Friday, December 15, 2006

Bit of an oops moment

So, as I mentioned in my last post, last night I was going to take my brother and others out for Korean BBQ. It's a little ironic how excited I was, considering I just fled Korea like I was on the lamb. Still, I do love me some galbi, not to mention kimchi chigae, both of which were available at the restaurant I picked. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to sharing that part of my Korean experience with some of my loved ones.

When taken in that light, the way the evening unfolded was especially tragic.

The day got off to a rocky start, so I should have known the gods were against me. My Uncle Max and Aunt Sets picked me up around 2 so that I could get out of the house for once and pay a visit to this super-cool travel bookstore. My brother had discussed the location of the bookstore with Max, so I assumed that my brain could just check out on the whole process. Right before we left, I had a brief moment of, "Hmmm...maybe I should write the address down..." which I quickly ignored in our haste to leave. Mistake.

We drove to the intersection that Stephan had told Max was nearest to the bookstore. It was the correct intersection, but we weren't sure which way to go to find the bookstore since it wasn't just right there. Well, we went in every direction but the right one, unfortunately. So, for the time being, we decided to just carry on to the travel agent's office that Max and Sets needed to visit for their upcoming trip to China.

This travel agent has an office on one of the busiest streets I've seen since I got here. Needless to say, no parking. Plus it was pissing down rain, which does nothing to improve one's mood even when not desperately searching for a parking spot in heavy traffic. Eventually, Uncle Max vetoed the whole idea and decided that we'd have another search for the travel bookshop.

Once we were back in the right area, we parked near the intersection and went to look in a phone book at a nearby motel. Lo and behold, we had just not driven up the street far enough. OK, problem solved, so we skipped off to the bookstore. It was pretty neat, although not as big as I had imagined. I got a couple books on Turkey, foregoing a cool book I had seen on their website ("Vroom with a View" a story of driving a '61 Vespa through Italy--how cool!) in the spirit of financial moderation.

After spending close to an hour there, it was time to either feed the meter or find another place to kill time until our 7pm dinner reservation. The crappy weather, and my never-ending headcold, prompted me to suggest that I'd like an Irish Coffee. Unbeknowst to me, Irish Coffee was actually invented in San Francisco. So, fast as sin, we were on our way to try the original at The Buena Vista.

Located near Fisherman's Wharf, this place was too too adorable. Quite cozy and inviting, I must say. Through the windows, we could see tables of businessmen and women enjoying a post-work drink, the ring of camraderie in the air. Not to mention the twinkling white Christmas lights doing their bit to set the scene.

The Irish Coffee turned out to be a whole lot of Irish and not much Coffee, which was just fine by me. But, even though we had ordered potato skins to kill some time and a bit of our appetites, we couldn't sit there forever. So, back into the van for the drive over to the restaurant, an hour ahead of time. Figured we'd get some drinks and just hang out in the restaurant until our reservation time came up. Ha.

We were driving down the street, looking for the sign for Brother's Korean BBQ... Finally, we spotted it, and--lucky us--there was a parking spot right in front. We got out of the car, practically singing at our good fortune, only to find that the place was locked up tight and black as midnight. Chain on the front door. But no note indicating why they would have taken my reservation that morning, only to be shut down that night. Did the health inspector get them in the interim? Was there a death in the family? Peering through the windows didn't help, because everything looked alright inside, not torn up or anything. Menu in the window, hours sign posted up. Baffling. And goddamn fucking horrible. I was SO mad, I cannot even tell you. I wanted to throw a brick through the window, with a note saying "Thanks for nothing." Grrrr...

But, we still had to wait for Stephan and Julie to get there so that we could decide what to do next. (Max and Sets didn't have a cell phone, and pay phones are non-existant here, so we no choice but to wait.) Sets had noticed an Irish pub just before we came to the restaurant, so we headed back there. Wow, what a nice place. Totally mellow, great imports on tap, Irish music playing in the background, old wooden furniture. It was a place I would definitely visit with my friends on a regular basis.

Eventually it was 7, so we returned to the vacant restaurant to wait for Stephan and Julie, but they never came. We waited like 15 minutes and then decided to eat at the Vietnamese place right next door, where we could see them walk by. But they never came. I was getting seriously worried by the time we were done at 8.

Driving down the street after dinner, Sets spotted a Korean BBQ place across the road, and we decided to check it out in case they had gone there by mistake. Nope. I thought I had seen a sign for Korean BBQ too, so we turned around and checked that one out. Goddamnit. There it was. Not two blocks from where we had been waiting was the NEW Brother's Korean Restaurant. Oh, I wanted to set the place on FIRE, let me tell you. And, of course, there were poor Stephan and Julie, who, like us, had been waiting all night, worrying about where the hell we were. Unlike us, though, they didn't eat anything, which made me feel double bad. What a fuck up from start to finish. I would like to say, however, that it would not hurt for the Brother's people to put a note on their old door to direct people to the new restaurant. How could one guess that there would be another one just down the block???

Today has been much less of a fuck up. I actually got some errands accomplished, and Stephan and I enjoyed some Vietnamese food *together*. We did cut it close on the time, though, so I'm sitting here typing this in the library of his college while he's in class. Not so bad. It reminds me of my own time at university. :-) At least *I'm* not the one with all the papers due (or past-due, as my own college experience went). That's at least one good point about being almost 30!!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bay Area goings-on

The jet lag has its grip on me, so I might as well take advantage of being awake at the crack of dawn and write a bit here.

So far, I've been having a great time in San Francisco, hanging out with my brother, Stephan, and his girlfriend, Julie.

I suppose the one, not-so-great thing about being here is the hill by their house. It's fucking ridiculous. When I spoke with Stephan about staying with him, he told me that we would take the BART from the airport to his house, and that the BART station was at the bottom of the hill he lives on, a hill which is pretty steep.

Do you know what a switch-back is? If you've ever driven in the mountains, you know that you cannot just drive straight up a fucking mountain; you have to zig-zag back and forth across the mountain because it's so steep. Well, Stephan did mention that he sometimes has to switch-back up the hill to his house, so I was mildly prepared. I was not prepared, however, for the series of hills that one must climb in order to get to the final, switch-back hill!

It was a nightmare walking up those hills with all my luggage. Stephan pulled the big suitcases, and I carried my heavy-ass backpack and computer case. Jesus. He's in great shape; I am not, despite all my walking in Seoul. Still, I did better than I thought I would, and I know this is because I am fresh from a stair-ridden, walk-everywhere city.

The switch-back hill was insane, worse than the steep hill by where I lived at SEV. Falling over backward is a serious consideration. As soon as I can, I'm going to post a picture of it. Good grief.

Anyway, on my first night here, I decided to take advantage of being in America for once, and ordered pizza, subs, and wings for everyone right off the internet. Sweet. And for only $30, it seemed like a miracle.

Last night, we went to this amazing grocery store. It's strictly vegetarian, and it was so cool. If you've ever been in a health food store, or hip grocery store, you know that bulk food sections can be limited to things like a few dried beans, some rice, and dried fruits. Well, this place was bursting with the most incredible selection of bulk goods I have ever seen. Jars of dried roots, herbs (I bought some mugwort--thought to increase dreams of your past lives if put in a sache near where you sleep), teas, not to mention a never-ending selection of beans, rices, and mixes (like the hummus mix I bought). Just truly fantastic. This isn't including the other areas of the huge store, which has a specialty cheese section, where the cheesemonger helped me select a lovely goat cheese gouda. Or the produce section, with piles of the freshest California goodness. As I have said before, California truly is the land of milk and honey... It's stores like this that make me wish I lived here.

After the vegetarian grocery store, we decided a little juxtaposition was in order. So, we ate dinner at a burger joint said to be the best ever, the In-n-Out. Holy crap, this place was good. I was dying for a real cheeseburger after being away so long, and I was not disappointed. Yikes, that was a damn good cheeseburger. Better than Seoul's Kraze Burger, to be sure. After sucking down our burgers and fries, it was a quick stop over to the Krispy Kreme for one of their fresh, hot doughnuts that essentially melt in your mouth, and then home again. What a lovely evening out.

Tonight promises to be just as fun. We're going to a Korean BBQ place with my Uncle Max and Aunt Sets. It's supposed to offer delicious and bountiful food, so we'll see how it compares to galbi in Seoul.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A little backtracking

OK, so I know I've made it safe and sound back to the old country, but I do want to take a moment to write about my last few days in Seoul. Time flew by so quickly...before I knew it, I was waking up Monday morning in a bare room, my 6 month existence completely erased from the surface, as though I'd never called it my home. I hope, though, that all the happy moments that happened there will live on and bring positive experiences for the next person. Goodness, why am I being so new-agey? Could it be the San Francisco air is taking its toll? Entirely possible.

