This resulted in two things: 1. my co-teacher getting an idea of what I'm dealing with, with the second graders after school and, 2. the third graders getting immensely jealous.

Coteacher had to address only a few students during the course of the exam and -- guess what -- all mine. I told her this afterward, drawing attention to one in particular, who had, in fact, drawn attention to himself, really. She said it was no wonder I was having problems, as these students were quite strange. I said, no -- I have no problems with those students. Those students are from my angelic class.

And the third graders got jealous when, after the exam had ended, I called a few of my after school students by name and asked them about specific things -- how's your toe that got smashed a couple of days ago? How was the Korean exam you were worried about?

Teacher -- why you them name telling? Why no us name telling? My name BAK... SONG... MIN. BAK SONG MIN. You remember?

Well, my darlings, there are 80 of them and 700 of you. You do the math. I'm sorry. I'm not a machine. It was the first time they realized that I can say and remember Korean names, just not 1600 of them. I can, however, remember faces, and who is quiet, who is outgoing, who's English is on what level.... I can remember who plays on the handball team and who's really good at drawing. That's got to count for something, right?

4.28.2009

"Do you know what a book and a lover have in common?"

"What's that?"

"One look and you want to lay down."

"What else?"

"They both seem to involve some finger licking...."

"More?"

"You want both more in the fall...."

Number giving to me.

So, there's this guy who won't fucking leave me alone about linking to his blog or some such nonsense. I think his name is Gary. Whatever. He's here. Now, leave me alone, you bossy bastard.

Today was another round of let's try to get Cutie Teacher's phone number. I said, "You will call me? In English? In English?"

"Uh... you... Englishee ... question asking. I call... Uh!" Mimes pressing buttons on the phone and holds it to his ear. "Hello Cutie Teacher! I Englishee asking!"

"No, thank you."

"Ah bali! Number giving to me!"

"No, thank you."

Some photos.




Alone in the English Zone.


You can only barely make out the kimchi they've spilled all over the floor. And I believe that's a student holding another student upside down, in the background....


Cutie Pie sucking his thumb to demonstrate his nickname.


My favorite class -- 3-13, with Strong Baby in his red belt there in the middle.



This photo is posed to look deceptively serene. This:



is more like it.


The neighborhood:




4.27.2009

Success!


Me in my messy apartment after a long day's work, non-blurry. You're welcome.

Man is life ever getting better and better since I've stopped giving a shit how terrible my Korean is. And you know what else? I'm learning more because of it. Like with most things, I can do more than I realize anyway.

When I went to buy the camera, I was able to explain, in Korean, what I was looking for (thanks to a little E-K dictionary prep and the international language of brands), and understand, in Korean, when the lady told me it was sold out. She then told me to come back in 20 minutes. I wasn't able to understand why, but I had a feeling it had something to do with someone coming on shift. I went to look at the rabbits.

Where I met a charming little girl named 소운 (not a fucking clue how to Romanize that...) as best I could gather, age four. It didn't even occur to her that I didn't speak Korean, and she rattled on to me for quite a while about what the mice were doing in their cage, yeogi and yeogi and yeogi. Gwiyeoweo, I told her. She paused to consider this. God knows if she understood or not. Or maybe she didn't know if I meant her, or the mice.

I'm hoping the camera will act as a valid excuse for getting out in the neighborhood and torturing more people with my seven Korean words. As more and more of the fear and nervousness falls away, as I begin to take my own damn advice and just try, even if I know I'll make mistakes, I feel myself becoming more and more visible to the people around me. Language is a weirdly intimate thing -- that's why I love it so much. And I'm tired of being the one who stands confidently by and lets other people step out of their comfort zone. People are much warmer, much more open, when you communicate with them in their own language, even if you do it poorly.

All in.

Well, the students are seeking revenge.

Every time they call me "cute", I tell them, "I'm not cute -- I'm cool. Cool teacher. Not cute teacher."

Due to all of the ignored "Teacher I not monkey"/"Teacher I not animal"/"Teacher I not cute -- handsome boy", they've decided the best response is to call me Cutie.

Cutie. Fucking. Gag. Today I even got, "Oh, my princess!"

Do I look like a fucking princess to you? No. And I have the name of a fucking queen, thank you very much.

They're just mad because I beat them all at arm wrestling, after they claimed all week to agree with "men are stronger than women". I won't be defeated. I can give worse nicknames than "Monkey", boys. You better watch out.

God. They were terrible today. I asked my co-teacher about it, because in American schools, during midterm week, things get quite somber and grumbly. Not so, Korea. The boys are fucking animals during test weeks. She explained that it's more than likely because they're being driven like slaves at home by mothers all weekend, and see the school day, in fact, as a release of energy.

Great. Thanks, Eomma.

The angelic after school class was really cool, though. I keep trying to hang on to them as some evidence of reasonable doubt that the nightmare class is entirely my fault. I've really come to the conclusion that most of the trouble lies with the old hag teacher, and the fact that they are her students. Her classes are fucking out of control, and she does very little to try to fix the problem. Most of the boys' English has surpassed hers, or will soon.

Still, it'd be nice to hold sway as a teacher on my own. I'm working on it. I was telling Mike on Friday, while we waited for the train, that I feel like the most adequate experience I have to call on for this situation is in training animals. I feel like I've got to break their wills. So, for the next couple of weeks, I'll be cracking the whip as hard as I can. I can't take two+ more months of this bullshit out of them.

Maybe I expect too much. I walk past other teachers' classrooms and hear and see the boys being total beasts, while the teacher mostly ignores them and continues to drone on into the microphone. But I don't like being ignored, and I don't like feeling like I'm wasting my time. It's not asking too much for them to at least be quiet while they don't listen to a word I say.

I don't care if they don't like me, and I'm trying not to care if they don't like my class. But I will find a way to make them shut the fuck up and show a little respect. At least for the sake of the students in that class who actually give a shit.

Hm. Anyway, that's too much negativity for today. Today was mostly good. And now the sun is peeking out again, after a small rain shower. So I'm going to run to the store and try to buy a camera. Everyone say a little prayer that this one won't break or disappear within the year. I'm going all in this time. Please, please, please....

4.26.2009

It's always raining in Insadong.

We took Tasha to Insadong yesterday. It was quite nice to go back after six months, after becoming much more comfortable in Korea -- no longer too shy or nervous to step into all of the shops, grab a bite to eat.

Part of the reason we decided to go there was because we knew we could get temple food, which is vegetarian (as is Tasha). What we didn't know is that a sign that read "Temple Food" would lead us to a fucking gorgeous, but all together way overpriced little restaurant, run by a FORMER monk. 116 thousand Won later....

But we didn't regret it. It was a nice atmosphere. And the food was stunningly displayed. But to be honest, everything we had there, we've already had in various formations for 5,000 Won at your run-of-the-mill Korean restaurant.

Ho hum. Blurry cell phone photos ahoy.


Mags and a line of rickshaws.



Inside the restaurant.



Beautiful, overpriced food.


So good to see her again.



I don't know why I look so fucking cheeky in this photo. I think it's because Mike said, "That's the face you're going to make?" right before he took it, and I decided to make it even better.

Just what I needed.

It went like this: Last week, sitting in a tiny bar in Bupyeong with Mags and Small Town, and this Korean guy comes in by himself. If I had to put money on it, right away I would have tagged him for a boxer -- he's just got that look about him. He sits at the bar, orders a beer, which he stares at inbetween glances at the football on the tv overhead.

