And so it is.

Well. That's it kids. Yet another fork in the road. Tomorrow afternoon, Michael L. Magnes will depart Incheon International Airport for Tokyo, then on to New York. We had a good run, me and that kid. And there are things that until we are 75 years old no one else will understand about us but each other, thanks to our time here together. Once last meal of wangalbi in a neighborhood that has been a second home to me since I arrived in the ROK, which I will probably have very little reason to visit ever again after tonight. One of the two places where Mike and I could just walk in, sit down and be served, without a word of either English or Korean spoken on either side.

Coffee at the place up the road. As we made our way back to the subway station, we passed a young Korean couple on the sidewalk. The girl, dressed in a micro-mini skirt, was stomping her three inch stilettos on the sidewalk and whining, "Waaaaaaaaaaaae!" as the guy looked put out and threw his arm around her neck, effectively setting her into a headlock to drag her down the sidewalk behind him. I laughed. "You're going to miss this, Mags. 'Dear Magnes, Today I was hit in the face with a purse. Guess which gender was carrying it?' 'Dear Magnes, Today I saw a guy put his girlfriend in a headlock on the street. I thought of you.'"

"I'm not abandoning you, Liz." He said it over dinner. And the thing is, I know that. I've been awful quiet these last few days, but it's because a lot of other things are going on simultaneously, that I don't quite know how to sort out. And because I'm not really sure, to be honest, how I feel about Mags leaving. I think it's for the best for him. And in some ways, in those hard, growing up kind of ways, it may be for the best for me as well. Walking the rest of the way to the subway station alone, after we had parted, I felt like some thin, remaining rope had finally been snipped. There goes my last tie to home, to the life I had before. There is no safety net, now. Everything I have here is only what I've made here.

It's all up to me, now.

Coming back into my apartment complex I ran into possibly the world's cutest student, who for whatever reason never thinks that I'll remember or recognize him. He's a second grader who I, of course, knew lived in my apartments, but he had one of his bolder friends, who is in my after school class and is thereby extremely comfortable with me compared to the others, come over one day and tell me that he was my neighbor.

I pulled my headphones out of my ear. "Hi! How are you?"

The building ajeosshi, who was having a cigarette outside his booth, looked on with a smile.

"I.... go to academy."

"Academy?! Oh no! Too much studying!"

He smiled. "I.... I... Hyoseong Middle School."

"Arayo. I know you. Are you tired?"


"Did you eat?"



"Ah, neh."

"That's good. Okay. Sleep well, buddy."


I patted him on the back, as I turned to enter my building.

And that's all it takes to remind me why I'm here.



What am I thinking about? Hong Kong, Taiwan and mostly Vietnam. How is that happening suddenly? Well. It just takes one small thing to make you realize that you're still mobile. I'm still mobile.

Am I going to stay in Korea? Of course. I went for my level test today at Inha University. Felt like a total prick trudging out there in the heat only to be told that I am "level one", which is precisely what I told Coteacher to tell the lady on the phone. There was no reason for the hour-long trek in this sweaty weather. But Coteacher said it would be a good experience. Anyway, I've already worked out how to navigate the commute, and find my way around the campus, which, I'm happy to report, is overflowing with slightly younger college boys who are more than eager to help the lost looking foreigner find the 평생교육관 building, and who are overly impressed with your ability to ask for this help in Korean. Maybe it won't be a bad way to spend summer vacation, lounging around on a bench in the shade of the trees, trying out what I've been studying on an easy-to-please, pretty audience.

Motivation? Neeeeeeh.

After the test, a good buddy was on standby via text messaging to commiserate, being that he attended his own language torture yesterday, and didn't score as highly as he needed to. He reminded me, sweetly, that we are both geniuses who can do anything we want to. It's important that I tried. We will get better and we will succeed. Fighting!