Anyway, I wanted my last weekend in Seoul to be spectacular, but, as ever, when you really want something to happen in a certain way, it invariably never does. As I think I already wrote, graduation was weird and a bit of a let down. Kane's show was great, but he didn't win, and the dancing afterwards was in a near-dead bar. sigh

Saturday night, I went for dinner at a Greek restaurant, called Santorini, in Itaewon. I'd been there before, and I was dying to snork up a gallon of their tzatziki one more time before I left. So, I made plans to go with Daniel, Bron, John, Mary, and Kyle. Tragically, Kyle ended up having a dental emergency and wasn't able to come with us. He really missed out.

When we had been before, the restaurant decor was charming and the food delicious. This time, the atmosphere was just impossibly romantic, decorated with twinkly white lights and lanterns. The food was equally delicious, if not romantic (hard to find garlic dip romantic). :-)

In spite of Kyle's absence, we had a really good time. :-) Our waitress was super-sweet, in addition to being one of the biggest Korean women I saw in all my time there. (Which is honestly not saying much, considering that the rest are mostly the size of a bicycle spoke.)

Sunday was my designated day for packing and room cleaning. God, what a fucking trial. I truly didn't realize how much stuff I had acquired until I attempted to pack it all. Thankfully, I was able to foist many things off onto my generous co-workers. Daniel took the brunt of the foisting, though. :-) Thank you Daniel!! And thank you to everyone who stopped by to say goodbye. You guys are great!

Too soon it was Monday morning, and time to say final goodbyes. I hate goodbyes, almost as much as gym class and shrimp. But, they had to be done. It was really hard to say goodbye knowing that, more than likely, I won't see most of my friends again, despite our intentions. The statistics are just against us, even though I don't want them to be. Here's a note to all of my SEV friends: you are welcome to look me up at any given time, whether it's when you're done at SEV, or 10 years from now, and I will be ecstatic to get together or have you come for a visit wherever I am. Even if we've lost touch--no hard feelings, promise.

Kyle called for a taxi to take me, Ryan and Daniel to the stop for the airport bus. Unfortunately, when the taxi arrived, the driver had, shall we say, a mentally challenged look about him. And, unbeknownst to us foreigners, he had discussed my bus plans with one of the security guards while we were loading the car, and they had made new bus stop arrangements for me!

So, we take off, Daniel and Ryan in the back, buried under the luggage that Kyle artfully arranged. Soon, it becomes evident that the driver is not taking us to Suyu station, the nearest airport bus stop. We tell him "SUYU please" and many other varients, all involving the word SUYU being stated quite clearly and at varying degrees of panic and volume. All the man does is laugh and say "Gireum!" Which is a station further away, and a place where we have no idea how to get to the airport bus.

We assume there must have been some misunderstanding. We're a bit panicked. I remember shouting something about being hijacked. And all the while, the man just kept laughing at us and shaking his head, like, "Boy, are you guys some fucking foreign idiots or WHAT?!" Eventually, Daniel got Kyle on the phone and had him talk to the man. Lo and behold, the man knows where the airport bus stop is at Gireum and it's a much better choice than Suyu because it's not on a busy road. Well! If only someone had told us that, I wouldn't have been shouting at a mentally challenged cabbie!

The real tragedy of the story is that Ryan was there, when he should have clearly been in bed, mending his flu-like symptoms. Instead, he had generously made the journey with me specifically because of his knowledge of the Suyu bus pickup spot, knowledge rendered entirely useless by the change of plans. I'm sorry Ryan, and I hope you didn't catch your death standing out in the cold!

Eventually the bus came and it was time to say the saddest goodbye. Daniel, I'm going to miss you so much!

Then I got to enjoy a bus ride through the ugliest parts of the city. I remember thinking, "Could I come back here? Make a life here?" The answer, surprisingly, was yes, depending on the circumstances. It was unfortunate to have that revelation on the bus to the airport, but there it was, unbidden.

And then, thanks to my flight being delayed, I had 4 hours to kill at the airport.

Plenty of time to eat at the Ritz-Carlton of airport restaurants, where I paid W12,000 for the privilege of eating the most delicious kimchi chigae (or however you spell it) that I had in all my time in Korea, as well as an extortionate W5,000 for a tiny glass of milk to help quell the spiciness. It was wonderful. :-)

Plenty of time to sit and think about all the things I would have done differently in Korea, given a second chance. Risks I would have taken, words I would have said, things I would have done...all the wasted time. Images floating through my mind of good times, and bad, and thinking about how they've changed me. The people I've met, and how I hope we're all able to keep in touch, beat the odds. Just enough time spent reminiscing to make me wonder if I've made an enormous mistake.

Damn it all.

The 9 1/2 hour flight was pretty decent, despite my complete inability to sleep and the occasional random crying fit. But, as I said to Bron, I don't mind people thinking I'm a tragic international woman of mystery. It's all in a day's work.

Now I'm in San Fran, and my outlook is brighter. Sort of. Seeing my brother is really nice. But, I'll write more about that next time. Right now I need to sleep... Goodnight!


Made it. Finally! After a 9 1/2 hour flight, I'm finally here at San Francisco's airport. I'm so pleased to see all the fat people, you wouldn't believe it! And the food on the airplane was the best I've ever had. I think this may have more to do with the fact that every meal involved real cheese in some way than with the superiority of United Airlines' catering service.

My brother, Stephan, was running late to pick me up, so I paid an extortionate $6 for an hour's worth of internet--only to have my computer's battery take a sudden dive. At the time, I was sitting on the floor outside the BART station (why are there no fucking benches here?!!). Across the way, I saw a plug in the wall and it suddenly occurred to me that my plug works here! No adapter needed (good thing, since I broke mine the last week I was in Korea). So, I picked myself up off the floor and transfered over here.

Over the intercom, I keep hearing announcements that "We are currently at Terror Alert Level Orange". What a difference from Korea. I've also been watching my bags rather closely, as opposed to Seoul, where one can leave one's bags strewn about the room and no one will touch them. *sigh* A trade-off...

Anyway, time to go. Pupusas at the El Salvadorian restaurant await! I'll write again soon!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Painting the town a pale shade of red

Well, tonight was not what I hoped it would be, although it was good in its way. Graduation was weird...some vibe was definitely off, and I couldn't put my finger on it. Not the same energy, maybe...the kids weren't into it like they usually are. Plus, graduation these past couple weeks has been shortened due to required snack time at 8 because these kids are being sponsored by a local business. So, I didn't even have a chance to get wrapped up in the emotion of the moment--my last graduation, saying goodbye to my friends, weeping copiously. I was so busy signing kids' notebooks that I hardly even noticed that the time had passed. Unfortunately, it wasn't the cathartic tear-fest I had envisioned.

After graduation, we went to see Kane play in the finals for the acoustic singing competition at Rocky Mountain Tavern. I wish I could tell you the results, but I shamefully snuck out before the winner was announced. Why? I don't know...smokey bar, tired ass, oncoming sore throat. A combo. We had decided beforehand that we (and when I say we, I mostly mean me and Daniel) would go to Polly's Kettle for a little dancing as part of my going-away experience. If I hadn't left the RMT when I did, I probably would have just headed home. As it was, we went to Polly's for a bit and had a decent time. They play hip hop music, which I like, but the crowd just wasn't there. In fact, after awhile, the place was mostly filled with SEV people. It gave the place an odd Tradewinds-like feeling (that's my dad's bar), because everywhere I looked were people I knew.

My friend Cade was nice enough to spring for a Soju and orange Kool-Aid drink for me (served in a cut-off 1 liter plastic jug), which I had never had before. Thank you, Cade. I'd also like to put a note here for Mitch---Cotter, I, too, will miss our very serious political discussions. I hope the kindie think tank will be substitute enough for a cosmopolitan world citizen like yourself. ;-) And PS-nice dance moves.

Getting a taxi home from Itaewon was an absolute bitch, as ever. Drizzling rain, freezing cold, and no cab driver would stop for us. They would pull past us and pick up some Koreans. I started doing what I always do when cabs pass us by--shouting at them. It makes me look like a crazy American bitch, but I just can't help it. I'm in the street, in the rain, begging them to stop. "Please sir! Please!" It's practically Dickensian. ("Please sir, may I get in your taxi?") When they inevitably pass us by, I scream, "We know how to tell you where to go!" at the top of my lungs. It's not pretty. I'm sure it proves to them that they are wise in not picking up crazy foreigners. of the things I will definitely *not* miss about Korea.

Now all that's left is for me to start packing up my Korean life. My laundry is done, my room is vaguely tidy. I'm hoping that I will have finally learned from repeated experience that it is NOT a good idea to leave packing and cleaning to the last damn day. We'll see how that goes...

Friday, December 8, 2006

Last day at work

It's finally last day of work. I've dreamt of this day, off and on, since my first day of work. Now that it's finally here, I do feel like it's come too soon. This is mostly just because I don't want to leave my friends behind, not because I'll miss teaching Bank class.