He's got a really serious face, and something about it seems kind of sad to me. I mention this to the boys. They give him a good once-over and turn back to inform me that they're afraid of him -- Small Town says he looks as though he could and would snap him in half for looking at him the wrong way, or something to that effect. Nah, he seems alright, I say. Just a bit serious.

It ended there.

Last night, I went there again, after bidding Mags and Tasha a good evening, to meet Small Town and two totally random people he picked up somewhere for a drink or two. The order is still a bit confused in my mind, not because I had too much to drink, but because, for some reason, people seemed to be quite social last night. And I shifted between groups multiple times. Anyway, the long and the short of it is, eventually some beautiful, extremely drunk 38 year old Korean woman ended up with her arm around me speaking a mix of Korean and English I was somehow able to understand and respond to, mostly in ridiculously broken Korean (Alcohol Korean). I glanced over my shoulder at one point, and there he was again. Same serious face. Alone with the same kind of beer.

"Seulpeun," I said, and pointed. "Uh.... uh.... na.... igae.... na... seulpeungae hada...." I put my hand over my heart.

She glanced over. "Oh.... he is sad? You want talk? Okay I go." She scooted off her stool.

I grabbed her arm. "Ahniyo! Ahniyo.... uh... maybe he wants to be alone?"

She wasn't listening. The next thing I know, she's pointing to me from across the room and giving him what appears to be a motherly lecture. He's smiling and laughing. She waves me over.

"I say to him he make her sad!"

"Chwesonghamnida." He apologizes.

"Ahniyo... uh... I just... kwenchanayo?"

"Yes. I am okay. Don't worry."

"Okay. I just... just checking." I did a little bow and went scurrying back to Small Town's side for protection. Something about this guy made me feel both very small and very young.

At that point, the Korean woman decided she needed to go home. The Korean man Small Town had come with offered to walk her to a cab. Small Town and I began a debate.

"They're going home together," I said, matter-of-factly.

"Nah. Look there. Yer man left his umbrella. He has to come back...."

"A man doesn't just walk a woman to a cab anymore, unless they're going to have that conversation, [Small Town]. That only happens in old movies. No one is that gentlemanly, not even in Korea."

"Nah, yer wrong. He'll be back in a minute, and then we're going to his bar."

"Trust me."

Two seconds later the man came in, and said something about how he would see us at his bar sometime soon, as he grabbed his umbrella and shook our hands. Small Town was confused until I subtly motioned toward the porch, where the Korean woman was standing, impatiently.

"Told you so." We gave them an appropriate toast, as we watched them stumble down the street together toward a cab. Good for them.

Not two seconds later, the elusive Scottish Korean expat wandered into the bar, threefold, and they knew Small Town. What are the odds? They seemed nice enough, but a bit too fucking Scottish and drunk for the mellow kind of mood I was in, so excused myself outside for a smoke. Through the window, I saw the serious man move to the seat beside my empty one.

I came back in and took my seat between Small Town and the man. Small Town leaned over and muttered into my ear: "I reckon there's something going on with that there."

"What where?"

"Yer man there. When you was away, he was sizing me up like, as if to see if he could take me in a fight if it came to it. He's the same one you was watching last time we were in here. There's definitely something going on with that there. Male intuition, like. Don't question it. Go on and give him a shout."

"No. I already talked to him. If he wants to talk to me, then...."

"Oh, come on now. He's sitting there just as awkward as you like. Give the man a break."

"You talk to him if you're so worried about it."

"Nah, not me girl. I'm not the one who's going to ride him."

"[Small Town]! Fucking... !" I swatted him so hard he nearly fell of the stool and felt my face turn burning hot with red.

The Scots were out on the porch shouting at women as they passed by in the street. "I'm out to join them now, so you've got yer chance, like."

I didn't dare look up from my drink. Sat in silence burning a hole in the bar top with my eyes. One of the Scots stumbled in and grabbed my arm. What he said to me then, I'm not sure. All I heard was, "Blah blah blah blah blah!"

"Mmmhmm...."

He turned away to blah to one of his buddies for a minute. I leaned toward the serious man and whispered in his ear, "Babo."

"Who? Who is babo?"

I nodded toward the Scots.

The serious man laughed to himself. The Scot grabbed my arm again. "Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah."

"Mmmhmmm."

He got the point and stumbled away off somewhere else.

The serious man leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Do you know what babo means?"

"Idiot. Fool. Moron. Imbecile."

He laughed. "You don't like them. Why?"

"I don't know. I just don't. They're too loud, too drunk.... look at them. Out there screaming at women. Disrespectful."

"I think... you are very innocent."

My face flashed hot with red again. I'm not even sure why.

At some point, all the others, including Small Town disappeared. I'm not sure when, or where to, or if they even said goodbye. I sat there with that very serious man and had one of the best, most genuine conversations I've had my entire time in Korea. His English isn't quite fluent, yet he found a way to take my thoughts right out of my head and put them in front of me, in English, better than I could.

At two a.m., we both finished our drinks at the same time. He walked me to a cab. I came home alone.

4.24.2009

Waegookin.

"Most of the native English speakers don't have much affection toward our children because they came here to earn money and they often cause problems,'' Park said.

I'm having a really shit day, thanks to those students I don't have any affection for, and this is the last thing I need to see.

I'm not one to gripe about my situation here. But Jesus F. Christ. He goes on to suggest that hiring gyopos would be a better option, because they have ethnic ties to the country and, therefore, the children. The same children who can break my heart when 1 out of 2,000 of them makes a comment about me being a "fucking foreigner", when I don't give a fuck what anyone else on the face of the planet has to say about. Because I care about them so little.

And where do you think they get these bullshit comments from?

Sitting through a meeting for the NETs yesterday, listening to this woman from the MOE lecture us about how our jobs are not guaranteed, and it's our job to make the children happy, meanwhile douchebag higher-ups are quoted in articles about how we are ultimately useless and the lesser of all evils available to South Korea, while they sort out the mess that is their English education system. Shh, shh. Calm down everyone. We're just using the native speakers until we get our shit together. We don't want them here anymore than you do. We don't care if they stay for another year or not, because they aren't even real teachers.

Meanwhile, those of us actually in the industry happen to know that the positions available for native speakers increase exponentially as the semesters roll on.

A big "FUCK USA" written on a table in my classroom will remain there until one of my co-teachers forces me to erase it. And the students responsible for it will receive a translated lecture next week about how I'm not ashamed to be a foreigner, because it means I've had the bravery to leave everything that is familiar to me, my entire family and all of my friends (save the one) behind, and face challenges they can't even begin to imagine within the scope of their small, short lives.

I'm not ashamed of where I come from, or of who I am. I give my all to my job not because I'm paid to, but because I love it. And I love my students. And them being Korean has nothing to do with anything. And as long as the MOEs and other miscellaneous assholes in high places keep running their mouths off about foreign teachers, they can't expect those of us who actually give a shit to stick around too long. Because one bad day like this can offset a hundred good ones, instantly.

You're already grasping at straws, Korea. I suggest you stop biting the hands of the few native English teachers who care so much about "your" children, sometimes they could just cry.

4.23.2009

4.22.2009

Muh.

I love them. You know that. But why the hell are they so easily confused?

Make-up classes. I can't say whether it's actually the students' fault, or the teachers', given that some homeroom classes showed up, in their entirety, and some, obseo, in their entirety. Luckily, Badass #1 and #1.5 (he's so much of a sidekick to no. 1 that he doesn't deserve a whole number's separation) decided to show. Albeit about fifteen minutes late. Ridiculous. Haphazard. Schedule changeeeeeed. Wae?!