There have been reasons to reconsider the future, lately, however. I will definitely stick around Korea long enough to feel that I've conquered it, in some way, if that makes any sense at all. I'd like to have a decent grasp of the language, and reach a moment where I feel I can live here without any difficulty. But my mind is more open than it has been, lately. Something has made me realize that there's nothing particularly crucial holding me here, and if or when I have a reason to go somewhere else, I'll be more than able to do that. That alone has made me settle back down after the events of recent days. No one likes a room without windows or doors. It's not that you plan on exiting, so much as you just need to know that you can.

I am absolutely foaming at the mouth about Vietnam these days, though. Maybe it's like they say -- Korea goes a bit tropical in the summer months, and you're reminded a lot more often that you are in Asia. This morning, in fact, I could have sworn it was closer to Southeast Asia than Asia Pacific, with a daunting storm brewing over my and the boys' heads on the walk up the mountain to school. It broke shortly after we had just about all made it inside, into the heaviest rain I've seen since I've been here. Shortly there after, the clouds cleared and it was a heavy, tropical, sun-filled day. With the boys screaming down the hill that leads up to the school this afternoon, two or three to a bicycle, their summer uniforms unbuttoned and untucked, it almost felt like a different time entirely.

Don't ask me what I've got in mind. You don't want to know. But Vietnam is definitely the next stop for this girl. I'll scope it out soon enough, take some time there on my own to see if it can live up to the picture I've created in my mind. I'm in no rush. For now, Korea. I will fix myself up here. Don't even worry about it.


The legend of Tu Thuc.

A Vietnamese legend tells of the scholar Tu Thuc, whose sole passion in life was to travel and explore new places. One day, his travels took him to Bich Dao Grotto, where he met and fell in love with a beautiful fairy. Having the heart of a traveler, he asked the fairy to take him back to her land.

The fairy agreed, and Tu Thuc lived happily in the land of the fairies for a while. But soon, he began to miss his home country and all of the places, people and customs he had left behind. He asked the fairy queen, who was the mother of his young fairy lover, to allow him to return to the human world. She warned him that once he left the land of the fairies, he would never be able to return. He would never see his fairy again. But Tu Thuc was so lonely, longing so much for the familiarity of his homeland, that he agreed at any cost.

When Tu Thuc returned to the human world, he found that time has passed more quickly than in the land of the fairies. His hometown was unrecognizable to him and all of the people he had loved had long passed away. The customs and culture of his people had changed so much over time that Tu Thuc felt like a foreigner in his homeland.

The pain of this was unbearable for Tu Thuc. He left the village to wander elsewhere, and was never seen again.

The heat on this little peninsula has become oppressive. The air is thick and heavy. It lays down on top of you when you're trying to sleep. I've gone quiet here, because there is far too much to say. Things are not going quite as planned. It's time to make a decision between putting off the inevitable or sticking it out this time and trying to make something become real. Saying some hard things. Probably hearing some, as well. My instincts are telling to just wash, rinse and repeat. But then my instincts, in this regard, I'm afraid have not taken me very far in life thus far. The problem is, there's always a moment where you have a choice. Then the moment passes, depending on the choice you make, and suddenly, it's out of your hands. It takes two to tango, as they say.

Haruki Murakami once wrote that in this world, there are things you can do alone, and things you can only do with somebody else, and that it's important to combine the two in just the right amount. I think this is a rather simple observation on the surface, but I believe that it is a serious struggle for most people, naturally falling on one side or the other, out of balance. Lopsided living. I'm sure you can assume which side I fall on.

But I don't have to do anything tonight. Or even tomorrow. I can afford a little time to gather my thoughts, and try to produce a vocabulary that would be adequate for dealing with this situation. I'm losing my most valuable asset in this country soon. It's time to stand on my own two feet. And by that I mean, it's probably time to stop trying so hard to stand up alone.

That's a strange thing to say, isn't it? I don't expect it to make sense to anyone else. It doesn't even really make sense to me. But there's no hurry. If things are going to get sorted this time, it will take a lot of patience anyway. Patience, understanding, tolerance, and gentle words. And a dedication to seeing things through.