Tonight is graduation, and it's odd to think it's my last one. I usually go, even though we're not required to attend unless we teach nights. I like the dancing and frolicking, and even the part where Kyle puts on the sad music to make all the kids cry. Tonight, I'm sure that I'll be the one crying.

I've avoided packing anything in my room, although I did force myself to do laundry last night to get it out of the way. Tonight I'm having a tiny bit of a going-away thing--some dancing at "Polly's Kettle" after we find out the results of Kane's singing competition. It should be pretty low key, which is what I prefer. I hate the idea of trying to wrangle 50 people to the same place at the same time. Too stressful.

Anyway, I might post once more on here before I leave. Maybe put on some pictures from the going away festivities, if they're not too raucous. :-)

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Creative Day

Today, my work day consists of absolutely nothing practical. My morning was filled with Theatre class, and my afternoon is chock-a-block with Art. After being stuck in Bank class and the Post Office, I am trying to relish every moment. What's more, the students in Theatre today could actually read their scripts. An absolute lucky break for me. One class got into it so much that they all ended up in costume. The father wearing a crown, the mother in a witch's hat, the sailor in full pirate regalia.

I've actually been in a persistently happy mood these last couple days, bouncing around singing showtunes and Christmas songs. It's a little maddening to those around me, I'm sure. :-) But I just can't seem to get that pep out of my step... Even Bank class can't break me.

***Editor's note: OK, here it is, the end of my day, and I am not quite as bouncy as previously mentioned. I just had a group of kids that, while they did not break me, well...I almost broke them. Or, more specifically, almost broke some furniture over their heads. And P.S., Art class is a BITCH to clean up.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Busy work

God, I hate seeing such an empty journal. Just sitting here, waiting to be filled up with luscious or potentially tragic travel stories yet to come. In this moment, I wonder how things are going to turn out for me. Will I read this 6 months from now and laugh at my optimism, or pat myself on the back for making a great decision?

Maybe I can fill some space by telling a little bit here about my upcoming adventure...

Currently, I'm sitting in Seoul. Just finishing out my last week at Seoul English Village. I'm leaving before my contract is up, but it is simply time to go. I am done with the open-mouthed staring from people in the street, "Teacher you so fat!!" remarks from the students, and a cuisine that makes me ache for the Mediterranen and American flavors of my youth. I don't regret my time here; I learned a lot about myself and a new culture, made some great friends, and saw a part of the world I never thought I'd get around to. Not bad. Just not for me, in the end.

As a lot of you know, my family qualifies for dual citizenship with Italy. The last two years have been a nightmare of red tape, trying to collect all the necessary documents to reinstate our ties with the homeland. And to think, our great-grandfather simply had to jump on a ship. Welcome to America--here's your new name. After following the path of misspelled names, different vital stats for the same person, and other paperwork errors that might prevent our family from being accepted back into the fold, I must say that I've developed an appreciation for the simplicity of old-time Ellis Island.

What this all amounts to is a burning desire to park myself in the Mediterranean, but the inability to do so legally. (Americans find it well-nigh impossible to get legal work in the EU.) After two years of wrestling with that ever-elusive EU passport, I started looking for alternatives. Turkey sprang immediately to mind. I've heard so many great things about it, from people who visited and think constantly about going back, to an actual Turkish person who happens to be dating one of my best friends. It just seemed the natural choice.

So, I did my research. EFL teachers there don't have half the opportunity to save money like I do in South Korea, but the style of living (if not the cost) seems more suited to my temperment. Housing isn't entirely paid for, but I won't have to live on a campus filled with small, braying children. The food isn't free, but the fact that I consider it many moons beyond "edible" is a bonus. There are definite trade-offs, but I don't mind.

I started responding to online ads for EFL teachers, and nothing happened. Two ads, four ads, eight ads...nothing. Great, I suck. Then, in one weekend, I got three responses. In a matter of days, I had prospects and hope anew. I set up an interview with the best school I had applied to, and it went well. Sweated it for a week, and found out I actually got the fucking job. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Now I find myself in the position of having to pack up my life yet again, getting ready for the next big thing. I'm eager to get out of Seoul for many reasons, and sad to leave for many others. Mostly, it's because I've gotten closer with my friends here, and it will hurt to leave them behind. Nights spent bitching into the wee hours, shared confidences, a mutual love of taxis over the subway, feasting on greasy fried chicken like it was the last thing to eat on earth, late night binge drinking sessions in one room or another, and more than one beautiful man with a guitar. I hope I get to see them all again, but I'm old enough to know better than that. I'm no high school senior, secure in the belief that I'll never lose touch with my friends.

I hate knowing that.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Almost time

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I would have written nearer to the day, but it's taken me this long to de-bloat from the Thanksgiving buffet I attended. I did some research, in a desperate attempt to have some kind of feast last Thursday, and came up with two options: the $88 4-course bacchanalia at The Grand Hyatt, or the $30 buffet at a local bar named Gecko's. Despite my natural inclinations to grandeur, the pocketbook won out this time. I'm glad it did, though, because I suspect that the 4-course Grand Hyatt meal would not have offered such an abundance of food to shove in one's face, as is only appropriate on Thanksgiving.

As it was, I went to dinner at Gecko's with Daniel and John, and we had a great time. The place was fairly hopping with Americans when we got there, so I'm glad we went early. Barely pausing to throw our coats on our chairs, we rushed to the buffet line. It was a Thanksgiving miracle. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, 3 different kinds of gravy at least, roast beef, stuffed pork, teriyaki chicken, rigatoni in a creamy sauce with vegetables, salad, several different breads, and a decent dessert selection. I had only two complaints: the mashed potatoes were more like mashed potato soup, and there was no pumpkin pie. However, everything was delicious, and I was barely able to eat dessert as it was. So, no harm, no foul.

We each took heaping plates of food back to our table and dug in with enthusiasm. I couldn't believe how great it was after being here with crap food for so long. I ate faster than I ever have before! I believe I even consumed giblets, but no matter! My only regret was not having room for more. After we were finished, we could hardly walk out of the restaurant under our own power. I nearly had to be rolled to the taxi. It was wonderful...

Of course, there has been other stuff going on around here, not just gi-normous feasts. My friend Emma, from England, left to go back home. I'm really going to miss her! (But, we did plan to meet if I end up teaching in Turkey.) :-) She had a going-away party out at a latin dance club called Bahia. It was the cutest little place!

It looked like we were partying in somebody's basement. It was one small room, with mirrors on one wall, a bar on another, and the other walls had barstools or couches. In the middle was the dance floor, which was occupied by several Korean couples when we first came in. They were *amazing* dancers! I think they do dance lessons at this place, and these people seemed like they all knew each other, so maybe that's how. At any rate, I could have just watched them dance all night. In fact, they were pretty intimidating, so none of the 15 or so of us even dared to get out on the floor at first. However, once a round or two of drinks were downed, that changed. Emma and Ryan have taken lessons themselves, so they went first. After that, you couldn't hold us back. It ended up that all the Koreans left and we had the place entirely to ourselves for the rest of the night. There are lots of pictures from that night, so I'll only post a few of the best and a movie clip or two.

Do you remember me talking about my friend Kane, from New Zealand (the one who sings really well and looks like Justin Timberlake)? Well, he was in a contest out at a local Canadian bar, for the best acoustical singer. He has so far been in one heat, and he won it. My last day on the job (December 8th) is the finale. So, we'll all be going to cheer for him.

Work has been kind of crazy lately. After I turned in my notice, I expected to be punished by being given the crappiest classes. Well, the first schedule I got was for 24 periods of "Grocery Store" class in one week. This was RIDICULOUS. We were very busy, so it wasn't the amount of classes in dispute, but rather having 24 of the same one! Working at this job, one feels enough like a robot without having to do 7 of the exact same class in one day. It's frankly unacceptable when we've all taught 15 or 16 different classes since we've been here and can therefore be rotated through any of them. We had a big clash on this subject in our weekly meeting (or shall I say, *I* had a clash with one of the head teachers). Turns out a lot of people got scheduled that way (it wasn't just me being punished). We were all pissed. Scheduling like that is just sheer laziness, in my opinion.

Anyway, the following week (last week) was totally slow. I taught only 11 classes total!! So, it was a really nice break after 24 Grocery Store classes. :-) Unfortunately, this week and next (my last) are chock-full of classes. Thankfully, our boss took our complaints to heart (slightly), and so I have Grocery Store and Nature class this week, instead of just the one. Plus Nature class is strictly a sitting-on-your-ass Powerpoint presentation class, which makes a nice change from Grocery.

I do have some very encouraging news to share. I have been busy applying for teaching jobs in Turkey, and have now gotten some emails requesting phone interviews! In fact, I have an interview this evening with the best school I applied to. I'm so nervous!! I don't have specific interview times scheduled yet with the other schools, though. I'm kind of waiting to see how it goes with my interview tonight. God, how I hate interviewing. So, please wish me luck!!