Ugh. 1 and 1.5 were being stupid again today. I sent them out in the hall so we could continue our "conversation" lesson. The idiots sat in front of the glass windows and proceeded to participate from the other side. My lessons are so much more interesting when you're barred from them. When we got to, "Men are smarter than women: agree or disagree", the entire class disagreed. When I asked if anyone agreed, they pointed in unison to the windows where two hands where being held proudly above two idiot skulls. I said, "Oh. How surprising. Do you trust the people on the other side of the window about who is smart?" Ahniyo.

Me neither.

After class, they got to push in chairs and erase the board. 1 was taking his dear, sweet time with the board erasing, so I asked, "What's wrong? Handicapped?" In case you didn't know, all of my students are either "crazy" or "handicapped", depending on the day. At which point he started to move his hand in a repetitive twitch and moved his eyes autistically to the side.

1.5: "Teacher he handicapped!" Yes, my sweet. I'm aware of that. I've just pointed it out, in fact.

"Ya... Handicapped's partner? Is that better?"

1: "Me! Handicap Olympics!"

Me: "Special Olympics. And I think you would lose. Come here."

They stand in front of me, side by side, with big idiotic grins. "You two... you two...."

"You two?"

"You. One. Two. You two. Trouble. Why? Wae?"

"Teacher I am sorry."

"You sure are."

"Mwuh?"

"Nothing."

A swift bop on the top of the head with a rolled up book for each: "Don't talk in my class!" Bop. "Don't talk in my class!" Bop. "Cuhreom, na ga!"

Ten minutes later, I shit you not. A dark silohette moves across the other side of the glass. I stand up and point. "What the....! YA!"

"Teacher we hide!"

"What what what what are you DOING? Why are you still here? Do you love school so much?" 1 stands just on the other side of the door inside a classroom. I pull the door closed and hold it, looking at him through the glass window. "What are you going to do now? Trapped."

"AISH! SUNSENGNIIIIIIIIIM!"

"Wae wae wae? Something wrong? You love school. You want to stay all night."

"Ahniyo! I go! I go!"

I let him out.

"Go home! GA!"

"Shee you tomorrow!"

"BABO!"

Wahahahaha. Teacher so funny.

What do you do? I have no idea.

Today, I was walked home by a pack of first graders. We recited all of the days of the week, and then the months. They are from Canada. Some of them are crazy; others are handicapped.

4.21.2009

Are you ready for a novel?

I'm having a really lovely week with students so far. Not that any is particularly unlovely, on the whole. But this week we're working on agree/disagree, which means I get to hear their opinions in a way that I normally don't get a chance to, when we're working on more mundane language. I also get to tell them a bit about my own opinions, and the culture where I'm from. Both sides have been more than a little surprised by what we've learned about each other so far.

Firstly, there's the issue of "Men are stronger than women: agree or disagree." Which has only resulted in more lunch time arm wrestling, ending in mostly student victories, since the boys did serious damage to my shoulder last week, and my pride isn't worth the price of a trip to the hospital. I guess they're right -- men, even baby ones, are stronger. Or more willing to injure themselves for the sake of bragging rights. Although usually I fall into that category myself....

The one thing that has really, really surprised me has been the response to "Women should work." Every single last one of these boys believe that women should have the right work -- some do not think they should have to, but they all think that they should have the option. I explained to them that I was very surprised to hear that, because in my hometown, there are still a number of boys their age who believe women should not work. They, in turn, were shocked to hear this. They're aware that a certain stereotype exists about Western men being kinder, gentler and overall supposedly less sexist than Korean men. I explained that not all of the U.S. was like that, but certainly large parts of it still are.

You could see something change in their faces as we discussed this, and in more than one class, there has been, "But, Teacher you... you working. You very far from family. Not married." What could I do, but smile? It was another moment, despite all of the cultural and language difficulties, where we became more human to each other. As all students the world over have a habit of doing with all teachers the world over, they often fail to realize what my real life looks like, or that I even have one. It's a remarkable experience in human interaction to have these moments that shatter that misunderstanding, especially in this particularly unique situation, where I am not only a teacher to them, but also a foreigner, and my life looks much different because I am here teaching them, than an ordinary teacher in a hometown somewhere. Or all their other teachers.

They are constantly aware that I am a foreigner, but they rarely seem to realize what that means. I've been asked before if Mike is the little brother they've heard me mention in class, when they see me out with him. It doesn't even occur to some of them that I don't live with my family, let alone thousands and thousands of miles away from them.

In the confusion and chaos of the transfer to the English Zone from their classrooms, I've had to explain this week that it's immensely important that they keep the Korean conversations to a reasonably low din. I don't understand a lot of Korean, I explained, and so when you are all speaking Korean and it gets really loud, it's hard for me to concentrate on who I'm talking to, what they are saying, or thinking about an answer to questions, where my lesson is going next. It's different from normal classroom hubbub because things always get more confusing when there is more than one language involved. And, I continued, it's only gotten worse since I can understand some of what they are saying, but not all. We're all trying to think, listen and speak in two languages at once, and it gets too complicated for all of us. They forget most of the time that a lot of what they say in Korean is completely lost on me. So, although I'm glad that they are interested in the subjects, and want to discuss them, they really have to try their best to do it in English. It's too hard for all of us trying to switch back and forth.

The co-teachers who have been present for this lecture have taken it up and started explaining it themselves in Korean when things get too loud, to the classes who haven't had it from me yet. The boys seem to understand completely what we're saying, and the atmosphere immediately changes. It's constantly being driven home to me, again and again, the closer I get to the boys, how much of what seems like behavior problems can be accredited to the language barrier. And when we take a little time to deal with this issue, the students are remarkably eager to do what they can to correct any problems. They are astoundingly intelligent and mature for their age in that way, I think.

There was a similar light bulb moment when I explained to one after school class that I want to play games and do fun things, other than worksheets, but that when they get too excited, my English starts to sound like just noise to them. "When you are excited, and I speak English, it sounds like 'blah blah blah blah', right?" Yes! You could see their eyes lighting up with realization. So, I said, you have to be really careful and listen for my English. You won't hear it and understand it right away -- you have to listen really well. Okay? Okay. And they did. And all of the issues with them not "obeying" were immediately solved. They weren't disobeying -- they simply didn't really hear me.

As for the nightmare class, and the three really terrible little trouble makers, a serious breakthrough has been made. They are now three of my best students, and, although they've set a remarkably prevailing precedent that I'm still trying to completely reverse, they've been among the students released first from my classes in recent weeks. They show up on time, every time and eagerly finish their assignments, asking questions and participating whole-heartedly. It's almost entirely due to the fact that I gave their names to their Korean English teacher, and then happened to walk into the office while they were being lectured by her for their misbehavior.

Things can get very awkward very quickly once you take any measure to discipline a student. Seeing them standing there, all in a row, being shrieked at by the stick-wielding Korean teacher, I couldn't help but feel a little guilty. So I committed the ultimate treason, and for someone who was, ultimately, doing me a favor -- I caught the eyes of the students and smirked behind her back. It was something akin to the equivalent of sticking my tongue out, in nature. The boys looked up briefly and saw this. They immediately understood -- haha, I got you in trouble. Since then, their attitude has been completely different in class. It was as if, without being the actual authority figure, I had found a way to outsmart them. In this little battle of the wits, I had come out on top, without actually having to be the one to dish out the punishment. They understood this, and in some bizarre way, it has established an irrevocable measure of respect.