Watch it. And understand.


Lock down.

Some things here are going under lock down for a while, while I do some re-prioritizing about this whole blog thing. Some things start out as impersonal, and then, suddenly, become personal. I have to think about this.

In the meantime, expect things to be a little quiet. Life in the ROK so far has not been so serious. It's been easy to record it all here. Things are becoming more permanent, as time progresses, however. And things with other people in my life are becoming more complicated and private.

Perhaps it's a chance to return to a bit of personal writing. Or just shut the fuck up for a while.

In the meantime, it's one a.m., and due to one thing or another, I'm still awake. Not good, considering I've got four classes and a business trip to face in just over four hours. Going to try to fix that now.

Goodnight, my darlings.


And so it continues.

Oh, oh, oh. My boys are doing so good this week. I'm so proud of my third graders. They're all falling out of their seats to volunteer to speak in front of the class these days, mostly because I make a huge deal out of it when someone volunteers, going on and on about what big, strong, brave men they are. It's such a fucking far cry from the crushing timidity they had when I first started. They start asking before we've even finished the exercises -- "Teacher! I read on stage first today?" I'm not sure if it's to do with being more comfortable with me, or more comfortable with English. But either way, I'm one proud mama.

Also, the second graders and I have abandoned the book for the time being, and they're having loads of fun doing worksheets and speaking activities disguised as games. The only problem in those classes this week has been them getting too excited and shouting out the answers waaaay too loud. I actually got a standing ovation when I walked into two classes. Granted, one had a high population of students from my good after school class, who knew they were in the shit with me for being a bit unruly on Thursday. Still. It's always nice to feel loved.

The good news is, according to Coteacher, there are absolutely no summer camps planned for yours truly. Now, I don't really mind camps. They're a nice time to get a lot closer to a few students. But fuck if they don't take a massive load of planning. And I'm pretty exhausted at the moment, looking forward to a bit of a break. Of course, summer will get two days in and I'll be moaning nonstop about desk warming and how I wish someone would just give me something to do....

Also, just because there are no camps planned yet, doesn't mean there are no camps. I've been here long enough to know that. Summer is still four and a half weeks away. I won't believe there are no camps until we are at least a week into summer proper, and I still haven't heard anything. But, I'm ready for that possibility this time around, which will make it a lot easier to handle if/when it comes up.

Been doing a lot of reflecting about the weekend, some on a more personal level, and some about a conversation I had with one of the macho Koreans. He told me I was really difficult to approach, because I seemed so close with some of the guys. At the time, I told him I was just shy and didn't mean to come off that way. He told me I should try to circulate more. But the more I think about it, the more those comments seem off base. At these events, I'm usually the only foreigner who's making the rounds at all. And the Koreans I seem close with happened because I was intermingling with Koreans in the first place. Also, every time I see these guys, I'm sure to talk to at least five or six new people.

I think the real issue lies with the fact that this group is almost exclusively Korean and foreign men, with a small peppering of Korean women, who mostly keep to themselves out of shyness, unless approached by some of the foreign men. And then there's me -- the sole foreign female. It's simply not possible for me to talk to every single Korean man who attends these events. But, from my view, I'm definitely the one circulating the most, making the most effort, and constantly pushing the other foreigners to get up out of our little white clump and go talk to new people.

There was also the bizarre question about preference again: "So.... uh... do you like foreign men? Or Korean men? Because you talk to both. I can't tell."

Well. I like men. What can I say?

"But you like Korean men?"

Well. As I said, I like men.

"Okay. We'll find you a good one."

And off he went.

I feel completely justified in being nervous about that statement.

Whatever. It's not a bad situation. As Small Town pointed out, I tend to end these evenings with a "veritable harem of men" around me. I'm certainly not going to complain about that. I don't particularly care for the feeling of being some sort of commodity within the group, however, whose diversification should be spread evenly, out of fairness. That's a bit much, if you ask me. I'm not the last bottle of Cass, or package of sam gyeop sal, after all.

