11.29.2009

"That's cool.... likin' the Korean guys.... that's totally cool."

Last night was pretty good. It was nice to meet Smalltown out for once, instead of on my kitchen floor, and see a few other familiar faces from around. Me and Smalltown got right down to business, talking about the kind of things only two people like me and Smalltown can just sort of casually admit to each other. Smalltown kind of makes you feel like you have nothing to lose in this department, sometimes. I showed him the "i wanna brush ur teeth" text and he said he thought it was the most brilliant chatup line he'd ever seen. We agreed to disagree.

Of course, it took me all of thirty seconds upon entering the bar to notice that The Bar Tender has been replaced with a seriously adorable kid in a beanie with glasses and a Sex Pistols t shirt. He waved at Smalltown when we walked in and I was just like, "Who the fuck is that?"

"Liz."

"No I'm just saying. I haven't been here in like a month and [The Bar Tender] pulled some kind of Benjamin Button stunt or what? Who is that?"

"He's some new kid. Since they're opening the new place, [The Bar Tender] is gone all the time. I think he's here to stay, but listen Liz, don't even think about it. It's not a good match."

"I don't... I didn't say anything about a match, alright? Just calm down....... so why isn't it a good match?"

"He seems like the player type, if you ask me."

"Why? Did he say something?"

"No. Just the extroversion.... the overly friendly personality..."

I glanced over at him to try and size him up. He saw this and gave the most ridiculous cheesy smile/overly enthusiastic wave/bow combo from across the bar. I laughed and gave a slight nod in return.

"Wait. You're basing this on him being friendly? Get the fuck out. Anyway, even if he is a player. I mean it's understandable. Look at him -- he's cute as hell. He's definitely got a girlfriend."

"Liz...."

Smalltown had some important girlfriend-based problems he was trying to discuss with me and was not amused by the fact that I had gotten distracted. "No. I hear you. I do. But you know, even if he is a player, all the better."

"What?! You hate that kind of...."

"No. I mean like the gross ones who think they're super hot and get off on mistreating and upsetting women, that's one thing. But the ones who just are that way. I mean, you can't get upset about it."

"What are you even talking about right now? Are you telling me you don't get jealous? That's bullshit. And anyway, with that kid, I just know there would be all kinds of games and drama and you wouldn't be able to tolerate it for five seconds."

"No of course I get jealous. Just not in a situation where I expect there to be other girls from the start. And... wait what do you mean games and drama?"

"He's definitely the type to not text for a week just to stir up trouble and psych you out."

"Oh whatever. Like I'm not familiar with that game."

"Yeah but you hate that shit."

"Yeah, I hate it. But it doesn't get to me. Other than just being irritated."

"You are pretty fucking stubborn."

"Right. There's no way anyone can win that game with me anyway, so it's fine."

"But... why are we even talking about this? I still don't get why you say a player is better than a nice guy."

"I'm not saying 'better' -- just easier."

"Oh, this I have to hear...."

"No I mean, think about it. With a player, you know exactly what you're getting. You know exactly what to expect, and you know exactly how much of what comes out of their mouths you can trust. With a nice guy.... now, see it's the nice guys that really make me uncomfortable."

"WHY?"

"Because with a nice guy, you always have to wonder, 'Is he really a nice guy, or is he a player and I've fallen for it?'"

"....Oh. That makes sense, actually."

"See? Oh man wait I have to go. Watch my beer!"

The kid, who we'll call CP, had stepped out on the porch for a smoke break. This was my chance.

"Wait! Hey! Am I not invited?!"

"Come if you want to! I just have to...."

Jesus. The boys are all on board for me helping them out with the girls, which they often fucking need, by the way, due to the fact that a group of drunk foreign men swaggering over to a table of Korean women in a bar aren't always thought to be the most upstanding guys -- it helps a lot to have a girl (space) friend to go over and smooth things over, start the conversation first. Especially when that girl can speak a hell of a lot more Korean than they can. But in the rare instance when the situation's reversed, they can't seem to do anything but whine.

Well, you know what they say. You want a job done right.....

I stepped out on the porch and CP immediately leaned over to light my cigarette. "You shouldn't doing yourself...."

"Huh?"

"Ah. Eesh.... nothing."

"Thank you."

"Oh it's my pleasure! Where are you from?"

"The US."

"Ah! The US....A! United States.... of America?"

"Right. Aren't you cold?" He had his sweater up around his neck and his arms covered with nothing but a t shirt.

"Oh... my.... body is not cold. But my neck." He cuddled down into the sweater. "My neck gets very cold."

At this point I noticed that he has the adorable habit of only making a couple of seconds of eye contact before blinking like mad, raising his eyebrows and looking away.

"So, are you a student?"

"No, no. Just I am working.... here...."

"Hm."

"And I like to play sports."

"Oh really? What sports do you like?"

He looked off into the middle distance and counted on his fingers: "I like riding a motorcycle, swimming, and reading a book."

"Oh yeah?"

"Hobbies!" He grabbed my arm. "Those are my hobbies!"

"Haha. Hobbies. Right. 취미." Player? Are you serious? Like hell, he is.

"Especially I like riding a motorcycle. When you have that underneath you, in your head... the power... just bang!" Biggest, most childish grin I've ever seen on anyone over the age of 21. You've got to be fucking kidding me.

We went back inside.

Smalltown: "You little fucking minx....."

"What? He's not a player, by the way."

Later that night, Smalltown's friend who's wanted to meet me for some time finally stopped by. She's cool as hell. She'll be JH and you'll definitely be hearing more about her. She knows I want to learn Korean, so when she speaks to me, she speaks in Korean first, and then repeats it in English -- the most helpful thing I've experienced yet. She was wrapped up in some drama with an American halfsie (mother Korean, father American) who was acting like an ass. We got talking about men and it was seriously nice not to be having that conversation with a guy for once. I explained the players-are-easier theory to her so she could confirm this with Smalltown, who was still in shock and awe of the whole thing, and she said she had never, ever thought of it that way before, but that I was exactly right.

Then she caught me perving on CP. "You know him well?"

"Nah, tonight's my first time to see him. But he's fucking cute, isn't he?"

"Yes! I'm so surprised you can see that!"

"What?"

"Most Western girls can't see when a Korean man is good looking. Just, they don't like them. Even if they really are good looking."

"Well, they're stupid."

"You want him?"

"Nonono. Just met him tonight. Don't know anything about him. I'm just looking. Anyway, I'm sure he has a girlfriend."

"Don't be so sure."

When he came over to bring our drinks, she asked him in Korean if he had a girlfriend. He went bright red and sort of hid his face in his sweater and answered that he didn't. She then asked him if he was 바람둥이 and he almost fell over with embarrassment, denying it. I pretended not to understand the whole exchange. When he walked away, JH turned to me and said, "알았어?"

"Yeah."

There were a couple of other foreign guys we know from around in at that point, and when we went out for a smoke, they were asking what the whole exchange was about. "Oh just I think that guy behind the bar is cute, so she was asking about if he had a girlfriend or not."

"Wait... she thinks that guy is cute (pointing to the Korean girl)?"

Now, these guys have seen me in there on several different nights with The Baby, The Baby's friend, The Korean Bodybuilder, The Boxer and various other Korean guys. And they're good guys. But somehow they still can't get it through their heads that it's possible for a Western woman to find a Korean man attractive.

"No. I do."

"Oh... you do? Oh yeah. That's cool.... likin' the Korean guys. That's totally cool."

"What?"

Other guy: "Man that guy is like totally gay!"

"Yeah I have to go now. You guys have a good night. I'll see you soon."

This morning I got a text from JH:

"안녕. 어제 잘 놀았어? 그 남자 제정신 아니야ㅠㅠ 나중에 설명해줄께^^ㅋ 너 시간날때 만나자. i was too shocked! u'll be surprised how crazy he is."

"언니 안녕하세요! 그 남자 나쁜놈이야? you'll be surprised how not surprised ill be. 한국에 외국 미친놈 많이 있어요. 다음 시간에 난 다 듣고싶어요. 언니 걱정하지마세요. there are good guys out there. somewhere. ^^"

"히히^^ 고마워 ~ 어제 잘보냈길바래. 우드스탁 자주가서 그 남자 자주 봐 ^^ㅋ 다음에 우드스탁같이가자^^"

She's a keeper.

11.28.2009

Scary text; good night.

haha cute i wanna brush ur teeth ^-^

Well, that's a.... new one.

Good lord. Deleted.

After a grueling day of scrubbing my apartment and lesson planning, it's time for a night out with the boys at the old local. Haven't been down there for roughly.... well, god, for about a month and a half. But today I think I've earned it.