I understand that, especially in Korea, you are not supposed to be friends with your students. And you can have some serious problems when you try. But God help me, I don't have it in me to be a strict disciplinarian. I can't invent rules to make them follow for no reason other than having them understand that I make rules and they follow them. I can't scream and yell and hit. I can't bear it when I'm lecturing a student, and his eyes shift down into a shamed posture. It makes me feel, quite literally, like the shittiest person alive. So, despite the obvious problems with language, and the culture that has set the precedent of bending to another's will because it is the position that you hold to be the one who bends, regardless of all external rationalization, I find myself unable to release my intuitive approach of simply trying to reason with the little bastards. Become human to them and show them that they are human to me. And hope for the best.

So instead of slapping the back of sleeping heads, I gently rub the back of sleeping necks. I tell them I know they study hard, and it's so hard not to sleep. I know they are tired and they don't get enough sleep. I'm tired, too. But we should try. I know it's Friday and sunny and beautiful outside and you want to go out and play. I want to go out and play, too. Let's just hang in there one more hour -- let's work hard and get this done, and then we can go play knowing that we've worked the hardest we can during the day. I know speaking is embarrassing and learning another language is hard -- here, listen to me say this in Korean. Isn't that funny? I'm so embarrassed. But do you think I'm a stupid person? No? I don't think you're stupid either. You shouldn't be embarrassed. Every day I have to speak Korean and be embarrassed. Do you know how funny I sound? I won't laugh at you, I promise. I'm proud of you for trying.

Hm. What a fucking teacher I've become. I'm sorry. I'll try to do something asinine at the weekend to report here, for gossip's sake. Until then, just bear with me.

4.20.2009

Vacation woes.

My more recent plan to get out to one of the islands for Children's Day is quickly going tits up, due to the whole "Party Island" thing. I was hoping Deokjeokdo was only invaded at Chuseok, but my suspicions that Children's Day would result in a similar influx of drunken native teachers has recently been confirmed by a little google legwork.

I'm just trying to get out of the city for a while. I have no desire to enact the beach party scene from every crappy American teen movie ever for my precious five days of anti-anual-leave-detracting vacation.

The WWOOFing plan has gone awry due to a WWOOF policy of a minimum one week stay. Free labor is free labor, is it not? Isn't there one poor old farmer who will let me pick his cabbage for four days?

Now I'm still contemplating an intermediary plan of going to the green tea fields in Boseong, but apparently April/May is peak season for lovey dovey Korean couple tourism to the area. The mist over the tea fields is so romantic. Let's pay 5,000 Won for the tour and hold hands.

Can't everyone just fuck off and leave me one semi-empty ferry to a quiet island where no one speaks English or sells t shirts? Why is this so hard?

Don't even mention Jejudo, or I'll cry.

Now I'm going to go lay in bed and flip through my stupid guidebook while sulking. If someone manages to find a decent min bak in the middle of podunk-fucking-nowhere in the meantime, please do let me know. Maybe I'll just pack a bag, get on a bus and see what happens.
I continue to love those boys more than the world should allow.

Really, really. I don't know how my life would be without them.

4.19.2009

It's just about time to start asking that August question:

Bangkok? Jakarta? Ho Chi Mihn City?

Someone help!

Time to bust out the old episodes of "No Reservations". Anthony Bourdain, patron saint of cool-as-fuck travelers, be my guide.

P.S -- Dear South Korea. If you want to be an international tourist destination, you better seriously get to work on having more representation on websites that are in languages other than Korean. Jesus fucking Christ....

4.18.2009

Groundless.

I'm thinking of WWOOFing over the Children's Day break. Not sure about it yet, but I'm going to contact the offices and see what they have to say about such a short stay. I think I need to get out of the city for a while, and spend some time alone.

Something's getting to me lately. I'm partially aware of what it is, but I think there's something else I'm not understanding yet. Bali bali has been doing wonders as far as getting me through what could have been a potentially traumatizing first six months in a foreign country, but I'm tired now. Mostly tired of running away from some things that are going to catch up to me eventually, one way or another.

Maybe a little homesick, too. I never, ever recognize that for what it is. But I've learned, over time, to recognize me not recognizing it. My brother's going home soon, and the baby will be born within the month. His name will be Logan. Important things are happening without me.

Farm work always helps me sort my head out, get some serious perspective and, most of all, feel at home in my own skin. There's nothing like it in the whole world. In some ways, I'm never going to get away from that feeling right for me, somehow.

Mostly I think I could just use one good friend, whose heart isn't somewhere else. I feel groundless, not because I am transient, but because everyone around me is. I'm either a foreigner, or in a foreign country. That isn't going to make any sense to anyone. But I don't know how else to explain it. To Koreans, I'm temporary. To other expats, the whole world is temporary. These are my two options.

Spent the day at Yeouido Park, watching the skaters and laying on the grass. Best decision I've made in a long time.


Last night: bad.


Today: good.

If I believe in love, then I believe in hate too. I'll taste the darker stuff to find some lasting truth.

I've insisted on having the after school classes moved to the English Zone (my turf), despite the protests of the old hag about how very, very far the students have to walk in order for that to happen. This resulted in the most fun I've ever had in the nightmare class yesterday. In their regular classrooms, there are two doors, which I cannot fucking stand. I have no idea why a classroom would be designed in such a way. My old English Zone used to have two doors, and I would always lock the back one so that anyone coming in late had to walk in front of the entire class, where I was standing, speaking. It drove the co-teachers crazy, because they always come in late themselves.

Anyway, the English Zone only has one door, and it's a space I'm more in control of, can move more freely between the tables than the desks, etc. So we had a class yesterday called, "Teacher doesn't have any plans after work, so we're going to finish all three worksheets even if we have to stay at school until 5 o'clock". Isn't that exciting? The South African kid decided to show off but loosing a string of Korean swears for his buddies in response. I looked at him and said, "I speak more Korean than you think."

"Did you understand?"

"I got the gist of it. By the way, since you speak fluent English, don't you think it would be more honorable to swear in English? Swearing in Korean when you think I don't understand is just a bit cowardly, don't you think? There's really no point...."

He didn't really have anything to say back to that.

Well. Most of yesterday was absolutely lovely, despite being locked inside on a beautiful, sunny day with extremely rare good air quality. The third graders have been doing quite well with the assignments I've been giving them lately, and actually talking to me more, as a class, instead of just individually. We've been having a great time. I had the one extremely awkward class on Friday -- the one that always makes me doubt myself and feel really self-conscious with their silences. Still doing "How do you like ____?"/"Can you tell me why you (don't) like _____?", and the worksheet I gave them left one spot open for them to write their own questions.

Somehow in this class, a striking percentage of the write-ins turned out to be, "How do you like Liz Teacher?" There had been a few of those throughout the week of course, almost exclusively ending with the answer, "She's really pretty." Great, original work on that one, guys.

But when I started walking around, looking at the answers for this class, I saw something that really surprised me, from this class of all classes.

"How do you like Liz Teacher?"

"I really like her."

"Can you tell me why you like her?"

"She cares about us very much."

"She worry about us a lot."

"She's really kind."

"She don't care mistakes."

I've given this class more than one "talk" about how if I say, "What?" when they finally do manage the courage to whisper out an answer in front of the class, it's not because their English is horrible and they're stupid -- it's because they stare down at their books and speak in mouse voices. And about how I'm learning Korean, and I know how hard and embarrassing it is, but that it's okay -- I'm there to help them, not laugh at them. But I didn't think any of it was sinking in at all. I guess I was wrong about that, and I'm more grateful for that than just about anything else in my life right now.