Meh. I'm young. And I'm not going to worry about Korean men's (or anyone else's) perception of Western women while I'm trying to enjoy myself. I'm a fairly well-rounded adult, and one who works hard during the week. At the weekends, I'm going to enjoy myself. No matter what anyone thinks about it, in either direction. I don't pretend not to be able to drink, I smoke out in the open. And I talk to men -- as many men as strike my fancy in a given evening. Not more, not less.

And so it continues.

I do have to say, the boys officially spotted me with C in the neighborhood last week, and their reactions have been a bit priceless. When they see me with Mike, they make no short work of shouting, "TEACHER! BOYFRIEND? BOYFRIEND!" and insisting, no matter what my reply. But since word has been spreading about C, it's gone down a bit differently. As in:

"Teacher. You. Home Plusuh."

"Yes. I was at Home Plus. And?"

"You. Keu..... next to. You. Home Plusuh. Next to. Korean man."

"Yes. Me at Home Plus next to a Korean man. Wae?"

"Keu...... uh....... keu....."


"Uh... Teacher boyfriend Korean?"

Classic, boys. Very, very classic.


Seoul Pride.

Just a quick note to say that today is Seoul Pride and, although I can't be there (definitely one of the things I'm saddest to miss in the ROK this far), my spirit and my thoughts are with those, both foreign and Korean, who are making the incredibly brave decision to show out today. If you thought Pride took courage back home....

In honor of the brothers and sisters, I'll be incessantly stirring the shit on my little trip today. Korea, it's time. And as for Prop 8 back home, well you guys do what you can. I'd like to see that solved and sorted, put away for good, before I get back home. Whenever that will be.


It's only Tuesday.

I'm so fucking tired, there aren't even words for it.

Today, the nightmare class...

I worked my ass of preparing a science experiment lesson for them, so they wouldn't be bored, or confused. Most of the class came over and participated and it was fine. One table opted to sit at the back of the room, and I ignored them. They don't want to participate, that's fine. Just so long as they don't disrupt class for the rest of the students. Still, that apparently wasn't good enough. As I was taking attendance at the end of class, someone grabbed one of the eggs from the experiment and smashed it on a table. Just because. I brought Coteacher up to the English Zone after class to see the damage with her own eyes, since the students like to play Foreign Teacher vs. Korean Teacher and claim that I've somehow misunderstood something.

Whatever. I agreed to take another contract at my school earlier this week. Now I'm considering making it known that I'm actually hesitating, because the second grade teachers don't do anything to try to make the second grade students show me any kind of respect. Well. One of the second grade teachers -- the old hag. She stands at the back of the room during regular classes and allows the students to chatter ceaselessly, because she can't do anything to stop it either. But I can't help but think it doesn't set the right example, when I continually shout over them to be quiet, and she just stands there, doing nothing. And I don't know what's going on with these nightmare students' homeroom teachers that these incidents after school are reported to them again and again, yet there's no change in the students' behavior. They're clearly not being punished. I'm dreading the thought of seeing the little bastards for three to four classes every single day next year. This school is not giving me much to work with, and I'm going to make it clear that I'm not happy about that, when we sit down at the table to negotiate a re-sign.

Still. My lovely third graders. Today I came downstairs from the English Zone to be greeted by a group of six of them. They wanted to ask me something. The first time the request came out as, "Liz Teacher ..... hit me?"

Uh... pardon me?

"Liz Teacher hit me? Picture."

"You... you want me to hit you, while you take a picture of it..."

"Neh!" Excited that their meaning had been transmitted so clearly, so quickly.

"I don't... what?"

"Oh sorry! Sorry, Teacher." They started to walk away, but I grabbed one by the arm.