Have a good night, darlin's, wherever you be.

Silence is easy.




What am I doing today? Looking like this in my pajamas and getting some serious lesson planning done. It's almost winter camp time again. Lovely. Also, hopefully finishing Murakami's Kafka on the Shores. I think this makes like the eighth Murakami book I've read since I got here.

Speaking of books, I still need to get my ass out to Kyobo. Tomorrow, probably. For now, this will do:

Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? because this storm isn't something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn't get in, and walk through it, step by step. There's no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That's the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.


11.27.2009

2 things.

1. The superintendent or some other such... whatever she fucking is canceled the meeting we were supposed to have about winter vacation on the business trip today. But she did manage to tell us that we needed to not do drugs.

Fucking bitch. Go hang yourself with your stockings.

I could get into the whole fucking issue, here, believe me -- I could. But what it all comes back to is pretty much summed up by the line above. I love my school and my co-teachers, and I mostly appreciate my district's OE, but if they say one more condescending bigoted thing at one of these meetings, I might have to write a letter or something. I'm not a goddamn teenager. Or a moron. And if you think that the people YOU are hiring and putting inside your schools to work with your children on a daily basis are the type who would come to Korea and be doing drugs, as a school teacher, willy-nilly, then you need to have a seriously condescending conversation with yourself. Not with me.

2. I don't have to do anything I don't want to do. I don't have to let anyone into my home who I don't want in my home. I don't have to see anyone I don't want to see. I'm going out with my friends tonight. Fuck the rest. No more trouble. No more pressure.

That having been said, I'm going to get a couple of hours of snoozing in now, before I head out into what is looking to be an increasingly dire weather situation. Now if only the guy selling oranges from a truck in front of my apartment would pipe down.

(And, just like magic, the speaker fades away down the street.)

11.26.2009

Love.

Well, I guess I did enough whinging on the internet the last couple of days that my nearest and dearest decided to pipe up en masse today to let me know that they're around. I'm satisfied. And feeling a lot better.

Today I also got a gift from one of Coteacher's homeroom students -- the class I'm obviously closest with. Jell-o! Strawberry. His aunt sent it from America and he shyly gave it to Coteacher to pass on to me, after consulting with her to make sure that I wouldn't think it was strange. Coteacher assured him, "She's American! It will maybe remind her of her childhood. It is a very good gift." When I went down to find him this morning and thank him, he acted like a total goose, hiding behind his friend, turning red and refusing to talk to me. Boys.

The students were WAY too amped up today, thanks to the physical tests they'd endured for the better half of the morning. I did my best to speed through the sit-still-and-listen part of the lessons, so we could get on to the part where they can talk and run around and be active. They are so completely full of joy and energy. Of all the things I'm thankful for this past year, they are definitely at the top of the list.

Today, at lunch, Coteacher told me that some of the third graders had been talking comparisons between me and the former foreign teacher. Of course, being a closeted extremely jealous person, my ears pricked up. She said that all they remembered about her was that she always carried around a 1.5 L bottle of Coca-cola (which, oddly, I've heard from other teachers before...), never took a single bite of Korean food, and that she was constantly calling them stupid. Well, what they said was that she called them stupid, and then clarified with the fact that she often said, "Why do you do such stupid things?"

Coteacher explained that they were quite offended about this, and that she tried to explain to them that she maybe didn't mean that they were stupid, but just that they are always running around, wrestling, touching each other, screaming and giggling. To her, being accustomed to Western students of the same age, the behavior maybe came across as quite childish. Their answer to this was, "Yes, but Liz Teacher never thinks we are stupid. Liz Teacher likes us." Insert ridiculous Korean emoticon ^^ thing here. I am the winner. Thank you.

It just goes to show that no matter what our impressions are, our students are extremely sensitive to our opinions of and behavior toward them. Which is why it makes me upset when I hear about foreign teachers who treat their students like a job, and nothing more. It's been over a year since that foreign teacher was in the school, and she only taught those boys for a month, yet they are still talking about this with some evident sensitivity.

In that same vein, I've had my low level second graders again this week and we keep moving further and further ahead together. This week, I decided to push them a little bit, even though, with the lower level boys, this can have some disastrous results if they aren't able to eventually succeed. They are so dead set on believing that they can't.

This week has seen me on my knees -- literally. This has a strong effect, because it's the position the teachers put the students in when they have done something that they must be shamed and apologize for. But I've found it's extremely important to get as close, physically, as I can to these students, and put myself in a physical position where I'm looking up into their eyes, rather than standing over them. It's the only way to get them to focus and stop looking off any other place that they can to avoid having to speak in English. Then, just slowly pushing for an answer to a simple question -- a question that they can understand through watching my body language alone. I won't settle for not getting an answer: "What time do you go to bed? No. Look at me. What time (watch pointing) do you go to bed (miming sleep)? (Writing in their books) 10 o'clock? 11 o'clock? 12 o'clock?" They will eventually point to a number. "11 o'clock! You go to bed at 11 o'clock? Me, too! Good job! High five! See? You can do it. Teamwork. We can do it, together. 우리는 같이 수있어요. 맞아요?" A big shoulder rub and they're all grins.

It's okay, guys. It really is okay.

I also got into it with some of my B level first graders today, who were being all goosey and shy. We've been voting on the number one robot in each class, and to stop the nonsense that was going on with unpopular boys getting low scores, and the class kings getting high ones, and to also increase the class participation of the activity, and require them to speak somewhat spontaneously, I instituted a rule that if you gave 5 points, okay. If you gave 4 points, okay. If you gave 3 points, you had to give one reason why. If you gave 2 points, you had to give 2 reasons why, and if you gave only 1 point, you had to give 3 reasons why. Because some of the students were way in the back, I couldn't hear their reasons the first time, and once I said, "What?" it was back to the typical shut-down response.

"Guys guys guys guys. Listen. This is important. (Whispering)Can you hear me right now? Can you understand what I'm saying. (Back to teacher voice) Did you understand?"

"No!"

"Why? Because I speak bad English?"

"Haha Teacher no!"

"No? Why not then?"

"Teacher voice very small!"

"Right! And when you speak English, sometimes you get shy. And your voice is very small, too. And then I can't hear you. It's not bad English -- your English is very good! But I can't hear you, sometimes. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Haha yes Teacher!"

"Okay. So. When I say, 'What?' don't get all shy and go (hiding my face in my jacket). Okay?"

"Okay!"

Love.

11.25.2009

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

In a correction to the previous post, I would just like to say that it is NOT illegal to volunteer in the ROK on an E2 visa. Apparently, it used to be, but is not anymore. This seems to be one of those ongoing 외국인 rumors. There seem to be a few nice opportunities out there for foreigners who want to volunteer (including an organization called H.O.P.E, which seeks to offer English learning opportunities for those young people in Seoul whose families cannot afford to compete), but I feel like I haven't hit upon exactly what I'm looking for yet. Although I'm down with teaching English, I can't help but feel like it might not be the best idea, given my current workload, to take on more lesson planning and classroom time at the moment. I really don't want to get burnt out. And I would like to find something that's at least a little bit of a change of pace from what I do all day, every day.

There are always the orphanages, one of which I may take a trip to on Saturday, just to see how it is, but come on -- who doesn't want to help orphans? I'd prefer to go a less conventional route, if possible -- do something that other people don't necessarily want to do. I'm thinking juvie home/prison work, but god only knows if those kind of programs even exist in the ROK. They barely exist back home.

That one thing that just feels right hasn't jumped out at me yet. I'll keep trolling.

Other news? There's not a lot, other than a kind of general sense of blah, as things back home are not stupendous at the moment, and tomorrow is that big holiday and stuff. I've spent the last few days exchanging literally hundreds of texts with people who just don't matter to me at all. It doesn't help you to feel less lonely to have a lot of contact with people you don't care about, versus a little contact with people you do. Or at least, it doesn't help me.

Hopefully volunteering will not only help keep me out of trouble, but also help me to meet a few like-minded souls, versus the dozens of vapid Englishee half-wits I seem to be surrounded by at the moment.

Oops. I mean. Something less awful sounding than that.

Ignore me. Just a rough patch, kiddos. Once we make it through the holidays, I think things will get better.

11.24.2009

Random.

First and foremost, reposting this so that anyone who has any information (or for those of you who have more far-reaching circles, if you'd be so kind as to re-post) can help:

Saturday night around 3 am a white limousine pulled up along side my friends little sister in haebangchon when 2 Koreans/Korean Americans (spoke English) got out and forced her into the car.
There were a total of 4 guys, around 30 years of age, in the car who proceeded to try and rape her.
She fought back but because of this she got herself beaten up really badly.
They then threw her out of the moving car and was left unconscious in the street.