Last night I finally got to meet some of Mike's students, as we were lingering around the square in his neighborhood trying to decide what to do for dinner. The way he talks about the girls, I was dead set against ever working at a girls school, but after meeting them and seeing that they have just as much energy and spark as the boys, I don't think it would be so bad. I really enjoyed getting to spend a little time with them.

I don't know what's gotten into me, but I've been a bit moody the last couple of times we've gone out. Last weekend, I just chocked it up to being really sick and not really wanting to be anywhere at all. This weekend, I don't know where it came from. I think the blatant disinterested silence may have bothered Small Town a bit, who's far less used to it out of me than Mike is. When 1:45 rolled around, I suddenly just felt like I couldn't take it anymore and announced that I was going home.

I think I've been looking past a lot of things since I moved to SK. And that's all well and good -- the events in my life up until that point, last year, were something any God-created human being has every right to escape from for a while. But I think I've really just left myself for a while. I don't know. I don't know how to explain it, but I don't think any of it is bad. Like I've said many times before, a lot of really serious re-structuring is going on with me and my priorities, my way of thinking and viewing the world. Now it feels like the Novocaine is wearing off a bit, if you will. Alcohol isn't enough to cover over it anymore.

It's month seven. I wonder what's going to happen.

4.16.2009

Machismo.

Ah. Today was a good one. Had one of my favorite classes in the morning, which somehow degenerated into an arrangement for a lunch time arm wrestling competition with the NET. I was only trying to put an end to the nonsense by approaching a table full of six arm wrestling boys and slamming my elbow down, offering myself up to anyone who would dare.

Monkey and Houdini are both in that class. I fear Monkey's name has stuck definitively with the entire class, and he's taken real issue with this. Every day in the halls, with the most genuine face: "Teacher I not monkey. Tell me not monkey. Teacher.... I not monkey."

Walking down the hall to the office, from behind me: "I!.... NOT!.... MOOOONKEEEEEEY!"

He was the one I was supposed to take on at lunch time. By the time I got to the classroom, he had disappeared. "Ya! Where's Monkey?"

The boys looked around. "Monkey obseoyo? Monkey obseoyo."

They pulled out a chair in front of a desk for me anyway. First up was Houdini, who they apparently have already dubbed "Strong Baby" because he's all of five feet tall, but pure muscle, through and through. "Teacher! Strong Baby six pack!"

Ours ended in a draw, with him caving before I did. After we had finished, the next opponent sat down across from me, but gasped when he went to take my hand. There were the deep, red impressions of four little fingers along the side.

Loads of shouting in Korean. Strong Baby came running over. I showed him my hand. He took it with a furrowed look on his face, and gentle rubbed the place where his little hand left its mark. Five minutes later, after I lost one left handed, and won another two with my right, he came back to show me that I had left the exact same imprint on his hand.

Suddenly, my teacherly side came rushing back. I took his little hand in mine and patted it, and when the next boy sat down across from me: "No, no, no. No more. Look. I hurt him. Oh...."

"Kwenchanayo! Teacher, it's okay!"

"No. Not okay. I'll leave now. You guys be careful."

Another class conversation somehow turned into a show of machismo in fourth period, when we were working on "How do you like baseball?" One student I've taken a particular shine to, in spite of myself, had the co-teacher translate the fact that he thought baseball was the "essence of manhood" or some such nonsense. I couldn't resist.

"So, do you think girls can play baseball?"

"Deh? Aigo.... ahniyo! NO!"

Luckily, I had taught them the word "challenge" earlier in the class. "Is that a challenge?"

"Oh! Chwesonghamnida! I'm sorry!"

"So, you and me? Play baseball? See who is better?"

"Deh?"

"When? When will we play?"

He asked his friend to translate something. "I'm busy."

"Aish! Busy? Always?"

"Neh."

"He is afraid to lose to a girl. What do you guys think?"

"DEH!"

Oh dear. At least they're speaking English.

4.14.2009

I'm a stubborn man; the sun needs my command.

I can't help it. I'm a total sap for spring weather. These are the days we get in Texas all the time, where "weather" is described as anything other than clear and sunny, rather than the other way around.

And I'm a sucker for those boys. Just can't stay down too long when I see them all day every day. And today I got to see Cutie Pie, who all the other boys are jealous of, because I can't stop going on about how fucking cute he is.

Meh. What do I really have to complain about? Still, yesterday was pretty emo. It's the sick. It makes me whiny. Way, way too whiny. As do random "some changees" to my schedule/routine at work. Can't cope with the drama. Not everything needs to be bali bali -- not everything requires a reaction similar to one might have as to something important somewhere being on fire.

In other news, the P and VP think I'm fucking adorable and were happy to see that, apparently, my color has returned and I am looking adequately cheerful once again. I think the whole school held its breath for a couple of days, half-convinced I might be secretly plotting a run. Even the students have noticed that "Lee-suh Sunsengnim happy today!"

What did not make me happy today was the ridiculously complicated process it takes to get an international money order in this country. It didn't make my co-teacher very happy, either. Stupid tax form shenanigans. And I've still got a package somewhere on the loose in this country. I hope it's not on its way back stateside. There's microwave popcorn in that box. And short sleeved shirts.

Today was just too beautiful to come straight home. After spending the afternoon lounging in the sun in front of the sandpit at school, watching the students blast off bottle rockets and fly model airplanes, I met Mike in Bupyeong to buy new shoes -- first time ever, pre-hole situation developing. I'm coming along nicely. Walking around through the sunny streets. We saw Rufio from Hook. I'm not even kidding -- dead ringer. Ask Mike if you don't believe me. Dinner, coffee. Having exchanges with high school boys through the window.

I've been half considering moving to a high school next year, as teaching the third graders is so much more interesting to me than the second graders, because you can get into more complicated things. But I would definitely want to stick with boys, and I'm not sure, given my rather extensive (at this point) experience with high school boys that it would be the best idea. They seem like a total hormonal handful.

Ah. Why don't they have stoops in Korea? This is the beginning of stoop-sitting season. In any case, it's definitely one of my goals for the next few weeks to get out in the neighborhood a little more. Every time I walk home from school without headphones in, I manage to get drawn into some random group of old people gathered on the side of the road selling various items on the sidewalk and cooking food on camping equipment in the back of trucks. Perfect opportunities for practicing my pathetic Korean, as they manage to remember the words for "beautiful eyes". There's always one ancient adjumma who grabs me by the hand and makes me eat something she explains in Korean I can't understand, and there's always one baseball cap wearing adjosshi who somehow speaks basic introductory English and walks me part of the way home, wishing me a "good afternoon" as I go.



BANGARANG!

4.13.2009

This job.

Dak galbi and grocery shopping with Magnes always puts an abrupt end to a bad day. And just to be sure, I bought myself a brownie.

I have strong opinions about English Zones. Mostly that they're a scandalous, ostentatious waste of money. And they bring out the absolute worst behavior you could expect from students, unless you were to place a beer keg in the middle of the classroom.

On the upside, about halfway through the day I started to feel a lot better. I think the illness has been sufficiently nipped in the bud, and it won't turn into two months of bronchitis hell. Hooray for yogurt and staying inside to read.

Also, I've semi-decided to stop letting the old hag English teacher's criticism bother me, due partially to the fact that she doesn't actually speak any English, so I don't feel too shabby compared to her. But due mostly to the fact that I saw today that all of the control that her classes were under, pre-English Zone shenanigans, was actually my control. She wasn't able to make them shut up at all today. And I saw a student laughing in her face while she was lecturing him. Also, absolutely every last one of the students I've had any trouble out of so far have been hers in the first place.