"Listen... come see me. Later." We were between classes, and I had to get over to the second grade building. "Okay? Later, you come talk to me."

"Okay, Teacher. Sorry."

Eventually, they managed to clarify that they were doing a photo essay about two students fighting. They had decided they wanted the foreign teacher to act as the school disciplinary department in their photo essay. I explained that I was quite shy, and hated being photographed, and they apologized again. But what could I do? They had already planned their entire project around it. So they came by after school and I got to play tough guy for a while. Photos of me lecturing the students, putting them in the push-up position with their butts in the air, smacking them in the ass with a stick. Forcing them to shake hands.

Hey. You gotta represent, right? Waegookin Seonsaengnim for the win.

They also got to see the situation with the egg, as they followed me and Coteacher up to the EZ for the examination. Coteacher explained to them in Korean what had happened. They were upset. Why would someone treat Liz Teacher that way? I don't know, boys. It means a lot to me that it confuses you, too.

Unfortunately, egg on the table plus photo essay project equals one extra hour at work. And I have a Korean lesson tonight. And I'm fucking exhausted.

And it's only Tuesday.

I'm starting to think I'm not going to be much fun on this weekend trip away. While the others, with their unemployed student statuses, are frolicking around playing beach volleyball and drinking ungodly amounts of soju, I think I'll probably be passed out in a deck chair with a book over my face. Ah, well. It'll be nice to get out of the city for a bit. Just pray the weather gets better.


Soju, Noonchi, and Jeong.

How to explain. I mean, do I even want to explain here? Well.

Last night was good. Really good. Garfield.... God bless him. He's been studying really hard and as soon as I walked in, he greeted me loud and proudly in English. It was like a completely different person. He did so well. Of course, I was too shy to use any of my Korean, since everyone at the table was watching eagerly. C kept saying I was disappointing him, because as the teacher, he wants to see that he's done a good job. He alternated this approach to making me speak Korean with the bold-faced lie that my Korean is really, really good. I told him I would speak Korean, but only to Garfield when no one else was listening in. I didn't want to perform in front of the entire table. Unfortunately, due to the seating arrangements, the chance never arose, and eventually Garfield went back to being quiet and looking a bit uncomfortable. I'll try harder when we all go away to the island this weekend. It's only fair. Anyway, I'm inspired by his braveness. And I do want to make C proud.

Everyone bowed out around 11:30, save for me, C and Small Town. C decided it was time for us to drink Korean style. He took us to a beautiful little restaurant where the paper-paneled doors slid open to make the outside patio an extension of the entire restaurant. He ordered mae hwa soo -- syrupy sweet plum wine -- and some kind of seafood tang which was, of course, put over a gas burner on the table. From there, the conversation could only get better.

I like this kind of drink setting. Just as I find Korean restaurants to be far superior in setting to Western restaurants (shoes off, sitting on the floor, cooking the food at the table), I also think there's something inherently intimate about the tiny soju glasses and the communal pots of soup. C, who normally discourages my little Korean mannerly habits, switched over immediately, as we began pouring drinks. Although he continued to place his hand over his heart to pour for Small Town, he insisted that we are good friends and I should hold my glass with only one hand.

Earlier in the evening, I had pulled C aside to talk about something that had been bothering me since the night before. He knows I try hard to understand Korean culture, and that I'm not the kind of foreigner who expects the world to change around me, to accommodate me and my foreign understanding of things. But on Friday night I had noticed that, for the sake of the kind of close friendship that I think is developing, there was one thing we should talk about -- saving face.