If you know anything about 4 guys who were out on Saturday in a white limousine please contact me.


토 요일밤(일요일 새벽) 오전 3시경 해방촌 부근에서 흰색 리무진이 제 친구의 여동생 옆에서 멈춰서더니, 2명의 한국인과 2명의 교포(영어사용)가 차에서 나와 강제로 여동생을 차에 태웠습니다. 총 4명의 남자가 있었고 나이는 30살 정도였습니다. 그들은 그녀를 강간하려고 했고 그녀는 그들과 싸웠습니다. 하지만 그 과정에서 그녀는 많이 다쳤고 그들은 그녀를 달리는 차에서 집어던졌습니다. 그녀는 무의식 상태로 길에 남겨졌습니다.
혹시 이 4명에 대해서 아시거나 목격하신 분은 저에게 연락주시기 바랍니다.



If you have any information that might help apprehend these people ,please contact laura at:

primodjp @ hotmail.com


Terrible stuff. Ladies, please remember that we're not in our hometowns anymore. I'm not an alarmist of any kind. I used to wander around Brooklyn at all hours of the morning (in all states of intoxication) completely alone. But. We are highly visible here, and the media, as foreign females, is not our friend. People know that we mostly live alone, and that our families are far, far away. Be careful, please.

In other news, my great aunt Opal has passed. I'll be spending the evening waiting for an all-clear that the family has woken up and is going about their business, so that I can make a few long distance phone calls, and try to be there for them in the only way that I can. This woman did not live an easy life, and was my grandmother's last connecting link to a life full of hardship that they had in common, and supported each other throughout. This is not going to be an easy one, and that dear woman, who has supported me through so much, has already had enough shit to swallow for ten lifetimes. The best part is that this week is Thanksgiving.

I know. I know. But sometimes you can't help but feel angry.

Whichever way you, dear readers, are inclined to send your positive thoughts, please do so.

Also: I know it's technically illegal (thanks a lot, E2 visa), but if any of you (I'm looking at you, Diana!) have an information about how to go about volunteering in this country, please leave it in the comment section below. I've already got Coteacher on board for helping me make the phone calls to the local community centers in Korean. While I'm not opposed to (and rather prefer) physical labor, I think my (lack of) Korean would probably cause too much undue stress and complication. I'm thinking along the lines of orphanage/shelter/prison/juvie home teaching, which is where I think I would be most useful. Let a girl know. I need something to get my mind off of the recent nonsense that has been festering and ballooning to ridiculous proportions over the course of the last few weeks.

Sorry things have gotten so random here. There's a lot going on at the moment, as you can guess. We'll get back to our regular scheduled programming soon, I hope.

In the spirit of gossip, to feed your weary little souls, I'll recount the ridiculousness that has begun to spring up between me and my male co-teacher.

This guy's been dead awkward since he first arrived in March, save for the one business trip we took together, which saw me chattering incessantly in some sort of freakishly overly socially adept version of my normal, bordering-on-awkward, reserved personality -- I had been dreading the business trip for weeks. And while I usually just let awkwardness ride, I knew I would be co-teaching with him soon and really didn't want the awkwardness to carry over to class, where our delicate little orchid students would be sure to pick up on (and feed off of) it. So I tried. Really hard. And it was a nice day. That saw him admitting (for some reason) that Brokeback Mountain is one of his favorite movies of all time (hey, at least we know he doesn't have the Korean homophobe gene).

Then we started teaching together. It's been pretty good, so far. The students don't fuck around with the male teachers as much. Soon came the weird "I want to take you to an island on the weekend in my car to eat eel" invitations, which, although I wasn't exactly pissing myself with excitement about the idea, I was willing to tolerate for the sake of classroom serenity. But, it came right around the time I was preparing to go home for a visit, and things kept popping up on the weekends, so I had to keep postponing. Finally, while we were recording the third graders' listening test together in the media room after school one day, he kind of exploded with, "I just want to take you for nice meal!"

Um. Okay. But I'm leaving for the US on Friday. Sorry?

Now he's started hanging around after our classes finish to talk, and things have been pretty normal. He broke a rib doing some kind of martial arts (???) last week and, when I asked how he was feeling the next day, gave me absolutely no warning before lifting up his entire shirt to show me how his lower torso was wrapped with a bandage. Thank god no students were walking past outside. Then came, "Christmas makes me so sad because is couples' day and I don't have any girlfriends" and "So, do you have plans for Christmas?"

And today, we got to talking about some of the students who have been passed up to him (B level) from the other young co-teacher (C level), not because their English has improved, but because they were causing too much damn trouble. Suddenly, what were the loudest students in my C classes have become the most depressed, mopey students in my B classes. I commented to him that they knew Super Fun Time was officially over.

The look on his face told me he hadn't taken it as the compliment I had intended -- I know how to make sure the students have a good time in class, but my discipline skills are still lacking. I need him there for that. It took me a good half of class today to get them with their heads up off their desks and participating with interest, but I can manage that. What I can't manage is to conduct a truly smooth class with these assclowns climbing all over everything and shouting out, "HEY MAN!" and other various random English phrases whenever the fancy strikes them.

Anyway, he suddenly asked me if I was a good student when I was in school. Which he has actually asked me before. I hesitated to answer -- I never disrupted classes or showed disrespect to my teachers. I never felt the need to draw attention to myself. And I always, always made top scores. But. I wasn't exactly every teacher's favorite student -- I made a habit of missing class whenever I could get away with it, and some teachers were infuriated at my ability to find ways around the attendance system, and still make top scores, so that I couldn't be penalized. I was never outright disrespectful, but there are at least a few teachers who I know remember me for my defiance, anyway.

After that, he asked about how my Korean is coming along. I explained how my listening has continued to improve bit by bit, but that I still can't make myself speak. I mentioned listening in on conversations with S and C, and he asked, "Oh. One of them is your boyfriend? Do you have a boyfriend in Korea?" Which is sort of one of those bombs of a question, that's hard to follow up on and can quickly disrupt the flow of the conversation. Especially when the answer is, "No."

"Oh. Not yet?"

Something about "not yet" tickled me. I still haven't worked out exactly what it was, but at any rate, I let out a pretty genuine, spontaneous laugh and said, "No. Not yet." At which point he went a bit red, and repeated the phrase back to himself, thinking he had done something strange with his English.

Awkward silence. And then, "When did you first know you wanted to be a teacher?" Sometimes talking to him feels like filling out a survey, but I appreciate his intentions to manage to make something other than small talk during our ten minute breaks between classes. It came out, at this point, that he wanted to be a writer. Oh. Me, too. Have you ever written a poem? Actually, that's what I majored in. Oh. Do you keep a journal on the internet?

Haha. No. I definitely do not. Too many people can read the internet. Why would I do a stupid thing like that?

11.23.2009

Flush.

Um. No.

You're not coming over to my apartment for "pijjah" and a movie at 11 o'clock at night on a Monday. Call back on Friday, and you might get lucky.

What the fuck is up with this lately? And what, exactly, would happen if I tried to flush my phone down the toilet?

100% work post.

This post is completely, 100% about working as a NSET in the ROK. Another foreign teacher on Dave's posted a student's survey for a story she is doing for the school paper. I thought there were some pretty interesting questions, and wanted to re-post my responses here, for anyone who is looking to come over, and for general interest for those of you who are already here. Also, I'd love to hear what any one of you may have to say on any of these subjects as well.

If you are one of those "normal" people reading this, who are not involved in the EFL profession, feel free to bypass entirely. By the way, I think it would be great if those of you who have time to complete the survey would do so and email it on to the students. Here she is:


Hello, we're the student reporters from the 'Hankyoreh' newspaper. We're planning to write a feature article for our newspaper's education section '함께하는 교육'. The subject of it is "Korean schools and students through foreign teachers' eyes". As one of the foreign teachers in Korea, please write about honestly what you have been felt while teaching and living in Korea. We're going to write an article about the cultural diversity and tolerance based on your statement. The article will be published on our newspaper on 30th Nov.

If you have any questions, you can easily contact us through e-mail or cell phone. Our email address is (san903@naver.com), and our phone number is (010-8909-4671). Thank you very much for participating in our survey....


1) Students' attitude in your classes

1. Are you satisfied with your students' behavier and attitude in your class? If you are or not, please write the reasons also.

For the most part, yes. Most of my students are extremely well-behaved, and show me a great amount of respect, even though I do not have the same authority as the Korean teachers. They are polite, cooperative and eager to participate, in general. Of course, there are a few problems sometimes, but that is normal.