Apparently she put in a request with my main co-teacher that we continue having the second grade classes in the classrooms, because the English Zone is too far away for the students to walk. I'm calling bullshit on that right away and chocking it right up to the fact that she was embarrassed that I had to wrangle her students into control today, while she stood there helpless, after she told me two weeks ago that I should have better control over my after school class, after I reported some student names to her.

My other co-teachers swiftly jumped in during the nonsense today to explain to the students that if they couldn't handle themselves in the English Zone, they would simply lose their time with the native teacher. Perfect angels after that.

I saw my favorite group of third graders on the fifth floor after school today. They remind me sort of where we fell in middle school/high school, which was not with the "cool" kids, but not with the annoying over-achieving kids either -- a decent mix of brains amongst them, and various outside interests. Mostly they just keep to themselves and can't be bothered with anyone or anything else. The group includes Cassanova from winter camp, and one kid I got to know last year because he speaks remarkable English for his age. Apparently they're working on a dance routine for some ominous sounding school festival. These are literally some of the most serious sixteen year olds I've ever seen, so I was pretty surprised to hear what they were up to. I'm dead excited to see the end results, though.

Tomorrow's afternoon classes are canceled because it's apparently model airplane flying day or some such random nonsense.

This fucking job.

4.12.2009

Month Seven: Hell or High Water

I've had a stone-cold sober weekend, and the entire day inside to myself. It's led to a lot of thinking. Clear, well-slept early morning kind of thinking.

This place is a total freak show. It's not unlike art school in that way. It's worse, actually. Or less intentionally ironic, anyhow. Well. I guess it's like art school in the first year, before 10% of the freshman class actually got carted off to mental hospitals when their hedging symptoms developed into full-blown disorders after being released from the confines of mom and dad in suburbia for longer than six months.

After that was when the intentional irony started.

And most of those people are still there. Being ironic.

I don't know how you meet decent people in Korea. I don't know how you meet decent people at art school, either. In the first case, I somehow managed in a least a couple of instances. Mostly, though, it ended up being a bric-a-brac collage of personality types that wouldn't have meshed under different circumstances, which rapidly crumbled once those circumstances changed. Sort of like high school. And everything else that came before it.

It's like life is this never ending marathon where you pull this giant oxcart behind you, and as you pass certain stations, shit randomly gets piled on. It stays there for a while, but most of it shifts off as you go along and more shit is piled on top of it.

Some of the shit sticks, though. Shit like Stepho and Magsy, I guess.

That's not really an ideal metaphor. But I think you see where this is going.

Anyway, it's depressing. And I'm tired of carting around random shit. And Korea has had a freakishly high turnover rate thus far.

Drinking in bars certainly doesn't help. But it does help pass the time.

I could say it's Magnes's fault I'm thinking about this, but before he even raised the issue, I'd already woken up thinking about it. And a longish conversation with the kid back home tonight brought it out in verbal form. The problem is, it's easy enough for him to blow off, since this isn't, as he puts it, his "real life". It's what I'm working with for the foreseeable future however.

I don't know. Can a foreigner ever really have a normal life in Korea? Semi-normal? Fractionally normal?

All I know is, I don't want to talk to "Gil" and I don't want to go home with "Ryan" and I don't want to meet Minsu's handsome man friend from her church, or go to a cafe "language exchange" every Friday night like some kind of Match.com paying member. I don't want to spend the next six months (2 years? 3 years?) awkwardly holding my beer while Seoyoung dances to Prince under black lights and tells me about his year abroad in New Zealand.

Good God. Is it really so much to ask?

It's so much, so bad, that about 9 am this morning found me standing by my kitchen sink with my phone in my hand, contemplating the ultimate faux pas.

Dear X.

We didn't have a terrible lot in common to begin with, other than both being alone in the bar. If I were to meet you back home, I would have probably labeled you a complete douchebag. But your douchebaggery somehow seems sort of like a gigantic middle finger to all the things that, socially, frustrate me about the culture you come from. What I liked about you then, and what has me thinking about you now, is that you simply do not give a fuck what absolutely anyone thinks about you. I know I kind of ignored your text messages and acted like a bit of a cold bitch. Where I come from, that's just sort of how things are done. Is there anyway we can forget about it now, though, and hang out sometime? Because I'm bored and I would like to have an honest conversation at least once a week.

x
Liz.

I didn't do it. But fuck if I wasn't tempted.

Well. For the time being I'm somehow standing by my month seven prediction. Just because I have an eerie way with these things. Month Seven better be the month that something fucking real happens in this country. I'm getting kind of tired of amusing myself.

The future grabs my throat and lets me know it's alright.

I promise someday soon I'll get another real camera. Which hopefully won't fall prey to the ongoing less-than-a-year Liz Camera Curse. Until then, deal with the blurry.




Mags and Small Town in the sun on the train.



Chinese restalrant.



Small Town and Mags under the lanterns in Chinatown.



Proof it's spring.




And finally, the stuff good Sunday mornings are made of.

4.11.2009

Good grief.

I'm never going home.

Well, it helps me to chill the fuck out about some of the utter stupidity regarding foreigners I deal with here at times to remember that this baloney is going on back home.

It's like those really embarrassing but somehow kind of cute things your ancient great grandmother comes out with because she started to lose her grip on reality sometime before racism became socially unacceptable. Only if your great grandmother somehow made it into the House of Representatives.

Among many, many questions I have for this woman, the first would be, Chinese names? Really? Of all the Asian American sub-sects you could call out for having names that are "hard to pronounce", you chose Chinese? Wong. How fucking hard is that? It's not as though Chinese Americans go around writing their name in characters. What are you, fucking illiterate?

4.10.2009

.................................

Gugh.

I deserve some kind of medal for making it through the day. Although not as much as my co-teacher does, being that she looked as though she was actually dying.

I was absolutely shocked at how lovely the students were, although I don't know why because they've always proven to be astoundingly compassionate in the past. Teacher, I am sad that you are sick. Teacher we be quiet.

And they were. Even though my lectures were more than a little nonsensical and rambling today, they patiently fidgeted through it and did their best to shout out answers, even if they had no fucking clue what was going on.

"What do you ask your mom, 'Is it okay if I....?'"

"Uh.......... MOM!"

The whole day was like this. They tried so very hard.

I had to have a special meeting with the VP and P so that they could tell me that I look pale and thin and I should eat more food and I have no family here and what am I going to do about being sick and I should lay in the nurse's office and not teach any of my classes and here have some ginger tea.

It's a good thing, in the long term. It gives me a chance to revamp my situation here. It's genuinely springtime now, and no longer time for prowling around at night, because everything feels like night anyway. It's time to be up and out during the day to enjoy the people and the weather. Even if the weather is sand.

So tonight, I did a little grocery shopping at the corner market before nearly dying climbing the cliff back home. I'll nurse myself with fruit and yogurt and eggs and juice and no alcohol or ramyeon. And I'm going to give this place a decent scrub, while I have the time and I'm not racing around trying to change clothes and get out the door to meet ____ at ____ to drink ____.

And I'm more than a little pleased that my darling Gary has managed to hit things just right, once again. Came home to find a book in my postbox that will make this little weekend of isolation that much less unbearable.

4.09.2009

Cry, cry baby.

Although I always hate to admit it, my father's genes are strong and I inherited a whole hell of a lot of them.

Especially the one that makes me into a gigantic crybaby when I'm really, really sick.