Face saving is immensely difficult for foreigners, and, I think, one of the things that creates the most bitterness and anger in foreigners toward Korean culture. The basic idea, as I understand it, is not causing another person to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. This manifests itself in the form various 'yes's that can mean 'no'. Koreans have something called noonchi, which I think is understood as inherent and natural, rather than cultural. This is where the trouble comes in -- foreigners, having not grown up in a face-saving society, definitively lack noonchi. The closest English word to noonchi, so far as I understand it, is intuition. It's the ability to read a social situation based not on what is being said, but on an underlying communication. But it's not just intuition -- it's intuition, plus the ability to react appropriately to what you understand, to read a social situation and accommodate others' feelings without making a scene out of the entire thing. To Koreans, it may be as clear as day when a 'yes' actually means 'no', and how to react in that situation -- to foreigners, this is as confusing as fuck. And immensely frustrating. You feel always a step behind, lost, left out and basically like you're making a social prat of yourself.

I did my best to demonstrate that I understood the concept, and that I understood the intentions behind it. It's not that Koreans don't want to give a clear and honest answer -- it's that they are giving their version of a clear and honest answer in a way that won't offend the other person. It stems from kindness and concern for the people around you. I know that. But it's really, really difficult to adjust to. I explained that in Western culture, it's not offensive to just say, no I don't want to, or I would prefer to blah blah blah. We say what we're thinking and don't really think twice about it, on either side.

"Look, we're both Pisces, right? So we're always concerned about the people around us -- how they're feeling, if they're happy and comfortable. For you, your way to make sure is to always say 'yes' and do whatever you can for the other person, even if you don't want to. But I'm a Pisces, too. I have the same worries. For me, it's really hard to think that you might say 'yes' when you mean 'no', and I won't be able to tell. It's really hard to think that you might not be having a good time, but you're only going along with something to make me more comfortable."

I explained that, for a Westerner, I have pretty good noonchi, but that it takes me some time to develop it with each individual person. Soon, I'll be able to read his face. I'll be able to hear what he's saying behind his words. But I don't know him well enough yet. This is where he mentioned another Korean cultural concept that I had brought up to him before, and he knew I understood -- jeong. Jeong is basically the close, reciprocal relationship between people. It means that you will do for another person, take care of another person, take on another person's problems, and in return, they do the same for you. You share each other's burdens, without justification, without keeping score. In short, jeong is love -- not the emotion, but the act.

C and I are building jeong, which means sometimes we will do for each other, even when we don't really want to. But he promised then to be careful for me, and to try his best to give direct, honest answers. Just until my noonchi gets a little better. It's as hard for him to look me in the face and say 'no' as it is for me to look into his face and automatically glean a 'no' out of his 'yes'. We're both going to have to work at it.

Sometimes, I feel caught in the middle.

As we left the restaurant around 3, Small Town started gearing up for noraebang, another bar -- anything to keep the night, which had been decidedly lovely, going. My mistake was going around the corner to have a smoke while the two discussed our next move. Before that moment, my noonchi was dead-on -- C wanted to just go home. As did I. But when I came back around the corner, Small Town took me under his arm and announced that we were, indeed, going to noraebang. I pointed to my watch and shoved it in his face. "But it's time to go home.... really.... and C wants to go home, too." Small Town then conveyed to me that C was completely compliant with noraebang, and that it was just out of concern for me that he seemed to hesitate.

Bang. Noonchi obliterated. Which was it: A 'yes' that meant 'no', or a 'no' that meant 'yes'? If I had stayed for the conversation, I would have heard it, caught the meaning. But I was around the corner, and in the meantime, C's determination to give straight answers had apparently also been obliterated by Small Town's incredibly endearing child-like persistence.

It took me about five minutes to sort it all out again. Unfortunately, those five minutes cost Small Town a lot. As we walked along the side streets, out to the main road, I began to notice that we were passing quite a few noraebang. Small Town was cheerfully chattering on about how I shouldn't be known as the girl who can't hang -- that if I want to be treated like one of the boys, then there can be none of this going home early. C was growing increasingly quiet. I was going to have to be the one to break the news.

"[Small Town], we're not going to noraebang. We're going home."

"... What? Where... where did that come from? Are you serious? What?"

"We're going home."

"That's like a sniper shot, that...."