2. What kind of students you like the most? (ex. A student who concentrates on your class, A student who is really positive)

① A student who asks unexpected questions, or shows an interest outside of the textbook material.

② A student who is not afraid to make class more interesting for everyone by giving their opinion, even though they have to do it in English, which is not always easy.

③ A student who tries, even though they know they may say something wrong and look stupid.

3. On the contrary, what kind of student you dislike the most?

① Students who distract other students in any way.

② Students who interrupt class with disrespectful behavior.

③ Students who won't try.

4. Can you remember your first class in Korea? Please describe it. Besides, please tell us what the most difficult problem was.

I don't remember my first class, exactly. But I certainly remember my first week. I was terrified. I was a teacher back in my home country, but to very small groups of adults. I am actually a very, very shy person. Standing in front of forty strangers at one time and having everyone looking at me was not easy. It took me a long time to feel comfortable speaking in front of my classes.

5. If that problem was solved, please tell us what you did to do so.

Try, try and try again. I pretended to be brave until I wasn't scared anymore.

6. Did you get any help with your difficulties? If so, please tell us in detail what kind of help your school gave you. If you think your school is lack of such consideration, please write about it also.

I am a very lucky foreign teacher. I have a very kind and considerate school, which is why I signed a contract for another year at the same school. I haven't had any major problems at my school to begin with, but my co-teachers and the other Korean teachers are always worried about my well-being and happiness. If I have any problems, I know I can always ask them for help -- if that is with the students' discipline, or a lesson plan that I can't find a good idea for, or with reading a bill that's in Korean. They always make sure I am well-fed, and even took me to buy a winter coat when the weather turned colder.

7. Working as a foreign teacher in Korea, please tell us honestly about what you were concerned about the most. What has caused such a concern of the Korean students' characteristics?

My biggest concern with my students in general is how much stress they are under. I see them working so hard to keep up, studying for hours and hours everyday. I work at a middle school, so my oldest students are under a lot of pressure right now, trying to get into good high schools.

My biggest concern with my students and English is how doubtful they are about their speaking skills. Many of them, I know, can speak quite well, or a lot better than they think -- I can see this, because I am a native speaker. But they are too afraid to try in a lot of cases, and let the fear stop them from saying what they want to say. They also often worry about giving the "wrong" answer, without realizing that, although you may make mistakes while you are speaking English, you cannot give a really "wrong" answer -- you are just talking about yourself and your opinions. Every answer is right.

8. Have you ever felt like being ignored by Korean students? If so, please explain the situation in detail.

Yes, of course. Students are supposed to ignore teachers at least some of the time -- it's their job. However, being the foreign teacher, it can happen more often. I have had some students who I thought were sort of trouble makers, who would turn away and completely ignore me when I came to speak to them. They would do so with a kind of disrespect, which made me think they were just bad students. But after taking some time to get to know them, I have found out that a lot of them were just afraid that they wouldn't be able to understand what I said, or give an answer in English, and they didn't want to look stupid in front of their friends. I have to be patient, in these cases, I have realized.

9. Do you think a foreign teacher's classes have helped Korean students improve their English? If so or not, what makes you think so? Please write your opinions about it.

I can't really answer that. I have only been teaching in Korea for 13 months -- not long enough to see a huge difference. This, really, is a question for the students, not the teachers, in my opinion. I will say that my students have become a lot less shy about speaking English since I arrived. Before, they had never spoken English outside of a class assignment. And certainly never to a native speaker. They would literally run away when they saw me coming. Now, they have casual conversations with me everyday in English. They have confidence now, because they have seen that they can speak to me in English and I can understand them. They know that they CAN speak English.

(2) About your life in Korea

1. Please introduce yourself briefly. (name, age, country, etc.) How long have you been here in Korea? When did you start working as a foreign teacher?

My name is . I am from the USA, originally. I am 24 years old, 25 Korean age. I have been in Korea for 13 months, and working as a foreign teacher for just as long.

2. What did you major in? Before you applied for your current position, what did you do? Also, please tell us what made you apply for a job in Korea.

I majored in poetry at university. Before I applied to be a teacher in Korea, I was an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher to university students in Brooklyn, New York. I worked at an art school, and I helped the students who did not speak native English write their papers and understand their lectures and materials from their regular classes, as well as helping them with their artist statements for their exhibitions and doing conversation sessions, to help them with speaking English in their personal lives.

I really loved teaching ESL, but it's hard to make enough money with that job to stay living in New York City. Basically, I had a choice: I could give up teaching English and start work at an office job in Manhattan with a great salary, that I would have hated, or I could go somewhere else and teach English. Most of my students at the time were Korean (almost 90%), so after talking to them for a while, I decided to move to Korea.

3. What have you thought about Korea? Is there any difference between your thoughts about Korea before you came to Korea and those from your real experience in Korea?

The only thing I really knew about Korea before I came to Korea, was my students. I had become very close friends with some of them, and enjoyed working with them a lot. I heard a lot about Korea from them -- mostly that it moved really fast (the first Korean I learned was still in New York -- 빨리 빨리!). Of course, you can never expect what it will be like in another country before you live there. Now that I have lived here for over a year, I feel very close to Korea. A lot of things have become very normal to me, that were very strange at first. It's hard to even remember what I thought of Korea before.

4. While working at school, have you ever gone through any difficulties with your Korean colleagues? How important do you think your Korean colleagues' help is for you to settle down to Korea? Please describe what you want from them.

I think your Korean colleagues are extremely important to your first adjustment in Korea. At first, my co-teacher didn't really know what to do with me, and was a little bad at giving me information. The work culture is very different from my home country, but I didn't know this at first. I took a lot of things personally, because I didn't understand Korean work culture yet. The best think Korean colleagues can do for foreign teachers to help them is to give them as much information as possible -- even if that information is, "I don't know yet." Sometimes, because we can't understand the language, we feel a little left out. And when things change at the last minute, we think nobody bothered to tell us. But really, it's just that nobody knew anyway. Just knowing that you are not the last person to know something, or that your co-workers aren't leaving out information on purpose can help a lot.

5. Have you ever seen other foreign teachers who suffered from cultural differences or difficulties in adjusting to the Korean culture? If you have, could you please describe more about those cases in detail?

I came to Korea with a very close friend of mine. He had a very, very hard time adjusting to Korea. One thing to remember is that a lot of the foreign teachers are not just adjusting to a new country and culture, but also a new job at the same time. My friend had never been a teacher before, and didn't know anything about it. When you have stress from work, and stress in your personal life (from culture shock, and trying to make new friends in a place that you don't really understand yet), it can become a very serious situation. Suddenly something as small as not knowing which weighing station to take your potatoes to at the grocery store, and not being able to ask in Korean, can turn into something that ruins your day. My friend went back to New York and has had some time to think about his time here in Korea. Now, he is even talking about maybe coming back.

Moving to a new country is not easy. I have seen a lot of people who have been a lot worse than my friend. They weren't ready for all of the differences, and all of the small things that would suddenly become hard to do, or understand. There are some really unhappy foreigners in Korea. It's not necessarily Korea's fault, or their fault -- they just haven't adjusted well, or weren't prepared for the trouble they would have.

6. What you think the Korean government should do when they recruit foreign teachers and appoint them to each school to help them settle down without a hitch and develop teaching skills?

I think the Korean government first and foremost needs to start preparing the schools to receive foreign teachers better. There needs to be a program for Korean teachers who WANT to be handlers for foreign teachers, who go to training before the foreign teachers arrive, and are prepared for all of the extra work they will have to do, as well as some of the main cultural differences they will have to deal with from and explain to their foreign teachers. Right now, it seems like the school just picks some unlucky teacher and makes them take over this position, without giving them any preparation for what's about to happen. They are already busy, tired, overworked and stressed out. Some of them have never even talked to a foreigner before. Having a handler who is prepared to take you on makes a world of difference for an arriving foreign teacher.

7. Korea is well-known for the high expenditure of its private tutoring and dog-eat-dog competition for the university entrance exam. While teaching at a Korean school, do you think there is any strength about Korean education system? What do you think are the problems of the Korean education system?

I work at an all-boys middle school, and the difference that I love the most from our Western school system is how the students and teachers seem almost like family. In the West, by middle school, you don't even have a main class anymore -- you go to every class by yourself, with different people in each one. You are much more alone, in this way. Here, the students have a homeroom class that they can become close with, and a homeroom teacher who knows them well and who is there to support them. It's an important time in a young person's life, and I think having this kind of system can help a lot, especially since they are under so much stress. Imagine how bad it would be if they didn't have a homeroom teacher, or their classmates to rely on.