OK, my break time here is almost over. Time to teach Grocery to a bunch of no-English-whatsoever kindergarten kids that are in for the day. Boy, I can hardly wait!

Talk to you soon! (And see you soon, too!)

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Damn Hard Work

I am almost too exhausted to be typing this travelogue! This week I was asked if I would be a teacher for the "Special Intensive Program", this new thing YBM is doing to make more money for themselves. The program has three sections: conversation, reading comprehension, and creative writing. There are three levels of students: low, intermediate, and high. And it is a big commitment for the teachers, because it's 6 classes a day, while the regular teachers will likely have maybe 4 or fewer classes a day. But, I was told that I could pick the subject and level of students, so I said yes to high level creative writing. Unfortunately, when it came down to it, all teachers had to teach all levels. And the low level kids are REALLY LOW. Team 1, the lowest, can barely write their own names. I was assigned to teams 2, 5, 7, 10, 13, and 15 (the next to highest).

I was terrified for the first day of teaching, because I knew that team 2 was going to be a real challenge (our special classes didn't start until Tuesday, so I had already heard from teachers on Monday about what a nightmare some of the low teams were). I could hardly sleep the night before; I just kept dreaming of how horrible it would be. The theme for the day's writing lesson was description. I was supposed to open the class by having a student come up and everyone has to describe them. Then, they had to look at these densely drawn pictures of different "worlds" (think "Where is Waldo"-type drawings), and describe them in terms of people, animals, plants, and things.

Fortunately, it didn't go nearly as badly as I thought it would. Team 2 was able to understand the basics of description, like color and size, etc... So, the day was not as scary as I had imagined. Wednesday was Poetry day, which could have been a horror, but surprisingly was not. I managed to get them all to write a simple poem. Here is the poem I wrote along with them:

I have a cat.
He wears a hat.
He likes to cook
And read a book.
His tongue is cherry.
His nose is very

After I wrote that poem with one of my morning classes, I read it to all of my subsequent classes as an example. Every time I read it, I would laugh at the end, and they would look at me like I was eating my own boogers. No one appreciates real art anymore... :-(

Anyway, today is "Write Your Own Harry Potter Story" day, and it's proving to be a real bitch. As much as the kids here are obsessed with Harry Potter, they seem to care less about writing a new story about him. I'm on break right now, and I'm not looking forward to next period, when I'll have to cajole team 10 into giving a damn. But, my last two classes of the day are high level kids, and it should be fun with them.

Tomorrow is "Writing from Memory" day, and I have a bad feeling about it. I mean, the high level kids will do whatever you tell them to, but these low level kids need something else entirely. I know they're planning on doing a program similar to this once a month starting after Christmas, so they're going to be coming up with adaptations for super-low kids. I think that's a good idea! Far less stressful for the teachers...

Anyway, I suppose I should announce that I have actually decided to call it a day at Seoul English Village. I turned in my resignation yesterday, and I'm feeling really good about it. I have just decided that Korea, in general, is not the place I really want to be. I am tired of "fat" comments from students (which I haven't *really* gone into here, but believe me, it's humiliating and never-fucking-ending because we get new kids every week) and the open-mouthed (literally) stares from grown adults as I walk around town. Also, I'm concerned about my health. I've never been evaluated here to my satisfaction in regards to my stomach issues. This is enough of a serious problem for me that it makes me very nervous to sit here twiddling my thumbs about it.

So, I will be flying home on December 11th, with a swing through San Francisco to see Stephan for a week, and then into Des Moines on the 15th. I'll be home for the holidays, time enough to be evaluated by some *real* doctors and submit my Italian citizenship paperwork, and then be back out into the world hopefully by the end of February at the very latest. I've decided that my next adventure will be in Turkey, which is as close to Europe as an American English teacher can get right now. I'm really excited about going there, since Europe is where I've always wanted to be.

Anyway, I hope all is well with everyone! Take care and I'll talk to you soon!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Fall is in the air

Fall is finally showing its face today.

"It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life."--P. D. James

Isn't that quote just too true? Fall is my favorite season, and yet it really is mostly miserable. Cold and wet, the ever-encroaching darkness of winter. But when I think of fall, I remember the good times: changing into my marching band uniform behind a bus, choking on diesel exhaust and making jokes about dickies; crisp evenings at football games, not caring much who was winning, just enjoying clarinet conversation; going to the apple orchard, the pumpkin patch, and with freezing fingers picking out a perfect pumpkin that somehow went lopsided by the time we got it home; raking leaves as a youth, and jumping into the piles, right before coming inside for mom's homemade hot chocolate.

The foreign teachers here have been positively itching for fall to start. Up until today, we've been enjoying temperatures in the low 70s, walking around with no coats until all hours. For the first time, I had to wear a coat to and from work today, and I was wishing I had a scarf on the way home! The leaves are slowly starting to change, mostly to red and orange. We are sitting at the base of a tree-covered mountain, so I'm hoping that one day I'll walk out of my room to find the mountain fiery with fall colors.

We have a new set of kids today, about 400 of them. This is almost twice as many as we've had in the weeks of last month. We've all gotten spoiled, enjoying days where we only teach 2 classes. This week is a wakeup call to the fact that we're actually supposed to be working here! It's depressing. :-(

Of course, this melancholy might not be affecting those teachers who are teaching "Basketball", "Ultimate Frisbee", or "HackeySack". Yes, I said hackeysack. The vocab list for the "class" actually includes the word "dude". I don't know whether to applaud the realism, or cry a small tear...

I found a further dose of realism today in reviewing the lesson plan for "Medical Center" that was put together by our head teacher, Braden. (He's from California, and about my age.) In talking about how to get the kids to discuss symptoms, he recommended walking over to a kid and pretending to vomit on them, and to elicit the word "diarrhea", to walk around the corner into the pharmacy and make "violent pooping noises". I just have to say, every lesson plan here--without exception--would be improved by a recommendation to make "violent pooping noises" at some point during class. We could just blame it on the kimchi... :-)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Puttin' on the Ritz

From October 1st through the 7th, I enjoyed a lovely week of vacation; it was in celebration of Korean Thanksgiving, known as Chuseok. Some of the teachers had the money to travel a bit around Asia during the week, but I was not in such a fortunate position. So, I made my own plans!

My first goal for the week was to go to CostCo in search of cheese, meat, and other hard-to-find ingredients. One wouldn't think that it would ever be hard to find cheese and meat, considering that they constitute half the lineup of the average American supermarket, but here it's a real trial. Actually, it's not hard to find meat, per se, it's just hard to find beef at a reasonable price. If you'll recall, I once spent $7 on a ¼ pound of ground beef at the Carrefour. However, since CostCo specializes in bulk buying, you can get a much better deal there, specifically 2 pounds for $14. I know this still sounds unacceptably expensive, but if you look at in terms of the previous beef purchase I made, it's an absolute bargain.

Cheese is another matter entirely, because it really is impossible to find cheese you'd actually want to eat at a regular grocery store. The CostCo sells large blocks of cheese, even Tillamook brand from Oregon, a personal favorite of mine. So, I made a big list of all the recipes I wanted to cook during the week, and a correspondingly enormous list of ingredients to shop for.

Sadly, I was thwarted in all attempts to purchase anything resembling Mexican ingredients like chipotles and tortillas. Italian ingredients fared slightly better, with me actually lucking into some real salami! And I was able to get staple items like chicken stock and NutriGrain bars as well, so it wasn't all bad. I then went to the Carrefour later to finish stocking up on things like fruits and vegetables.

I was able to make Lemon Chicken and Rice Soup, which was so delicious! And a new meatloaf recipe (the one from Tyler's Ultimate on the Food Network), also yummy. I made tacos from the Old El Paso taco kit I got (only thing Mexican in the whole place). And I also made Creamy Rice Casserole, which was so filling I had leftovers for days! I didn't get to make half the things I wanted, still, it was so great to spend my vacation doing some real cooking for once. I really miss it. (I'm not sure if I mentioned it before, but I bought a $100 toaster oven that works almost as good as a real oven. It drastically improved my quality of life!)

The second thing I did on vacation was to take the Seoul City Bus Tour. This is a great option for anyone visiting Seoul, as it's cheap ($10) and takes you to all of the most important monuments, palaces, and neighborhoods of the city. It's really too too much to do in one day. There are 27 stops (some just being hotels) on the route, and we went to 3 of them before we were just too exhausted to continue. The nice thing is that the buses run all day, so you can get off at a stop that interests you, and every half hour a bus stops back so you can get on and continue to sightsee. We went to a palace, a type of living history museum of life in old Korea, and the Seoul Tower. It was a warm day, and we had an enormous lunch, so this may have contributed to our lethargy, but oh well!