I knew exactly how he felt, but there was nothing I could do to smooth it over. He climbed into a cab, still confused and a little angry, and I turned to ask C where his apartment was from where we were standing. He indicated the opposite direction of the one we'd been walking in (toward mine). "Go home," I said. "I can walk home on my own. I'm a big girl. You're too drunk and you need to go to bed."

He stood in the street staring at my face for a moment, his own face reflecting a visible struggle -- him trying to stop himself from insisting on doing something that he really didn't want to do. Fine, I thought. I'll make this clear one way or another. You've had your time with the jeong this weekend -- now it's my turn. "You're too drunk." I shifted my tone to the one I use for the boys who come in to class with broken legs, scratched up faces, black eyes, aching stomachs. "Can you make it home on your own? Are you okay? You'll be able to make it?"

His face immediately broke from conflict into a gentle smile -- he had understood. "I am okay." We settled our time to meet tonight and shook hands goodbye. I crossed the street and noticed that we were a lot closer to mine, and a lot further from his than I had realized. I got about ten yards down the sidewalk when I heard C shout from across the street where he was still standing on the median, watching me go -- "Liz!" I turned around, expecting him to make an alteration or addition to the plans we had just set. But instead he just waved and shouted, "Bye Liz!" What do you do with something that cute?

As I climbed the stairs to my front door, I noticed I had a missed call from Small Town. Out of respect for him, I won't go into everything that was said when I phoned him back. But suffice it to say that noonchi, saving face... all of this is not easy for him. It hits on a very personal level. I tried my best to explain it from two directions: 1. I know exactly what you're feeling and you've every right to feel that way. 2. Please try not to feel that way -- it wasn't what it seemed like.

I hope the damage C doesn't even know he did can be repaired. In the meantime, there's me. Shuttling back and forth. Trying to understand and be understood. Ah, me. It's not that different from life anywhere else, is it?



Dearie me. Good ol' Liz has got to sort out a studying routine. You see, I haven't studied anything this way (memorization) since high school. My university education consisted entirely of reading, grasping concepts and putting concepts to practice in essays, term papers, poems, short stories. I'm good at that. I'm good at that because it's interesting, directly. While learning Korean is interesting, indirectly, in the sense that it expands my accessibility to the people and things around me immensely, with every word I learn, it is not directly interesting. At all. Well, the grammar is interesting, but then I'm not having any problems with grammar. In fact, as C leaned over to watch me perfectly reconstruct sentence after sentence in Korean on Tuesday, he muttered about how jealous he was. But he still had to remind me each time of the right vocabulary, the correct spelling.

I'm learning more and more names at work, and speaking more scraps of Korean here and there. The boys are ecstatic. This week I told a student that "shit" is a really, really, jinjja bad word. When I came out from work to see a line of second graders holding signs depicting the dangers of school violence and smoking (punishment for these acts), one particularly adorable student who just radiates trouble from his cute little face screamed out a greeting. I walked over and put a hand under his chin. "Look at this! Look at this face! Kuiyeupda!" And when another student asked me, with great earnestness, how I was yesterday, I showed him the paper cut on my finger and said, "Apeo." These are literally, as far as the students are concerned, the funniest things I've ever said.

It has to be said, I'm greatly encouraged by how impressed they are with the smallest things. Mutter one word in Korean, and I'm the smartest teacher ever. Also, as they pass by my desk and lean over to glance at my ridiculous mess of scribbled notes going in every direction (the result of C and I working through grammar concepts and ideas on paper), they'll look up at my stern, intent face and say, without fail, "Teacher... fighting! Fighting! You can do it!"

And as I make my way through the neighborhood in the evenings to go and meet C at the coffee shop, when I pass students standing on corners waiting for hagwon buses, they tell me they are going to study. "Me too!" I shout back. "Korean!" We throw our fists in the air together -- a display of solidarity.