I think the biggest problem in the Korean education system is the amount of pressure on students who are so young. Some of my students, at fourteen years old, feel like they have already failed at life, because their grades aren't good enough to get into a good high school. I think that's too young to have that kind of pressure.

8. Do you think you have been successfully adapted to the Korean school? If you don't think you're been successful, please describe the reasons.

I think I have adjusted very well. There were some things that were very hard in the beginning, but I have had good co-teachers and Korean friends to help me see and understand the differences, and I have been willing to change my mind about a lot of things, in order to adapt to the new environment. I am very happy in my work life, and at my school. I hope to stay for as long as they will have me.

This is the end of our survey. Thank you very much for your responses.

11.22.2009

Other Asian.

So I'm watching Glee. Because I'm that person. And there he is -- Harry Shum jr. Get this: Chinese, but born in Costa Rica. He can dance. I mean, really. Unfortunately, the show hasn't really taken advantage of that yet.

It's funny because his character is known on the show as "Other Asian" -- as in, there is a more primary character who is already known as "Asian". While that's pretty much what the show has made of him, you have to at least admire the not-so-subtle jibe. Research into his other roles will show other mostly non-speaking dancing parts, and such quintessential roles as Chinese food delivery boy.

Sigh. We'll get there someday. Maybe he'll have a chance to play a doctor or a mystical martial arts expert soon.

11.21.2009

Dying in a rice paddy; not part of "the plan".

For some reason, this trip to Vietnam over winter vacation has got me a little nervous. I don't know why, when Europe didn't worry me that much. I think it's because somehow I vaguely knew what to expect from Paris, and I knew I would be well taken care of by the lovely Iva once I made it to Vienna. Although the first leg was completely solo, I knew I had her just an overnight train ride through Germany away, if anything went awry.

But Liz, you might say, you packed up your bags and moved to South Korea to live without having a fucking clue.

Yeah. But we English teachers are completely babysat upon arrival. While it was a whole other set of worries (and they did exist), it wasn't wandering off to some place where I don't speak the language to fumble my way through two weeks of having absolutely no idea what the hell is going on.

God. I hate admitting this. It makes me feel like such a loser. But I think it goes back to a conversation I had with a friend recently about how, as English teachers in Korea, living this lifestyle, we could basically die alone in our apartments and it could be a good fucking while before anyone even knew about it. Okay, like only maybe a few days. But still. It made me realize that, although I've been away from my family for getting damn on near a decade now, I've always, always had someone who knew where I was and what I was doing at any given moment. Until now.

After Mike left the ROK, that gig was up. Which is not to say that I've become some kind of freak shut-in or anything, but there isn't that one person who's always got tabs on me. I talk to my family and people back home(/other various places) infrequently, and while a few people here might get a bit worried after a few days of not hearing from me, no one would probably think anything of it, other than just assuming I was a bit busy.

Well god that's depressing. Anyway, my point is, while I've done almost all of my (little) international traveling technically alone, I've also always been meeting various loved ones along the route who helped me figure out such asinine things as which fucking coins to put into the slot on the bus (thanks again, G Man). I really don't want to end up dead in some fucking rice paddy and become some sort of international 30 second news blurb or something. Or actually, I just don't want to get lost somewhere and have a crappy vacation because I have no way of getting out of it, or no one there to help me get my dumbass out of it.

Which means I need to rein in my usual "I'll figure it out when I get there!" tendencies and actually plan this motherfucker, probably. But god, it's so boring.

Also, I don't know why I do these things, but some guy from some "language exchange" site (don't fucking ask) might be coming up from Daejon next weekend to meet me. This was not my fucking idea, obviously. I don't really understand where it's come from. But I think I'll probably end up letting it happen. So, really, we've come full circle -- if I don't update this blog by the following Monday, you are all obligated to call the police, because I probably got serial killed.

I think I need to go to bed now.

PS -- Random Guy From WS That I Can't Remember: Stop calling me. I'm not stupid. When you only call a girl you met at a bar after midnight, she's usually able to suss what's going on. It's not going to happen. Even if I can't remember you, I know I haven't met anyone good looking/interesting enough for that recently....

11.19.2009

All I need is Magnes.

I heart the Magnes. And he's being an unbearable tease these days, with the "I'm coming back to Korea" lines. I could really use that kid around these days. There are the people you sort of get and who sort of get you, and there are the people who you mostly get, and who mostly get you. And then there are the ones you know you can say basically anything to, and they'll get it, even before you finish the sentence.

Pressure.

I'm officially really digging challenging the hell out of my hellish, not-so-little-anymore high level second graders. They've been bored in their English classes for ages, and I realized this week that, although we have a lot of little random conversations while I walk around during their boring scripted speaking drills, I've never really pushed them that hard on their listening comprehension and spontaneous spoken responses. And it's even better that they aren't expecting it. It captivates the entire table. When the one student I've chosen to begin with freezes up on a question, another who understood will inevitably jump in, and then I'll switch to him. The end result is a round of "ooooooooooh!"s and high fives when we reach the end. They love squirming under the pressure.

This week, one of the dumbass examples in the book is, "What time does the movie end?/At 9 o'clock." And you wonder why they aren't foaming at their mouths in anticipation of this class? Ee-gads. At first, they think I'm just running the basic drills, but it quickly escalates:

"Park Ingyoo... what time does the movie end?"
"At 9 o'clock."
"Okay. If the movie ends at 9 o'clock, what time does the movie start?"
"Uh... uh..... at seven o'clock!"
"Okay. So. If the movie starts at 7 o'clock, what time should we go to the theater?"
"Uh..... uh...."
"Listen. The movie starts at 7 o'clock. Right?"
"Right...."
"But. We have to buy tickets, buy popcorn, use the bathroom, and find our seats. So. What time should we go to the theater?"
"Oh! At half past six!"
"Right! So. Should we have dinner before or after the movie?"
"Oh my god...."
"Listen again. Should be have dinner BEFORE or AFTER the movie?"
"After!"
"Oh! A late dinner? Okay. What should we eat?"
"Neh?"
"Should we eat bulgogi? Dakgalbi?"
"Oh! We should eat kimchi jjigae!"
"Kimchi jjigae!? Is dakgalbi too expensive?"
"Yes!"
"Hey."
"Neh?"
"Congratulations. You can make a date with a girl in English."

Whole table: "OOOOOOOOH! CONGRATULATIONS!" High fives, etc.

My poor third graders. They're a bunch of little storm clouds these days, being under the pressure of just having gone through exams, and now applying to high schools. They have about three months of the good life of middle school left, and then they all know it's the doomed march straight on to the hell that is high school in this country. Today, two of the boyfriend crew came in to visit me during lunch. I was sorting through papers at the desk and they were sitting on either side of me. They weren't chattering away to each other in Korean like they usually are.

Suddenly, this cold dead feeling hit up against me from the right. It's been an age since I've gotten a physical vibe off of someone like that. I shuddered and jumped a bit to the left. The student on the left said, "Oh! Teacher, why doing that?"

I looked at the student on the right. "You... you are really stressed right now, aren't you?"

"How you know, Teacher?!"

"Listen. Do you know the word 'sensitive'?"

He looked at his friend: "Sensitive 뭐야?"

I answered for him: "It's sort of... I think 민감한? Is that right?"

"어. 민감한. 맞아요."

"Anyway, I'm sensitive. I just got this really cold feeling from you. Really bad energy. What is that?"

Student on the left: "YES! Teacher he bad energy today! Really bad feeling!"

"Why?"

He told me how he's stressed out because of his exam results, and because in January, his family is moving a couple of towns south, and how he's nervous about moving away from all of his friends and starting at a new school. Then they both started to talk about high school and how scared they are about it.

"Listen, boys. You know lots of stupid adults, right?"

"네?"

"Adults. You are kids. I am an adult. Grown up."

"Oh! Adult!"

"So. You know lots of stupid ones, right?"

"Haha Teacher...."

"No really! I'm making a point here. Right?"

"Yes, Teacher."

"So. They survived high school. You're not stupid. You will survive, too. Don't worry about it."

"Okay Teacher."

I went to visit my favorite Beethoven loving student today during cleaning period, too, because I knew he would be stressed out about his exam results, even though they would be close to perfect. He hates getting even one wrong answer and dwells on it for absolute ages. Sure enough, he told me all about how he missed making number one student by one question. It turns out, though, that there's a reason for this unnecessary pressure he puts on himself -- it's actually coming from his parents in the form of a bribe with a new cello. Last exam period, he made number one and the next day, the teachers reneged on an exam answer, which put him down one and another student up one. He thought he would be getting the new cello, but had it snatched out from underneath him. Bless his heart.