The palace grounds were calm and elegant. There was an incredibly peaceful feeling there that made one just want to sit for hours in the shade, enjoying the breeze and some conversation. The living history museum was a bit more dull, but because of the holiday they were having some performances and demonstrations. There's a great clip on here of a guy whacking a big mound of rice into submission. Eventually the rice is turned into sticky sweet candy. We ended our day at Seoul Tower, with fantastic views of the city. It was impossible to believe that I live out in that madness.

The best part of my vacation, BY FAR, was the two evenings I spent at the Seoul Ritz-Carlton with my friend Emma. (She was going to travel to Japan with Ryan, but ended up not being able to. So, I invited her to come to the Ritz, and by splitting the costs, we were able to stay two nights instead of one!)

I've stayed at a Ritz before, but Emma never had, so it was quite an experience for her! Starting with the bellboy who took our luggage from the cab and disappeared with it ("Will he know where our room is?") to the bellboy who carried our luggage down to street level for us so that we could catch a regular cab instead of the ones waiting up at the Ritz for twice the price. I'd like to think that Emma is now spoiled for any regular hotel she visits in the future, as inevitably happens once one has stayed at the Ritz.

The hotel was just beautiful, starting with the floor-to-ceiling marble lobby. We were guests on the Club Level, so once we came in we were immediately escorted to the Club Lounge, where a private concierge checked us in while an attendant made us some tea. The Club Level is great for so many reasons! You enjoy "5 complimentary food and beverage presentations" throughout the day (believe me, we arranged all of our plans around them), although you can really go in at any time because there is only a half hour between presentations, plus you can get drinks whenever you'd like. They serve: breakfast, mid-morning snacks, afternoon tea, hors d'oeuvres and cocktails before dinner, and chocolates and cordials before bed.

My favorite part was ordering tea. It's hard to get real English tea here in Seoul, but they had it. Plus, their tea service is very pretty, with simple porcelain tea pots and cups, but cream and sugar in solid silver holders on a silver tray. Exceedingly elegant. I would have loved to have been able to steal a set, but I am not that brazen. I did manage, however, to make off with 4 small plates, a knife, and a spoon. How I missed a fork, I don't quite know.

The food isn't bad, either. It's all in small portions, but you can have as much as you want. For the first time, I tried caviar. Let's just say I won't be snorking it up on a mother-of-pearl spoon any time soon, but it wasn't all bad. Mostly just salty. They also had goat cheese, among others, and the most delicious little pastries.

The staff in the Club Lounge really makes it, though. They will do anything (within reason) for you, and treat you like an old friend. Saturday morning I woke up with a very sore throat, so when I came in for breakfast, I asked for tea and mentioned my throat in passing. Later that day when I came in for afternoon tea, the attendant asked how my throat was feeling. How nice!

Our room was great, simple yet elegant, with a nice view of the city and Seoul Tower. We stayed in the room most of the time, enjoying the cable television (we only have 2 watchable channels here at school). We got to know the room service staff quite well, even though it cost us an arm and a leg. I spent a total of about $75 on room service, for only two meals! One meal was a sandwich with fries($19) and hot chocolate ($10 for two cups worth). The hot chocolate was straight out of my youth, exactly like my mom used to make, so I considered it worth the investment. The second meal was a different sandwich and Caesar salad ($16). I know a $16 salad seems excessive, but when they wheel it in on the lovely little trolley and set it up like a just feel like Pretty Woman and you could care less about the price.

We ate dinner at the hotel's Italian restaurant, The Garden, one time. It was a really gorgeous night, so we ate outside. It had great ambiance, and food. Umbrellas, dashing waiters, quiet conversation. The only thing missing was twinkling white lights up in the trees! There was a middle aged white woman sitting alone, and I wanted to ask her to join us, but I didn't have the nerve. We ended up seeing her in the elevator and it turned out that she's the director of a local English school. We could have had some great conversation with her, so I really regretted being such a chooch.

Our two days naturally flew by, and too soon we were on our way back to school. But, as if to round out our magical Ritz weekend, the security guard at school actually let our cab drive through the gates and up into the grounds so that we wouldn't have to walk so far with our heavy bags. That was the first time that has ever happened, so I attribute it to Ritz Magic.

Speaking of weird, magical things...on this past Saturday night, I went out to dinner with some friends. We started out looking for this Thai place called Buddha's Belly, but we just could not find it. So, we ended up waiting to get into an Italian restaurant nearby that was run by an actual Italian-American (this is quite rare here). While we were waiting on a bench outside, we started talking to this Korean guy (mid-30s) who was hanging around by himself. Turns out he likes to practice his English on foreigners. He kind of pissed me off because the first thing he said to me was a comment on how fat I am (I keep wishing I knew the Korean for "No shit, Sherlock."). Eventually, he started talking about other things, and it came up about how we were waiting to get into this Italian restaurant. Well, out of nowhere, the guy starts singing in Italian! O sole mio!! I couldn't believe that I was sitting on a bench in Korea, listening to some guy sing "O sole mio" and "Santa Lucia" in fairly decent Italian. Very bizarre. And of course, I couldn't get the songs out of my head the rest of the night! The food was great, though, and definitely worth the wait, even though we were seated next to some obnoxious prick from the New Jersey area who thought the whole restaurant wanted to hear about his oh-so-important business deals. Sorry, keep those impressive tales for your bored-looking Korean girlfriend.

Anyway, that's the full update! I hope all is well back home. Try not to worry about the North Korea thing. The South Koreans aren't worried at all, I promise!

A musical experience

So, it occurs to me that I am total shit at keeping this travelogue updated, and I don't know why that is! I think it's because so much stuff happens and then it becomes overwhelming to think about writing it all...

At any rate, when last I wrote, it was right before my 29th birthday. (Jesus...almost 30!) Unfortunately, I was down for the count the week of my birthday. More stomach problems. I was worried enough to actually go to the emergency room this time. Had the works done (CT scan, x-rays, blood work, EKG, etc...) only to get a diagnosis from the doctor that there was nothing actually wrong with me. This is total bullshit, because there must be something wrong with me if being sick like this totally knocks me out of commission for a week at a time. I just am so frustrated at this point! I believe that it might be gallstones, but the test I really need for that is an ultrasound, and the doctors keep saying I don't need it or that I'm too fat! Katie tells me that an ultrasound or hida scan are the only ways to really diagnose gallstones. So, I still don't feel like I've been adequately evaluated. *sigh*

However, it turns out that even in the midst of feeling like crap, and what with being on the other side of the world and all, I still managed to have a great time on my birthday. This is entirely thanks to the great friends I have here, who went out of their way to make my special day special.

My friend Emma, from England, was the Cooking Class teacher that week, so she made a little chocolate birthday cake for me. She even went above and beyond and made Cadbury chocolate frosting for it! It was delicious, even though I couldn't eat much of it. But as always, it's the thought that counts!

And the presentation was just as thoughtful. I had been hibernating in my room all week, feeling sorry for myself to be sick on my birthday. Then Emma came onto Skype and told me that I had to come over to her room for a little bit. So, I walked over there and as soon as I walked in the door, I was told to close my eyes and walk forward slowly. When I got to the point where I would be able to see around the corner and into the room, Emma said to stand still so that the motion-sensor light overhead would go out. Once it did, she told me to open my eyes, and there before me were her, Ryan, Daniel, and a cake lit up with candles. It was so sweet! Emma even made me a birthday card (she is deeply into card making, in general, and is quite good at it). Overall, it was a surprising and happy birthday.

The weekend after my birthday marked the end of our intensive summer program, so the school held a thank you barbeque for the teachers and staff, just like the one we had when we all first got here. Again, the booze was entirely free, although yours truly abstained as I was still getting over being sick. It made for an amusing evening, watching everyone getting annihilated whilst singing karaoke and dancing like fools. Fortunately, I remembered that I brought my digital video camera with me to Korea, so I now have plenty of crazy blackmail footage involving table dancing, lap dancing, and fall-over drunkenness.

At the end of the night, lots of people went out to the clubs, but some of us were just too old and/or sick to tag along. So, myself, Daniel, Emma, Mary (from MN), Kane, and Eva (both from NZ) decided to hang out around the big fountain for awhile. Kane plays the guitar, sings like Jack Johnson, and looks vaguely like Justin Timberlake, so he should definitely be famous someday. It ended up with him getting his guitar and Emma getting hers, and a little concert ensued.

Eventually, a couple of our bosses and the head Korean teacher, Kyle, came over to play in the fountain (literally, they were shit-faced and splashing each other). Kyle plays the guitar and sings, too, so he ended up borrowing Emma's guitar. He sang us several Korean songs, and he was fantastic! The songs were great, too, like folk music. Some people define coolness by the hip beats a DJ spins, but I think that an impromptu jam session by a fountain can be a far richer way to spend one's evening. Maybe this is my age speaking...and I don't mind.

I got to hear more Korean music the next weekend, on Mary's birthday. We first went out to a special dinner for a meal called "galbi", which means grilled meat, specifically pork in our instance. It's such a neat setup.