It's not often that I get really, really sick. But when I do I literally cry. And I am the least crying person you'll ever meet. Just like my dad.

The last time I was this sick was when overnight bronchitis set in in -- guess what -- early April of last year. It's like a fucking holiday, you see. And guess what else? Cried while I was taking a shower, cried while I was getting dressed, cried in the car on the way to the doctor's office, where they had to give me a shot in the ass and steroids because it was so bad.

The time before that was just before I graduated high school when I decided to be a big tough guy and not go to the doctor for a week, as my symptoms got worse and worse, until Friday night saw us loading up the car and driving to the emergency medical clinic where they told me I was verging on Scarlet Fever, which I didn't know people could actually still get. Another shot in the ass. More crying. That crying lasted all weekend as I had also just broken up with my boyfriend, who insisted on coming over and trying to give me crackers, as though that was somehow going to fix the fact that he was a total tool, and it was also the weekend my brother (an equally unlikely crier) went to jail and kept asking for me. And all I could do was voicelessly cry into the phone when they held up to my ear with him crying on the other end.

This time it's not quite that bad. But I daresay when I'm this sick is the only time I really wish I was in a relationship of some sort, so that someone was obligated to come over and baby me. Because a crying, diseased person is so nice to cuddle up with in bed? Well. I dunno. I guess it just makes me feel pretty vulnerable.

Anyway, this time it's not that bad. Last night was terrible, but my fever broke sometime around 4 am, and it's mostly just been aches and dizziness since then. I'm trying to sleep it off.

By the way, just in case you're wondering, my brother was in jail because he knocked the crap out of some guy who tried to know the crap out of some girl, after calling her a slut or a bitch or some such nonsense. I just felt the need to clarify that.

4.08.2009

OK vs okay.

Today one of my classes got a little intense due to one kid who was asking the most ridiculously complicated questions and having the co-teacher translate them. All I can say is I'm damn glad I'm a massive grammar nerd and that I actually know a hell of a lot more about English than the average English speaker (if I do say so myself....).

I usually gauge a class's reaction to the basics before moving into more complicated territory. Some of my classes have trouble grasping simple directions for basic assignments, let alone me explaining, in English, why we say things a certain way. This is where years of working with dyslexic, ADHD learners comes in handy -- it's fairly easy for me to find a way to explain something in a non-technical manner, and still have it make sense. Except for the trillions of things that simply don't make sense in English, at which point I just say, it doesn't make any sense.

Today I was trying to explain why, when we say, "Is it okay if I" we usually won't use "have" as the verb. When dealing with passive verbs, we usually use "may I" or "can I". "Is it okay if I" is generally reserved for more active verbs. One student wasn't grasping the entire concept though -- he knew there was something I still wasn't telling them. I wasn't using the words "passive" and "active" -- I was using the examples, "Can I have some food?" and "Is it okay if I eat some food?"

The kid kept pressing and the issue had caught my co-teacher's interest at this point as well, and as I got deeper and deeper into my explanation (to be and to have are passive, because although these are verbs, nothing really changes when you are something or you have something, whereas when you eat something, kick something, take something... a change occurs -- blah blah blah), the rest of the class started to slide down in their seats and look as though they wanted to cry. At which point I had the co-teacher translate the fact that these were concepts native English speaking university students struggle with -- they weren't supposed to understand this at all, at this stage.

Then there was the issue of why "okay" is written as "OK" in the book, but I write it as "okay". I explained that "okay" is a new word to the language -- not as in last year, but as in the last 200 years -- that it is a colloquial word, and no one is quite sure where it comes from. Co-teacher suggested that it came from another language, and I said that this is one theory -- that some believe "okay" came from a similar word in an African slave dialect, and that I was inclined to trust that explanation -- therefore, I favor the "okay" spelling of the word. However, there are more theories positing that "OK" stands for a sort of misspelled or Old English version of "all correct" -- in which case, it would be more correctly written as "OK" or an abbreviation.

At this point, even the over-eager student and the co-teacher were giving me strange looks. The co-teacher paused, and then said, "You have studied this?" I said I had done a little reading about it, because I was curious.

What? I told you I love teaching English....

Also, when fishing for "boss" as an answer today, I was asking, "In the future, who WILL you ask, 'Is it okay if I...?'" Consultation among the boys in Korean, until six or seven in unison shouted out:

"Wife!"

4.07.2009

Your strange manners, I love them so.

Too much thinking, lately. I'm starting to get the where-is-this-going bug. Which, as Mike has already pointed out, is a sure sign it's time to revamp the routine. Not that stepping foot in my first nightclub ever, and having it be in South Korea, isn't hilarious and all.

Plus, as lovely as work (on the whole) has been lately, damned if I'm not one tired bunny most of the time. My weekday evenings are now spent drooling on myself and attempting not to fall asleep before seven pm. But the extra classes end in a couple of weeks, and I can get back to pretending to learn Korean in coffee shops, or whatever.

Since the acquirement of the new awesome co-teacher, I've had it conveyed to me that the most serious punishment a class can have held over their heads at this point is the threat that their time with Waegookin Sunsengnim will be withheld for the week. Even homeroom teachers have started doing it.

I'm so fucking popular.

And a few confusing schedule changees this week have seen me just getting my after school classes started, when the math teacher walks in and announces that I have the other class today, which is met with unanimous groaning.

I'm no fool. I know part of that is because sitting quietly through a math lesson is way more boring than waiting for the foreign teacher to turn around and write on the board to unleash a host of bastard Koreanized English phrases that are all but pure gibberish to the native ear, but are ultimately hilarious to a fifteen year old Korean boy.

But still.

Getting closer and closer to the students. The new favorite pastime among the third graders is trying their best to earn an English nickname off me, preferably one that is mocking in some way. So far, we've got Monkey, Houdini, Short Stuff, Loud Mouth, Deep Bass, Handball King, and Cutie Pie. There's a new My Friend, who is a kid all the other teachers positively dread. He became My Friend because he's so fucking terrible in class, that he now has his own special desk butting up against the side of the teacher's podium. When I got to class and noticed this, after calling the class to attention, I said, "What did you do?"

"Neh?"

Someone translated. "Oh.... uh.... talking. Talking talking talking. Now, I sit here."

"... Great."

He kicked off shortly into class and I told him that he shouldn't make me sad that I have to stand so close to him -- we should be friends.

Monkey asked for my phone number while standing in the lunch line today. I do my best to nip that kind of nonsense in the bud, so I just responded by laughing hysterically, which was a big hit with the other boys. He then tried to give me his phone number on a piece of paper, to which I responded, "No, thank you." The third graders spent the remainder of the day wandering the hall, singing "Give Me A Call".

Some total creepo was wandering around the school grounds today. He followed me off campus after work and a good way's down the road. I sort of lingered around at the main intersection for a while, using the excuse of chatting with some students while keeping an eye on him, given that my students were everywhere, and I didn't want him going near any one of them. I'm not sure exactly what was off about the guy, but he gave me an ice-cold feeling as soon as I laid eyes on him. So I lingered, and he lingered, and eventually he crossed the road and caught a bus. I'm not sure what I would have done had he actually approached a student, and maybe I had the total wrong impression, but you just never know.

I think the other thing that's been getting to me is that some lanky, tri-lingual fellow managed to make a blip on the infamously blank Liz Radar recently. God, how I hate that feeling. I'm doing my best to ignore the fact that not receiving a message within 24 hours from someone is actually bothering me. But I give that about a week before it's forgotten. So long as no more messages appear. And you know I'm just fucked enough to be mostly hoping that they don't.