He went on and on about it, for nearly ten minutes. I finally just told him, you can't go backwards. It's finished. You can't change it. Just look forwards -- not back. Then he started to tell me that he wants to go to a normal high school in the area, with his friends, but his parents are making him go to "very study hard high school" instead. I know in the end, it will probably be better for him, in terms of university entrance and his future. It can't be an easy call to make as a parent. But. But but but.

These kids are just too damn young for this kind of pressure.

In other news, I saw my one male co-teacher's bare torso today and he asked me if I was free on Christmas, after telling me that he hates Christmas because it's a couples day and he never has a girlfriend. This is headed in an interesting and awkward direction. The teachers' trip at the end of the semester is starting to have a lot of potential. I have a feeling I'll have a real chance to test my Korean. Better study up. How do you say, "So who wants to bunk with me?" in Korean?

Just kidding! Yeehaw
.

11.18.2009

Liz is kind of a bitch; so is The Baby; head-ass game.

Oh me oh my. What is with the 'tude, lately, kiddos? My Mondays and Tuesdays seem to have lodged themselves in permanent Liz-is-such-a-fucking-bitch mode. I really don't know what it could be, since I've got my after school classes firmly reigned in, and even my second graders are starting to play right into my hands. It's not that work is that stressful. But my patience is on seriously low supply these days. Which is not good when you work with children all day long.

Look, boys. Liz Teacher loves you. Really. But Liz Teacher is in dire need of about six cups of coffee, eleven cigarettes and neat glass of scotch or seven at the moment. Please do not pull on my sweater. Please do not play with my hair. Please stop shouting, "샘! 샘! 샘! 샘! 샘!"

I think I'm just simply not getting enough sleep. Since Smalltown picked up a girlfriend, he's been over every week on weeknights to catch up. Which is fine, except that he's hagwon, and doesn't even get off work until 10:30. I really miss him, and don't get the kind of conversation I can have with him anywhere else, so I don't want to pass up the chances to hang out and talk. But God help me.

My big plan was to get a full, whopping seven hours of sleep last night, but that got blown all to hell by The Baby and his adolescent dramatics. I guess that's not really fair, considering that once I got to the bottom of all the "noona"s and "I miss you"s, it came out that his "friend went to the heaven." Fuck sake. What do you say back to that? Apparently, after I refused to come out, he phoned Smalltown with some seriously hyperactive behavior and Smalltown hung up on him, after they got into a little tiff, resulting in the "(SMALLTOWN) IS A BAD FRIEND" text.

Don't think I didn't think about it, Dear Reader. The thought did run through my mind -- Look. It's midnight and it's cold as shit outside. I'm not going out to the bar. I'm going to bed. But. If you want. If you want you can....

No. Stop right there. No more random little university boys in the bed. Especially not the semi-alcoholic, emotionally damaged variety. I'm all noona-ed out. I've got a hell of a reputation for picking up what are commonly referred to amongst my nearest-and-dearest as "lost boys". I feel somehow personally responsible for every waify little doe-eyed, directionless, artistically inclined male nymph that crosses my path. Like God put me on this earth specifically to deal with them. But those ain't the facts, my lovelies. And I'm tired. And too old for this baloney.

Hell, it's not even interesting anymore. I can trace the lines almost a decade into the future, right down to the very last detail.

In other news, with the third graders leaving at the half day because of exams, the first graders have taken over the EOZ during lunchtime. Today they showed me this, which I think I'll call the head-in-your-neighbor's-ass game:




Fun!

11.17.2009

Um.

The Universe is having another one of those weird swings I guess. I just attempted to go to bed and about sixteen things happened on my phone all at once. The Baby's at it again: "WHERE R U??" "WHY YOU NOT WOODSTOCK THESE DAYS??" And when all else fails, he goes in for the big N: "누나 보고싶어요 ㅠ.ㅠ" And when that still didn't work, "(SMALLTOWN) IS BAD FRIEND."

Reply: "Why?"

"SORRY MY MISTAKE. JUST I NEED PERSON TO TALK."

Lovely.

And I officially had my very first, "Sorry... but how do I know you?" conversation as a result of handing out the phone number in bars. I have no fucking clue who this guy is. I noticed a missed call at 4:53 am on Sunday morning that must have woken me up and then I forgot about it. He phoned back tonight. Something about Woodstock and meeting tomorrow. I pretended not to understand and said, "Oh yeah talk to you later! Have a great night!" and hung up.

Bugh.

In other news, meteor shower! Everyone should check it out....

Christmas in Jeju?/Vietnam. Again.

So, our dear Willie has sent me a message that's made me realize that (hello) the holidays and, more importantly, vacation time are just around the corner. These things always sneak up on me. I get too dug in at work and work is all I can see -- I forget that any vacation time is ever, ever coming again.

W's headed to Jeju-do for Christmas and New Year's and I'd love to join him, honestly. I haven't been yet, and maybe it's just all the harking the locals do about Jeju-do being Korea's Hawaii, but I have images in my head of some kind of year-round tropical paradise where it's always 85 degrees and sunny. Obviously that's not the factual state of things, but this recent cold snap has partially frozen my brain and it's all I can think about.

So I went ahead and pestered Coteacher about what our school's schedule will be, exactly, in the coming few months. The trouble is, I only get one day off for Christmas (Christmas), and then I have to be back at work on Monday. Then, Tuesday is apparently an overnight teachers' trip, which, if not attended, may mean three days in the freezing ass school by myself. Then one more day off for New Year's and that's it. Which means if I do go to Jeju-do, I only have a three day weekend to do it. And I'd probably have to travel ON Christmas day. Fantastic.

I'm not looking forward to Christmas, though. Not that I ever really am. The only good thing about it Stateside was that I got to make the trek from NYC to Texas to visit my family. Now, I don't even get that. I realize that I live in a different country now -- one I'm lucky even acknowledges Christmas at all. But it is hard to adjust to it just being a one-off, one day minor celebration, instead of the really crucial family holiday that it is back home. As I've tried to explain to many a Korean, not being with your family on Christmas is basically considered the saddest, most pathetic thing that could happen to a person back home.

Anyway. I need to learn how to fucking make up my mind about these things. My actual vacation will have to happen sometime after the first of January and before the eighth of February. And I really, honest to God, hope to make it to Vietnam (and possibly also Cambodia) this time. That's in two months. TWO MONTHS. Earth to Liz. Get your shit together.

When I first set out to move to the ROK, I had visions of skipping off to globetrot every chance I got -- that was one of the major advantages of the decision: 1. being in a completely different part of the world, where I would be close to many places I wanted to visit and 2. finally having enough money to make that possible. But. Then I arrived. And I got far more sucked into my job and my life here than I ever really intended to. So now vacation rolls around and I'm like a 45 year old who just wants to lounge around my apartment in my pajamas, catch up on a few classic novels, see movies in the middle of a weekday and sleep past 8 in the morning.

One thing I know by now, however, is that when I do stay in the ROK during a vacation, I eventually start to go stir-crazy and cause a lot more trouble for myself than is necessary. I'm trying my damndest to stay on the straight-and-narrow these days, and away from that kind of meaningless nonsense. So I guess I should be off to Kyobo this weekend to pick up a guidebook on Southeast Asia. Nonsense doesn't count if happens in another country, right?

Oh. I've got a lot of work to do. It's just too damned cold. For tonight, anyway, after a ridiculously ill-made decision to have company over until past midnight last night, despite being exhausted to begin with, I think I'll just crank up the ondol, lay a mat over the warm spot and watch a stupid teen movie from the mid-90s that I've seen probably close to a hundred times. I'm also going to try to figure out how to prepare some preposterous instant meal purchased from the local GS25 for dinner.

I am an adult. A woman -- not a bachelor. Some of this shit has got to stop.

11.16.2009

On my toes.

Well, lovelies. I had a 나이스 weekend. That only a little bit involved a bar, and not talking to boneheaded, personality disordered randoms.

First order of business is to pimp the new Mexican restaurant in Bucheon. It was totally empty on a Friday night, which is a sin against mankind (and the very kind owner who handles absolutely everything himself, cooks like a total pro and gave us tortilla soup on the house).

Here's the deal kiddos: Take the train (line 1) to Sognae station. Go out exit 2 and walk toward the Toona building (in front and to the right if you are facing away from the exit 2 steps). Walk past the Toona building in a direct line away from the station (perpendicular, not parallel) past the Paris Baguette and toward an eyeglasses shop called Eyemax. Keep walking straight past the Eyemax and before you hit the next block, it will be on your right. The place is called Taco Ria -- the food is authentic, big and ridiculously well priced (5000 won for a massive beef burrito).