We sat outside, around this cluster of small tables. Each table has a hole in the middle, in which is set a rocket-hot bucket of coals. They then place a grill grate over it, and the super-thin pieces of marinated meat on that. You can always spot a galbi restaurant because inside they have long silver exhaust vents dangling over the center of every table. Of course, outside, no vents are needed; the smoke just blows away (mostly right into my eyes).

Supposedly, the true measure of a galbi restaurant is the quality and quantity of side dishes that they offer with the meat. This restaurant had two kinds of pickled radish, a dish of a salad/coleslaw mix, garlic pickles, some kind of seafood soup, a few dipping sauces, and different kinds of lettuce with which to wrap up your meat (no bread here!). It's not a bad way to eat, certainly healthy for you, but I did find myself missing something more substantial to eat with the meat. Also, you have to share all the side dishes with everyone, including the soup. This makes me twitch a little, thinking about everyone's germs mingling...but it's common here, so I try to stifle my phobic tendencies and go with the flow.

Anyway, dinner was great. Afterwards, we wandered through the area (a big place for foreigners to hang out, called Hongdae), looking for a bar. We ended up at a place called Tin Pan Alley. It was fantastic! Groovy R&B was playing when we came in, which set a nice, smooth tone to the evening. And the DJ actually let us request music, which was unusual, but sweet. We had some drinks, and split a couple orders of cheese sticks and nachos (I told you this area was for foreigners!). After an hour or so, the place started to fill up with westerners. Soon, you couldn't move because all available floor space was being used for dancing. Everywhere you looked, the people were white. It was a little weird! But the music was great. When we left, they had just got done playing some old favorites-"Uptown Girl", "Like a Prayer", etc...

We decided that we should go somewhere else, and Kyle suggested that we try this tiny bar that he always goes to. So, Kyle, Mary, Daniel, and I went there. I would never have even see the door to this place if I had been walking down the street by myself, let alone have gone in. It was clearly a "locals only" type of joint. I'm so glad we went!

There were two rooms, front and back, but people were only sitting in the front room. I say room, but really, it was more like a generous sized closet. The entire space (both rooms) was probably only slightly larger than my room here. In the front room, there were two tables. Because Kyle is a regular, we were invited to sit at the main table with the three other regulars who were already there. Two men and a woman, plus the woman who ran the place. There were some snacks in the middle of the table, dried fish, purple grapes, and peanuts. (The grapes here are amazing...they taste just like a little burst of Welch's grape juice. Of course, they have seeds, which can be annoying if you forget and just crunch into one.)

Anyway, we ordered some beers and went through the complicated ritual of pouring. You are never supposed to pour your own drink, only your friends' drinks. And if you're younger than them, you must hold the bottle with both hands, etc...

After awhile, Kyle was asked to sing. A guitar magically appeared from somewhere and, despite being fairly intoxicated, he started in. Wow, he can really sing. There are about 8 clips on here from that night (my camera only records 30 seconds at a time, unfortunately), and I urge you to watch all of them (they can sometimes take a long time to start, but don't give up!). They are dark, because the light in this place was very low, but you can hear Kyle singing crystal clear. He's so good!

Eventually, one of the other regulars started singing, too. The lady who owns the joint started pulling musical instruments out of god knows where so that we could all play along. I got the tambourine, my friends got some wooden sticks and a washboard. One guy was playing bongos. It was fucking amazing. Even though we didn't know the words to the songs, we were all pretty decent at keeping the beat. :-)

I would NEVER have had this experience as a regular tourist in Seoul. 3 Americans in a tiny bar with 5 or 6 Koreans and some lively music. I'm so grateful that Kyle thought enough of us to let us come to such a small, personal place with him. I'll always remember that night when I think of my time in Korea.

Anyway, there's lots of other stuff to talk about, but I'm going to leave off for now. Hopefully you'll be getting another post from me soon! Take care everyone!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Well, it took you long enough!

As I sit here polishing off the remains of a tomato and cucumber salad (left over from an impromptu cookout), I am put in mind of every single family barbeque I have ever attended. Memorial Day, Father's Day, the sweltering heat of July 4th, the final Labor Day get together, and others throughout the year. Accidentally over-cooked burgers, purposely-burned hot dogs, a pan of deliciously greasy fried potatoes, chips with at least two dips, and a bowl of this stuff. Staples of my family's culinary tradition. And always the best part was eating the leftover salad, after everyone was gone, and it had been sitting there marinating in its vinaigrette for about 4 hours. Having to fight my mom for the last bites of tomato... Interesting that something so basic as a salad could make me suddenly realize exactly how far I am from home, feel the distance in my heart, almost as though I caught a whiff of my grandma's spaghetti.

I haven't felt too homesick here, except for the food. I have decided, after roughly 100-odd Korean meals, that this cuisine is not--and never will be--one of my favorites. I find it to be tolerable to my taste buds. The flavors are fine, and usually inoffensive, but they don't excite me. Not half as much as the taste of homemade chicken pot pie or a spicy chili that's been simmering for hours. The scent of kimchi doesn't begin to make me salivate, unlike the very *idea* of my grandma's spaghetti and meatballs. I could be led blindfolded into a home, unaware of time and place, but if they were cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I would know it from smell alone, such is my dedication to that meal. Nothing that I have yet encountered here has moved me in that way. Of course, two months does not an expert make, so I am truly hoping to be eating these words (no pun intended) in short order. I will let you know, naturally.

I realize that I haven't posted on here in a good long while, and I do apologize for that. I have been grossly lazy and neglectful, unfortunately. But, I hope to get you all caught up tonight, and if not entirely tonight, then in very short order. I have actually created a list of things I want to update you on, so let's start with that, shall we?

First of all-the swimming pool. It was finally opened about two weeks ago, stirring up much excitement among the staff and students. Mystifyingly, they only filled up this 6 foot deep, near-Olympic size swimming pool with about 2 feet of water. Literally, when I stood up in it, it came to just about my knees. I could sit on my butt and have my head entirely above the water. We all thought it was temporary, but it hasn't changed yet. The debate is on about whether it's for safety reasons (little kids) or for financial reasons (pumping in so much water?). We still haven't figured it out. But, in shitty hot weather like this, if it were a foot deep, people wouldn't care.

I have been but one time, and here's why: the ladders are death traps. I have never had a problem with a swimming pool ladder in my LIFE, but these take the cake. They do not have flat steps, like an ordinary ladder would. No, they have round poles, like a piece of smooth piping. Consequently, when you're trying to go down or up one (and they're always wet), your feet are constantly slipping out from under you, ready to give way at any second! You have to have claws like an eagle to grip these poles, otherwise if your feet slip, your face is going to get mangled in the bars right before you fall about 4 feet down, tailbone first, into a mere puddle of water. No fucking thanks!!

Of course, I didn't discover this until I was on the steps and too terrified to turn back or keep going. I had a horrifying moment of paralysis, during which my arches were permanently injured by trying to grip the poles like an opossum clinging to a branch. Eventually, I kept going, until I got to about the 3rd step, after which I was sort of close to the water and just could not take it anymore. So I just let go and let God. My friends pissed themselves laughing at me as I landed ass-first in the water, but I didn't care. My only concern from that time forward was getting the hell back out!!

Eventually, my friends decided that they wanted to go on the water slides, even though they weren't turned on. These are like the type of slides that you see at the fair. Really high, you come down about halfway and it plateaus for a second, and then straight down. They all carted buckets of water to the top to get the slides wet so they could use them. Yours truly stayed in the main swimming pool (still calculating how to get the fuck out), but they were fun to watch. Eventually, I realized that I could not stay in the pool forever, so I went to the least-wet ladder, took a deep breath, and just did it. My arches still hurt to this day.

I sat with a couple people and watched everyone on the slides, cheering them on as they came flying down. It was so much fun! I felt young again, as they say. Here were the teachers, having as much, if not more, fun than the students. And I was part of it! This is big for me, since I usually have a hard time just living in the moment. And also, I don't know anyone at home who is as crazy as this lot of people! Damn Kiwis, I'm telling you!

My free time here is usually not occupied with such wild and crazy adventures as going for a swim. A typical night off might just be pizza and beer with friends, with maybe a movie thrown in for kicks. One night I hung out with Ryan and Emma (from England), and the primary form of entertainment was going through her iTunes collection to see which songs I (as the American) would recognize. I did not score well, sadly. But it was still a lot of fun.

One of the best improvements around here is that we've gotten better at scoring a pizza when the urge calls. There is a place near us called Mr. Pizza, and they do deliver (impossible for us to do over the phone as it's all in Korean), but they do a pretty fast take-out, too. For a total of $4 in cab fare, it's an easy choice. Their slogan is hilarious: "Mr. Pizza: Made for Women". What this was supposed to mean was beyond us, until the manager (who has great English) explained that it really is just a way for them to differentiate themselves from Pizza Hut and go after a different demographic. So, they wrap up your pizza box in a red bow! It's adorable!