I've only got five weeks left teaching my beloved third graders. I'll still see them around, but as the second half of the year rolls in, they've no more time for the native teacher, as they have to begin preparing for high school exams (which don't yet include a spoken English test). It's going to be awful to watch them leave in the winter. If I spoke enough Korean, I'd be able to write to them and keep in touch. By then, I'll be well into my second session. I wonder if it will be possible.



God, am I ever on top of the world.

I finally fucking cracked it. I found, after all this time, the perfect formula for handling the Nightmare Class. Today's class was fucking gorgeous. You wouldn't have believed it. I still don't. We had enough order for me to walk around and crack a few jokes with the students, and finished in enough time to leave five minutes early -- not because I had given up, but because we had accomplished all there was to accomplish.

My bashful third graders have gained enough confidence in speaking English that they now volunteer to read entire dialogues in front of the class. And they do it beautifully, looking up occasionally from their papers to check my face, which is always beaming with pride, like some sort of fucking soccer mom. We're down to almost zero translation in the third grade classes now. Me and my co-teachers have melded minds to the point that we can repeat back and forth in English, in different ways, so that the students, who have become eager to understand, are able to without any Korean.

I've worked my ass off in the last two days to change a lot about the structure of my lessons, and I'm already seeing the results nearly ten fold.

Now. If I can just manage to get this Korean junk down before I leave to meet C in an hour. The boys have found out I have a Korean teacher now, and are jealous. Teacher no need Korean teacher. We teach Teacher Korean. I had my first student-taught lesson today. They taught me how to say, "my name is" (which I already know) and "you name is", which is not actually correct English and also not really that useful. Actually, they didn't even get to translating that part into Korean because we got sidetracked when I wrote my name in Korean for them and they freaked out.

Today I ran over the Korean I'm supposed to know for tonight with Coteacher in the office before leaving work. The other teachers looked on with a kind of endeared gentleness. It must be strange for them to hear me speaking Korean, the way it's strange when my students, who I know mostly only in broken fragments, stand in front of the room and read dialogues with perfect grammar and fairly good pronunciation. They're rooting for me.

Oh. But I am tired.


Words, words, words.

Last night -- I shit you not -- I had nightmares about grammar.

Trying to understand Korean grammar. Trying to explain English grammar. Pronunciation.

All night, I tossed and turned and went in and out of a light sleep, only to wake twenty minutes later muttering aloud about the correct way to form your mouth to make a strong 'w' sound.

I'm not making this up.

The result was me sitting on my kitchen floor at 7 am this morning, fully dressed, barely able to hold my head up and wondering how I was going to make it through all the small adjustments I had decided, in my sleep, I wanted to make to my lesson plans for this week.

Why all the sudden changes? Because I sat on the other side of the table from me last night. And it wasn't fun. In a solitary 3 hours, my teaching philosophy changed more than it has for probably the last three months. A lot of this is just trial and error for me, as well. So I've also recently seen the results of my teaching for the last few months. As in, there are certain phrases that several of the boys have used to me, since I taught those phrases to them. I'm able to see what sticks and what doesn't, and from there, assess what works and what doesn't.

It was another long-ass day at work, consisting of me teaching five classes and, in between, rushing around to finish making worksheets and notes, photocopies and presentations to push the lesson plans forward for this week. I was pleased with the results, and the boys seemed to respond to them as well.

I'm planning something that could go super-awry for the extra after school class I have to teach this week. I had to miss one session with my good class last week because of the business trip, so the poor lads have to come in three times in one week. I don't want to make them do overly serious stuff all three times, so I told them for the extra session, we'll do something fun. It involves food coloring and I'm a little afraid. We'll see.

Now, I have to study my Korean for Drill Sergeant C, who I meet again tomorrow night. I promised I would be able to respond to all of his questions in Korean without looking at my notes. Why did I do such a thing? I also want to surprise him by learning a few extra verbs. Prove I'm not as stupid as I look (or at least convincingly pretend not to be).

And why is this now my entire life?

Words, words, words. That's really all there is.