Please, please, please help us keep this place from closing.

That night was finished off by heading to No. 10 bar with J, C, Garfield, Smalltown and Smalltown's girl. A nice, well-rounded group, if I do say so myself.

Sunday was the Sudoguksan Museum of Housing and Living, where the shanty town lifestyle that resulted from the Japanese occupation and, later, the Korean War is preserved. One of the most interesting things I've seen since I've been in the ROK. You know your Liz. Anything to do with the disenfranchisement and suffering of the working class, and I'm right in there. Me, S, C and a guide whose name I never did catch made a (freezing ass) day of it in Dongincheon, eating a nice lunch, exploring a used bookstore, winding our way through the museum (where I got a rubberband gun just like the ones we used to get from the State Fair when we were kids) and having coffee afterward.

I really like having S around, because he always pushes the conversation forward. Conversations about a lot of things I haven't talked about in a very long time, thanks to the language barrier and a general lack of interest in such things by those around who do speak English natively. Given that S speaks both Korean and English, he enables everyone present to follow on both sides. His Korean is much easier for me to understand, being foreignly accented, and because every now and then he mixes in a English word or phrase, because he doesn't know quite how to say it in Korean. Which makes it a lot easier for me to stay tuned in when the conversation does switch to Korean, instead of getting a headache and giving up and getting bored halfway through.

I have noticed that I have a creepy tendency to stare far too intently into the face of a speaker when I'm trying to understand their Korean, though. I assured S that I'm just concentrating, and not contemplating killing him and wearing his skin or anything. My eye contact is a little strong even when I'm just casually listening to someone talk, so when things get kicked up a few notches, I can imagine it can be quite uncomfortable to be on the other side of it.

Today at school we continued working on designing our robots in my first grade classes. Such fun. I love, love, love watching those boys be creative. It makes me extremely jealous, though, that I can't teach (listen to, talk to) them in their native tongue. The third graders are stressed out and in exams, and the second graders are continuing to come around. It's funny because I've realized there are two different problems at play with the second graders, since they've been split into A and B levels. With the B levels, as I discussed previously, it's that they don't understand a goddamn word I say, and haven't been able to follow me at all. With the A levels, it's that the material is far beneath their level, and they aren't they type to suffer foolishness kindly. Now that they are split up, I'm able to address both problems, instead of being stuck somewhere in the middle, not meeting anyone's needs.

It's making the A level co-teacher a little uncomfortable, though. The students have gone completely rogue on her, and now that they are seeing me as on 'their side', they're trying to play me against her as well. I know it can't be easy seeing me get cozy with these kids who act like total little assholes to her, just because they can. And because she's old, and they can't relate to her at all. Today, one of my favorites (a kid who has some serious behavioral problems) grabbed my arm.

"Students... must... study."

"I... what?"

"Ahni... uh.... students have to study."

"Yeah. That's great. Where's your book, then?"

"No... students have to study but two students... outside."

He pointed to the hallway where the co-teacher had two of his ill-bred buddies with their arms over their heads.

"What, you think I'm going to bring them back inside and ignore the other teacher?"

"Liz Teacher very smart teacher. Liz teacher know students have to study. No go outside."

"Liz Teacher is a very smart teacher. You're right. But that teacher is a lot smarter -- she's been teaching a lot longer. She knows that those students aren't studying. They are stopping other students from studying."

"Oh...."

"You."

"Me?"

"Yes, you. You have no idea.... do you know how hard a teacher's job is? It's not easy to teach you little monsters."

"Monsters!?"

"Yes. Monsters. Every single one of you. Complete monsters."

"Oh no!"

"'Oh no!' is right. Now. Do your worksheet. Students have to study."

I also got asked how much money I make today. That was easy enough to answer: "Not enough."

Oh, six class Mondays. They keep me on my toes, they do.

Oh, noes! Photos!







11.13.2009

A classic.





Hello, dollface. You know who you are.

11.10.2009

Attitude problem.

I was really tired today. I don't have the foggiest idea why, but I was. I scared the bejesus out of one of my first grade classes, when my co-teacher left me alone with them for the first time, and they decided to test my limits. Not wise. After I had them all sitting up stick straight in their seats in total silence, I gave them the same speech I always do: "I am a friendly teacher, but I can be a scary teacher, too. Don't make me be a scary teacher. I don't like it. Don't make me angry. Okay?"

"NEH!"

My after school class had to open with some business about a reading contest that is coming up, and which of them wanted to participate. Since I had my low second graders today, I did half of my thinking in Korean, which wears me out incredibly quickly. This is having great results with the low second graders, who previously have not been able to communicate with me at all (most of them can barely even read English), but who are starting to see me as an actual human being, now that I can understand a lot of what they're saying, and they're able to communicate with me. Which has seen their behavior do a huge 180.

Today I scored extra bonus points by telling one of the super cool guys that he looked like a worm in his bright green puffy vest. Then, the cool guy table decided to show me that if I put my fingertip to one of theirs to form a triangle, and then run my fingers on my other hand down both my finger and his, it feels like an alien finger.

I'm telling you, folks. You don't get this kind of thing in a normal lifetime.

But. It exhausts me and stresses me out going back and forth between English and Korean all day. It's like trying to think with two brains at literally the same time, since one student will be asking a question in English, while the other is talking over him in Korean.

The same thing kicked up in my after school class, with about ten of them shouting out questions all at the same time, in both Korean and English. I tried to get them to settle down, to no avail, and then I freaked and slammed my hand down on the podium.

"GUYS! Today is NOT a good day for this. I am tired. You are making my head hurt with the Korean. You are high level -- you can speak English. Please don't make me understand your Korean right now."

Mr. Grumpy Pants chose this moment to prove a point and clear his throat incredibly loudly.

"이인재. 나가."

"네?"

"나가. 난 피곤해. 집에 가. 난 상관 없어."

"...네?"

"집에 가고 싶지 않아?"

"....No."

"Then be quiet. Today is not the day. You made your choice."

After work, I was going to go to a coworker's house to study with her two lovely daughters for a while. She lives in Bucheon, and I had planned on meeting C after to check out a new Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood, but when I revealed this to her when we got into the car, she freaked out and said her mother had been preparing dinner for us when we arrived.

This situation... the thing is, I've met the girls before, and they speak fluent English (after living in New York for two years), and I'm particularly fond of the older girl who is extremely bright and ambitious. The teacher offered to pay (basically proposing privates), but I sternly refused when Coteacher was trying to negotiate this. It's illegal, I said. Coteacher insisted that it's quite normal among teachers, to tutor each other's children in different subjects, even though it's technically illegal. Great. So you get fined and move on with your life. I could have my visa revoked, lose my job and get deported. No thank you. I think I can live without the extra 50,000 won a week.

But when I found out that I was expected to stay for dinner as well, even though I know that ultimately the teacher just viewed it as a sort of thank you, and the least she could do, I sort of flipped my shit. Silently and to myself, of course. But the shit was flipped, nonetheless. Not only am I teaching your kids for free, but now I have to cancel my plans as well. Are you fucking kidding me?

I'm kind of an asshole sometimes, especially when I feel like something(/one) is interfering with what I think I should be doing, or if I feel trapped -- like I can't say no to something.

Of course, dinner was lovely, and after spending two hours with those girls, there's no way I could stay angry. Especially with YJ, the older of the two, asking me questions like, what did you want to be when you grew up? Are you satisfied with your life? What do you think I should do with my future? What a brilliant young woman. And the little one, YL, sent me home with a bag full of oranges and two homemade cards, one of which that reads (for no apparent reason): "Chocolate love! Thank you for teaching me!" (Am I chocolate love?).

Anyway. Whatever. Consider the attitude firmly adjusted. I don't know what got into me today. Just one of those days, I guess. Now, I'm just looking forward to my ajumma class tomorrow, and making it halfway through yet another week and forward ho to the weekend.

11.09.2009

Group.

So, I'm completely platonically in-like with a gyopo we'll call J. I met her yesterday for a sci-fi matinee, and things just got better from there. The best part? We were standing in Dunkin' Donuts, waiting to order our drinks, when she asked if I wanted to stay inside or go outside and find a table or a bench. Then, she turned back around and said, "I'm sorry. I feel the need to say this. I'm just like, really awkward. But I swear I'm a good person."

Awkward? I hadn't noticed. Because I'm really fucking awkward as well, especially in those first meetings, when you've already decided you really like a person, but you don't quite know them well enough to be completely comfortable with them. By the way, that almost never happens to me. I mean, deciding I really like a person before I really know them well.

It's clearly 운명.