Finding good western food here can be tricky (outside of fast food). I mean, if I want to spend $30 at the Outback, it's there, but what if I just want great hashed browns? Well, I make them myself, and it takes forever on my hotplate. Until a couple weeks ago, I thought this would forever be the case, but I was proved wrong. It turns out that there is a tiny café in Itaewon (the area near the base) that serves American breakfast foods, sandwiches, and smoothies!

Emma and I discovered this place after going to a nearby café where the Seoul Stitch 'n Bitch is held. (This is a meeting for people who do crafty shit like knitting and crochet. It started as an idea in a popular US book and spread around the world.) Anyway, this great café was just a couple doors down, serving such wonderful food! I actually had a hashed browns and bacon *sandwich* (which, upon eating, I decided I would not order again because it was just too weird, but the individual components were delicious). Emma tried a banana smoothie and was much impressed. Basically, it was a like a little bit of heaven right here in Seoul. I will definitely be going back.

The Stitch 'n Bitch itself was quite interesting. We showed up and there was only one other girl there (eventually another one showed up). It was sweltering hot, but the café wasn't serving any drinks. They appeared to be open, but since it was a Sunday, maybe they were just open as a courtesy to this group. So, it was back down the insanely steep stairs to get a drink at the American café. Back up the stairs, only one tiny fan. Sweating profusely. Still, it was a good time, once we got to talking and cooled down a bit. There was a cute little terrier puppy running around that Emma and I couldn't resist petting constantly. (We both had to leave our pets at home.) The girl who was there when we first arrived was a little weird. She was a definite bohemian, doesn't-shave-her-armpits type of chick. Plus, despite being very friendly, she had a strikingly ugly face that kept making me want to stare at her just to figure out what was wrong with it... It was unsettling! But she was interesting to talk to, and the other girl who came was totally normal, so it wasn't a complete loss. We didn't go back for the next meeting because we were exhausted from school, and the trip is longer than an hour by subway. I think we might go to the next meeting, though.

Our laundry finally got hooked up a couple weeks ago. It took me awhile to get over there and do my ever-increasing pile. Every time I stopped by to see if the machines were free, they were all occupied. (5 washers and *2* dryers, all tiny) Finally, I got a break during dinner time on a Wednesday. I was a little nervous to use them (all the directions are in Korean), but someone had posted up diagrams of what all the settings mean. So, I crossed my fingers and went for it. Luckily, it was fine and nothing turned out pink (unlike the last time we sent our laundry out with the laundry service).

Another, quite major, thing that has been going on since last we spoke is that I have been to the hospital to be checked for stomach problems. Some of you no doubt remember that I was having occasional stomach issues before I came here. My doctor at home said it was gastritis and gave me something like Prevacid to take for a month. Well, when I first got here (like the second week), I had a major attack and was unable to work for a day. I went to the international clinic at the hospital to get checked out. The American doctor there told me that I needed to have an ultrasound and endoscopy. (I can't remember if I've told this bit before!) Anyway, they weren't able to do the ultrasound because, as the Korean doctor told me, I was just too fat. Now, I have had 3 ultrasounds as a result of my surgeries for the ovarian cysts, with no problems. My friend Katie (a doctor) assures me that there would be no such problem. But still, the ladies in ultrasound refused to do it. So, I had him just set up the appointment for the endoscopy instead.

My appointment was on the 16th. I was nervous to go alone, but needed to have it done regardless. I got to the international clinic and they had a volunteer escort me to the correct place. They checked me in with no trouble. A nurse gave me some "bubbles for my stomach" medicine and a shot in the ass. She took me to a hallway waiting area and advised me to sit there until I was called into an exam room. Well, the seat she plunked me in was *directly* across from a large sign on the wall that said "Anorectal Disease Clinic-Endoanal and Endorectal Ultrasonography Department" HOLY SHIT! Wrong end!! But, the people in this hallway didn't appear to speak much English, so I decided to wait until I was called to start asking questions.

Turns out that I was in the right place, they just also did endoscopies there, too. I should maybe explain what one is for those of you who are young and/or healthy. An endoscopy is when they thread a camera on a tube down into your stomach so that they can take pictures and see what the hell is going on with you.

Let us just say that this is not a pleasant procedure under the best of circumstances. I won't go into detail here because my grandma is reading this and I don't want to upset her, but suffice to say that I felt like Nazi doctors were performing experiments on me. It was torture. It was horrifying. I felt violated like I have never felt in my life. I wanted to cry for my mommy.

I have since been told by Katie that my experience in the States would have been substantially different. I was not put under in any way here; at home I would have been nearly or totally out of it, with no recollection of the procedure when it was over. This would have made all the difference, I must say.

At any rate, the doctor did not find anything very much wrong with me. Some mild stomach irritation, that's it. I'm to keep taking medicine and hope it gets better. If not, who knows?

On a lighter note, I now have cheese. This is not as small an accomplishment as one might think! In Korea, adults rarely eat cheese, so most of what's available in grocery stores (and even the Carrefour) is horribly fake plastic orange cheese slices that don't even hold a candle to fake orange cheese slices in America! I made a grilled cheese sandwich with them one day and ended up throwing away not only the sandwich, but also the rest of the cheese. Everything else in the stores is grossly overpriced and just not worth it. Plus, it's like Brie, when what I really want is a bag of shredded cheddar and something basic to put on a cracker!

The foreign teachers had heard a rumor that there was real cheese at CostCo, but only a couple people had ventured out to one. Finally, Emma and Ryan had had enough and went out to see if it was true (Emma was desperate to make her beloved "cheese toast"). Sweet Jesus! They had Cheddar AND Colby Jack. She got the former, and bought the latter for me. A really nice 2 pound block of Tillamook, nonetheless, for only $10!!

Also at the CostCo, she bought a 2 pack of Old El Paso taco making kits, despite never having had a taco in her life. And 2 pounds of ground beef for the shockingly low price of $10. (I had previously purchased ¼ pound for $7, if you will recall.) We made them over in her room that night for dinner. They were better than any "taco kit" had the right to be! Of course, this might be more a reflection of the length of time I have been taco-free than of their authenticity, but who cares? They were amazing...

Another amazing thing is that our boss finally came through with the cell phones we were promised when we first got here. Honestly, I never thought we'd get them! I won't bother giving you the number because it would cost you international charges to call it; you're much better off calling my US Skype number for free.

It's so nice now to be back to normal, with a cell phone constantly on me. I was beginning to feel naked without one! Of course, the foreign teachers basically only have each other to talk to on them, which sucks. As we get to know other people in Seoul, it'll be more interesting. For right now, I mostly just text with my friends during the day.

This past month, I've been the "Talk Show" teacher. (I started being the "Weather Report" teacher today, but it sucks.) Talk Show started out as a gigantic pain in the ass, but by the end I really liked it. Once I started bribing the kids with "Excellent" stamps (the one on their team with the most gets an award at the end of the week), it picked right up.

The basic premise is to go over vocab with them, show them the sample questions on the wall, and then get volunteers to come sit behind the anchor desk with me, whereupon myself and their classmates will ask them questions. The sample questions are like: "Who is your hero?" "When are you happiest?" "What's your favorite food?" and "Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?" Without doubt, the boyfriend/girlfriend question was the most popular, as anyone with half a brain could guess. In fact, it was the catalyst to several hilarious moments.

One time, there was a boy up as guest and he got asked that question by a friend of his in the "audience." He answered, "No, I don't have a girlfriend." His friend stood up, pointed his finger at him and *shouted*, "YOU A LIAR!! TELL ME HER NAME!!" It was quite an authentic moment...very Jerry Springer. Another time, a 12 year old librarian look-alike shocked the whole room by calmly stating that she had *16* boyfriends. (When someone else asked her, "What's your hobby?" I answered for her, "Having boyfriends." Big laugh.) My favorite was when a girl who had very good English (along with the rest of her team) started explaining that she had one boyfriend her own age because he was very handsome, and a boyfriend older than her who was ugly, but also very rich. The kids kept asking her why she would date him if he was ugly, and she just kept saying, "Because I like money. I like nice things!" All I could say was, "You go girl!"

There were also some very awkward moments in that class. One time, a girl with exceptionally good English was asked by a teammate what kind of person she hated. Without hesitation, the girl answered, "My father." Needless to say, not the answer everyone was expecting. One time a boy was asked, "What is your father's name?" and mysteriously answered, "I will not say." OK... What is he, a gangster or something?

Korean culture is such a tricky thing. You sometimes just never know how someone is going to react to a situation. I like to watch this show on Korean tv, mostly just because it contradicts every impression I get of grown Korean people in my daily life. It is called something that sounds like "Ewchasa" and is basically a variety show, similar to Saturday Night Live. The difference is that there aren't really any special sets. Every skit is performed on a big stage with only a few props and a costume change, like a play. It is one of the funniest things I have ever seen, even considering the fact that I can't understand a damn thing they're saying. It's just that the actors/actresses really GO for the laugh. It's slapstick on a level that I just did not think Koreans capable of. The women, especially.