That's a total lie, obviously. He should just give me a call, baby.

4.05.2009

Can't remember.

I don't usually bring the writing up here. But tonight, I was looking through a folder of half-finished bits and pieces. I found this little bit -- don't remember writing it. It's not anything at all, but for some reason, I like it. Thought I'd toss it up here.

Sometimes there aren’t words for the first half of the day. Sometimes there are too many. And it sounds slow and redundant to say my chest swelled, but my chest swelled. When we talk about the sky, it’s not the same thing. It is a small thing, but it still counts. You said you wanted to miss the last train home in every town. Well let’s start here.

I am cold and stiff from sleep. It may take me days to loosen up. But I will sit here and try it.

I don’t need to be inside of you, beside you will do. And the chores may pile up around but today a pigeon was on the window. I thought he may have brought a note from you. The truth was he was resting from the rain and the cold. I would take you in under my wing. And what you taught me is that I was wrong about the projections of something created before my blue eyes opened. I was wrong about you.

And the place you will have in my life.

The body of an American.

Woke up with my head full of thoughts this morning. It was the kind of sleep where you don't really sleep, but keep thinking while you lie there, even though your body's gone.

It's a sort of culmination of things, namely me always assuming at the start that things are less complicated than I know somewhere in my gut that they are. And for those of you who are going to read that sentence and think you know what it's obviously about, you're wrong. No one reading this knows what this is about.

What I woke up and realized this morning is that absolutely not one fucking thing is obvious anymore. And there are things going on with me that have necessitated a new kind of privacy, which has made moving to South Korea a much bigger change, and it has changed and is changing me, in a really fundamental, basic way.

I'm starting to see that I haven't been as grown up as I thought I was -- that maybe this year, these next few years, are going to see me actually move from being a child to an adult. Or that my definition of myself has always been wrapped up in the people around me, which I don't think is a bad thing, but that's changing as well. It's the privacy thing. It's the foreign country thing. Or maybe it's just some part of me realizing that I really am sufficient as a human being, on my own, for myself.

I have no idea.

I've been telling my students this week, as they start coming in more and more bedraggled as the semester really gets going, your brain can't store knowledge when you don't sleep. When we think of a lack of sleep, we think about the physical effects. But a few years back when we found out my brother was narcoleptic (which is a far more complicated disorder than the popular media makes it out to be), I did a lot of reading about the function of sleep.

Yes, sleep is the time when our body recharges. But the most important aspect of sleep is that our brain uses it as a sort of sorting and filing period. If you don't sleep, your short-term memory never gets converted to long-term. You don't ever really process your thoughts. You don't learn anything.

I blame that for the fact that I seem to have woken up this morning with a lot of things from the last few weeks (full of not enough sleep, or very restless sleep) finally moved from the first impression part of the brain to the part where I understand what those impressions mean. Or, to put it simply, clarity.

I'm no closer to understanding myself, or my situation(s). But it's a start.

Now. I'm sure everyone's had enough of that. You want the gossip, don't you?

Friday night was out with Mike, which turned into out with Mike and Small Town, which turned into a tour of bars in Incheon. Well. Two bars and a seriously proper nightclub. Bar no. 1 saw the return of Bicycle Shirt Guy from New Year's Eve, which was unbelievable. He still doesn't speak English, but he did manage to come over and say, "You... name.... Liz?" Neh. "You... boyfriend?" Pointing to Mike. No. "You .... me... uh.... dance! Christmas party!" New Year's Eve party, yes. "You... number... my phone." Yes, I know who you are. What I don't know is how you managed to remember both me and my name, considering the state you walked into that bar in that night.

Bar no. 2 had the waegookin standing out on the porch to smoke and serving as a kind of foreigner meet-and-greet for the entire neighborhood. I got a present -- a hideous little stuffed tiger/bear thing that some guys won in a game across the way. Then some business English friends were made and I impressed the hell out of Mike and Small Town, who were apparently at the other end of the bar whispering about how I was obviously going home with someone, by completely jedi mind tricking all of them into happily and willingly going straight home with each other instead. As Small Town said, they probably got back to the subway and suddenly realized we were all supposed to be heading to another bar together, and what the hell just happened?

"I thought you was on the pull, like..."

"Nah. I was working."

And that's why Mike, ultimately, loves me.

The nightclub was ridiculous and worthless at the hour we walked in, but worth it just to get a look at what the hell was going on in there. The place was crawling with employees who, every now and then, would appear at a table of women nearby and drag them off to some unidentified dark recesses. Eventually I realized they were dragging them to tables with men, or out onto the dance floor. I guess not enough of that goes on, organically, to keep shit happening in nightclubs in Korea.

Saturday was Chinatown with Mags and Small Town. There's not a whole lot to it, and it's eerily quiet for a Chinatown, but it was worth it for the sort of scenic walking value. Ended up in a small (and I mean small) restaurant full of ajosshi drinking soju and eating kimchee jjigae. Hi, I'm a Korean expat blogger.

Then out to meet the lovely Kel, and her lovely, lovely friends Willie and Suki (sp?) in Hongdae. Somehow before I had arrived they had ended up in a tiny hole in the wall with an ajumma and two ajosshi doing shots of soju, chugging Cass and singing karaoke. It eventually got to the point where it was definitely time to leave, or the evening was going to take a turn (toward what, I don't think any of us were sure -- but we all definitely got that impression) so we headed out in search of Pink Hole or The Pink Hole or -- well, this is typical, but we couldn't find it. One bar, two bars. Back at Nori, where the infamous Dion (not A-on, etc.) turned up not once, but twice. The second time, he brought Ken back, who seemed like a completely different person.

I find talking to the two of them sort of infinitely enlightening. Dion explained that he and Ken vanished into the sunrise last weekend because Kel and I had found other male companionship and seemed to be enjoying it, so it was the gentlemanly thing to do. He explained that, in Korean society, that's the way it's supposed to work. If the lady enjoys someone else's company, you should gallantly leave her to it. The not saying goodbye wasn't a slight -- it was a polite gesture, to not ruin the mood or cause a scene. In other words, he took it like a man.

I like talking to Dion about Ken, and vice versa. They're completely different personality types, but have all the love in the world for the kind of person the other one is. Both swear the other is the most genuinely lovely friend a person could ever hope for. Dion says Ken is a sort of "prince" -- absurdly popular with the girls, due to his good looks and guitar playing, his sort of quiet brooding seriousness. But that he is picky, and won't just be with a girl because he can. Ken later confirmed this, when I asked him about it, after he returned to the table with his tail between his legs, because a girl on the dance floor had refused to dance with him, saying he looked like he must have a girlfriend.

"It's a kind of problem for me!"

He went on to say that, although it is true that he has the ability to be with many girls, he's not really interested in that. He prefers a girl who has "abilities" -- who is not only kind, but also talented in some way, or smart. Looks are not what he's into. And while that's a really typical line to deliver in a bar, past 1 am, there was something in the seriousness of his face that made it seem not like a line, but almost a confession.

Ken says Dion is a friend first and foremost, and will always be there for you -- will always cheer you up or go out of his way to help with anything that he can. Both finish their monologues about each other with the infinitely endearing sentences, "He's my friend. That's my friend." And a big, proud smile.

I like talking to people about other people, in this way. They are the kind of things we usually only think about and never vocalize to anyone out loud. And to get inside of the admiration one person has for another is one of the things that continues to renew my faith in mankind.

Well, I think that's enough for now. Now I have more than my fair share of lesson planning to get on top of, before it's back to the real world (whatever that means) tomorrow.