After the movie, we walked and talked for ages with our respective beverages, about how we really, really hate to admit it, but we can't get along with many girls, and how coming to Korea made us go through a huge phase of total bullshit, until we both (recently) hit a wall and decided we just couldn't take this shit anymore. We like to stay at home on Friday nights and do our laundry. We like only having three friends. We don't like stumbling around making asses of ourselves at clubs or having our phones ring off the hook.

And we don't like dating.

It's a total bromance, which I realize is a really wrong usage of that word. But I don't know how else to describe it.

This weekend was all around top-notch, despite some glitches early on. Saturday night, after what turned out to just be a huge reminder of why I don't date, C and the gyopo I met a couple of weeks ago (we'll call him S) came over and we sat around drinking terrible ajeosshi whiskey and shooting the shit until 2 am.

This, my friends, is how life is meant to be. Fuck all the rest. Chil'en, I may have just found my group.

11.04.2009

Good day.

Today was really good. In spite of the pointless business trip, which consisted of me being the only foreigner in the room, and therefore being gawked at and lurked around, despite the fact that the room was full of well-dressed younger business professionals. Hello.

Since I walked into work on Monday morning with a tomato red face, shuddering with cold (a whopping 35 degrees F for 20 minutes... what the hell), a co-worker has been picking me up for work in the mornings. The other teachers flocked around Monday morning to give me a cup of hot coffee and "omo!" and "aigoo!" over the state of me, and thereafter decided that subjecting the fragile foreigner to the brutal Korean winter conditions is unacceptable.

As a result, my coworkers saw me in female shoes for the first time today (no 20 minute downhill/uphill hike) during the business trip, which revived a whole load of nonsense at the dinner afterward. A table-wide discussion about my weight loss and how I "became beautiful". Thanks. Then the principal himself told me that he's going to find me a Korean boyfriend - a hardworking, good looking, honest man, for sure. Which made my face go bright red. Aigoo. I'm so cute.

Kill me.

Afterward, three of my female coworkers decided they were taking me to the mall to find me a suitable winter coat. It's been approximately ten years since I've been shopping with a group of women. They make you try everything on and comment on what suits your shape... it's odd. I'm not used to female company, especially of this caliber. But it was a seriously nice change of pace. When we finished, we got coffee and I got to demonstrate how much of their Korean conversation I can understand (responding in English, of course), which impressed them quite a bit. I'm continuing to make strides, despite being out of class for more than a month now. Every day it gets a little better, and my confidence in believing that I actually just understood what was said is growing as well.

Now I've got some serious schedule organizing to do. One thing that is definitely on the books for this weekend is catching a movie with an American gyopo neighbor of mine, who I like very much. The movie looks shit, and my ajumma class confirmed as much today, but it will be nice to get out on a Sunday morning and spend a bit of time with this girl. Tomorrow night is dinner with C and a friend of my from Korean class -- an older expat who is married to a Korean, whom I haven't seen in quite a long time. Should be good to catch up with him, and I might get to finally meet his wife.

There's also a new guy who's stalking me a bit via text message, who I'm considering getting of rid of before it gets even worse. I've mostly come around to accepting that Korean guys just generally go overboard with the phone contact, in a way that I'm just not used to, and it doesn't mean the same thing as if a Western guy were to behave in the same way. But it still freaks me out a bit.

It's also probably time to admit something here, which you all thought you'd probably not see, which is that I think I'm dating? I don't know. Two different guys -- the one mentioned above, and another, who's been just as persistent with the texting. I don't expect much to come of it. I've never had much faith in the traditional way of doing things, and it generally makes me uncomfortable and actually bored just at the thought of it. But eventually you just give up. I guess I'll try it for a while. It doesn't suit me though, does it? Hopefully it's not as boring as I expect it to be.

Now it's time to think about hitting the sack a bit early, as Smalltown came over against my will at 10:30 last night with two bottles of soju and we stayed up dicking around until 2 am. He's more than likely coming back to Korea, by the way. I'm pretty happy about that.

Goodnight lovelies.
리즈 화이팅! 아자아자!

11.03.2009

It's not that I don't really love you; it's just that I don't really know.

I really feel like things with the Boyfriend crew have probably crossed a few different lines at this point. That having been said, I can't really be bothered to do anything about it.

There's been a lot of hubbub lately over one particular members' girlfriend, and how she's "loud, no manners, like man". The others claim not to like her, but today she was texting one of them, instead of her boyfriend, which was causing some drama. The boyfriend told me that he had ignored her text at first, and then she had answered the other guy's text before answering his. I asked why he ignored her to begin with, and that's when this little gem tumbled out:

"Teacher. With girl, must push pull."

"....I'm sorry. What did you just say?"

"With girl, must push pull. Means..."

"I know what it means. Where did you get that from? You're too young for that."

"No Teacher! True!"

"Yeah, yeah I know it's true... but push pull is dangerous. You know that?"

"How dangerous?"

"Just remember -- no matter how smart you are, girls are smarter."

"Huh?"

"Girls. Are smarter. Than you. Look. You pushed and now she's texting your friend. She can push pull, too."

The long and the short of it was, I ended up talking to her on video phone. Now. The boys are not supposed to have their phones out at school, but seeing as I was partaking in a little lunchtime texting of my own, I didn't feel like I could really get on them about that. However, video calling with their girlfriends might be going a bit far.

Ho hum. Remember, at least, while you're judging me, that I don't teach these boys anymore and won't again.

The other thing is that the boys found out last week that I have a peculiarly wide knowledge of the zodiac, and have been coming in to ask me what their signs mean. Of course, we've mixed this up with blood type as well. My only little AB is a little shorty who they all know I love, being that he's the constant target of my "Liz Teacher likes short men" speeches. What can I say? Ages ago, he did magic tricks for me, and he's been the apple of my eye ever since. They're always trying to tell me things to dissuade me from favoring him. Today they told me that, this weekend, he shouted derogatory things at a police officer and then ran away.

Now my boys know that generally, I do not approve of bad manners, so they were particularly crest-fallen when I found this funny, instead of appalling. "Teacher he no manners guy! Oh!" I told them I don't like policemen anyway.

And then the inevitable happened.

"What kind man teacher like?"

"...."

"Teacher like this kind?" Pointing to my little shorty crush.

"Yeah. I like that kind."

Shorty: "Assah!"

"OH NO! HE NO MANNERS GUY TEACHER!

"Teacher like A, AB! Why Teacher no like B? B best! A not active. A boring."

"My friend says I am like type A, anyway. Maybe that's why. We're the same."

"Oh! Teacher not A. Teacher B."

"No no no. I'm B in the classroom. But really, I'm A."

"OH NO! Teacher not A. I can't believe it."

In the background, my two A type students are quietly sweeping up, which is what they are all supposed to be doing, given that it's the cleaning period.

"You know what? I like this type of man. Right here. These As. Doing what they are supposed to be doing instead of screaming in my face. What good men!"

"TEACHER NO! THEY VERY BORING GUY! OH! NOT ACTIVE! NOT ACTIVE! OH I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!"

"No. This is what I like. Look. They are doing all of YOUR work."

"They not even talking Teacher! Why Teacher like?!"

"그냥."

"OH!"

At the moment, I've having a hard time organizing this weekend. Mostly because absolutely everything wants to happen on Saturday. I should consider what my priorities are, but in the end it all comes back to, my priorities are not breaking commitments, even if I really want to.

And my week is filling up rather quickly as well. Now, I'm taking advantage of my time at home to give the apartment a good (and much-needed) scrub down, as I don't know when I will have the chance again. And today, of course, I found out that tomorrow is some lame-ass business trip with the VP and P, which should be boatloads of fun. I'm having a great time, by the way, shocking Coteacher with my foreknowledge of these things, because I'm finally starting to be able to read the cool messages we all get in our in boxes at work. They are cool because the program is called "cool messenger" -- not because they are actually cool, by the way.

Oh. And The Baby started texting again today. I ignored it for the first four hours, and then I caved. Still can't bring myself to make any kind of elaborate, enthusiastic reply. But I can't bring myself to just ignore him either. I did tell him that I'm not really going out or drinking much anymore, that I want to focus on other things (and people) for a while. This comes on the tails of me chastising him muchly, when we were alone for the first three hours of his birthday, about his daily drinking habits, which I see as borderline alcoholic, and extremely (emotionally) dangerous for someone of his age -- no twenty year old should be downing a six pack or two bottles of soju in their house alone every single night of the week, and then drinking themselves silly (often alone) at bars on others. Something's not right with that.

He responded, in kind, that he's also focusing on other things, for the time being. Well I hope that, at least, isn't a lie.

Zing.