There is one skit involving "The Monkey Brothers". (The kids told me their name.) They do say, in English, "One, two, Monkey three! One, two, Monkey five!" Etc... They are funny because they are the gayest thing I have possibly ever seen in my life, and yet are not supposed to be gay (according to the Korean teacher I asked-she recoiled in horror at my even thinking such a thing). Get this: these are two guys who run around with pom-poms hanging off their butts. They are tiny and femme-y, they pout, they jump on each other's backs and pick nits off each other. They do a great impression of the "Ambiguously Gay Duo" on SNL. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, is all I'm saying. :-)

Another thing that's a little crazy is how much time I spent on the computer with my mom last week, just trying to get her damn webcam to work so that I could see my fucking cats! What a loser I am turning out to be... We must have tried a million configurations, and her picture kept flipping upside down! Not to mention the blurriness and darkness. And this was if we could get it to go at all. Still, by the end of the weekend I had seen each of the cats, and felt much better. It really is like having children I've left behind, the main difference being that they're not driving my car and hosting keggers.

We just got done with our month of two-week long programs, and I am exhausted. Having the same kids around for two weeks is just too much! They start to feel like they really know you, so you have less time to yourself as they now want to talk to you whenever you walk by. By the end of week one, they started asking us to sign things. I would walk down the hallway and be assaulted by children begging me to sign their notebooks. I now have a small understanding of fame, and it sucks. Well, at first it's flattering. But then they bug you even when you're racing to the bathroom, and that's not quite so charming.

Graduation was last Friday night. It was a high-energy, rollicking affair up until the very end, when all the kids were told to say goodbye to their friends and teachers. They put the sad music on, and everything. (I told them to play "Friends are Friends Forever" to get even more tears, but no one listened to me!) Kids were walking around the gym, bawling their eyes out, boys and girls. Coming up to us and clinging to our necks. It was interesting to be cried on by the kids, a lot of them just looking for a reassuring pat on the back from anyone, and others sad to say goodbye to me, personally.

I was really enjoying myself up to this point, because Kyle had put on some music for the kids to dance to. We were all dancing like maniacs to "YMCA", "Twist and Shout", and "La Bamba". Some of the teachers let loose quite a bit more than they should have, nearly spraining their backs trying to twist down to the floor. Kyle led kids around the room in a big conga line. It was mayhem, and so much fun. Until they put on the *sad* music, that is. :-)

It reminded me so much of my own youthful experiences at CYC (Catholic Youth Camp), that I almost started crying along with the kids. In my head I was saying, "Keep it together, girl! You're on the other side of it now!" But it was still sad. And really interesting to see how many boys were just losing it, and that no one cared. I can't help but feel that it might have been different in the States. I should ask Stephan, since he is the camp afficianado!

After graduation, the teachers lined the steps up out of the gym, and we clapped at each team as they walked up from the gym and out of the building. It seemed a little cruel to be clapping at them as they were stumbling up the steps, crying their eyes out so that they could barely see where they were going. I started just waving goodbye to them instead. Seemed less horrible.

Afterwards, the teachers sat outside for a bit so that the kids could have more time to say goodbye. They wanted our email addresses, phone numbers, and everything. I didn't give my phone number, but I did give out some email addresses. Maybe their parents will email me with a lucrative, yet illegal, proposition to privately tutor their kid. Hmmmm...

After all the kiddies were put to bed, the teachers gathered together to drink beer and forget the past two weeks. It was so nice just to hang out with everyone. Kane, the guy from New Zealand, brought his guitar and sang for us. He sounds a lot like Jack Johnson, so that was awesome. And he was able to take requests, which was even better. One of the guys had procured some Beck's Dark beer, and was nice enough to let me have one. It was miles beyond the shitty Nat Ice-esque Cass beer that I had been drinking out of an enormous jug. I was pretty tipsy by the time I went home at 1am. Needless to say, the morning light was not kind to me, or my headache.

So, that just about catches you up on the three weeks I woefully neglected my blog duties. Again, I'm so sorry about that! I didn't intend to be so lazy or just kind of happened. Let's hope it doesn't happen again. :-)

Anyway, life is good here, and I hope it is where you are, too. Drop me a line, leave me a comment, or catch me on Skype. (I'm working days again so this might be tricky, but something can always be arranged.) I hope to hear from you all soon! Take care!

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Hot shit

In retrospect, ordering something called "Fire Chicken" was probably not an overly wise decision. Sunday night, Daniel and I went to "Mr. Chicken", a favorite haunt of the Korean teachers. He had been there before with some other teachers, and stories of the spicy chicken quickly spread. One of the teachers, Siamak, who's a little crazy on a good day, actually got up and left the restaurant to get some fresh air because the chicken was so hot.

Still--I like a challenge.

We each ordered the Fire Chicken. Based on the picture, I was expecting it to be chunks of chicken, breaded, fried, and coated in sauce. Turns out, they roast a chicken, hack it to bits, and then put the sauce on. This leaves quite a bit of the chicken covered in fat and looking very unappetizing, I must say. You know how picky I am when it comes to stuff like that.

So, the chicken arrives. Two bites in, and I'm already sweating. I start eating the free cubes of pickled radish that came with the chicken. It helps a little, but not much. "Excuse me, but do you have milk??" No luck. I try the coleslaw-type dish they brought out earlier. It just makes it worse. "More water, please!" The waitress brings out a dish of rice for each of us. It helps a little. Eventually, I discover that chewing the chicken only on the sides of my mouth and not letting it touch my tongue is the only way I will be able to eat this chicken and maintain any shred of dignity.

Daniel, for his part, took three bites and just could not eat any more. (He was the only one who finished a whole plate of it the last time they went out.) So, he ordered a plate of regular fried chicken. But even then, he could hardly eat it because the heat activated the left-over spice on his tongue. It was a rough night for both of us!

After this self-induced torture, we decided to treat ourselves to some soothing Baskin Robbins. It was insanely delicious! However, it was a little unnerving to watch one of the sales girls washing used cups and spoons. See picture for further detail on that one!

Speaking of food, I am posting a picture of a typical dinner tray that we get in the cafeteria. It's not the worst, but it's generally representative. Also, there are some more pics of the foreign staff. Not the best, but they will do for now. More video clips, too. As a tip on those, if you're having problems downloading them, make sure that you're giving it enough time. When I tested it, it took about 3-5 minutes for each one. So, give it enough time, and I promise they'll be worth it.

Update on my schedule: I am now on day shift. This means that I won't be available for chatting on the phone when it's evening back in Iowa. I will be online (unless out and about) between 4am CST and 9am CST. I know this is limiting, but it's what I will have to work with for the entire month of August. (For this very busy month, they are not doing a new schedule every two weeks.) So, if you want to chat at a specific time, leave me a voicemail and I will do my best to make it happen. I don't have a lot of free time this week, but I do have some here and there.

Anyway, I hope everyone is doing well. I've been keeping an eye on the weather at home, and I am quite happy to be missing out on it. Although, I would make the case that I am suffering more. :-) Our temps are in the 80s, but with very high humidity. The difference between here and home being that here I have to be outside quite a bit. Doing anything, going anywhere, involves walking outside for long periods of time, often up dozens of stairs (which are no fun at all for a fat lady in 100% humidity). At home, you spend 1 minute walking from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned car, and another 2 minutes walking from your air-conditioned car to your air-conditioned place of employment. You're only outside when you want to be. It's an altogether easier existence, and I miss it like hell. :-)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Paris is burning

Just to let you know, I am listening to the new Paris Hilton song "Stars are Blind"--on repeat--while I'm writing this. Perhaps the humidity here has started to rot my brain. Or this might be indicative of a more serious problem. I just thought someone should know, in case the authorities find me wandering in the woods a couple of weeks from now, mumbling "Even though the gods are crazy", and unable to remember my own name.

I finally have some pictures to post. None yet of my room, because it's messy and I just don't have the strength. But, I do have some of the SEV campus, plus some from around town.

Anyway, I've had some interesting adventures this past week. As you may remember, I've been working the late shift, so that means I don't have to go to work until 1pm, but I don't get off until 9pm. This, despite being highly suited to my internal time clock, presents its own set of challenges here.

It turns out that eating seaweed soup, rice, and kimchi at 5:15 doesn't really hold you all the way through the night, particularly when you're staying up until at least 1am. So, myself and my friends who are working the night shift for these two weeks have been finding ourselves desperate for food around 11 or so. This past week it was pizza, specifically Pizza Hut.

At home I would say, "Let's split a pizza", make one phone call, and we would be enjoying a slice in less than an hour. Not here. We spent over an hour on Thursday night trying to track down a phone number for Pizza Hut, combing through their almost entirely Korean website in desperation, until finally finding a number that would not work on Skype. Damn!! (However, we are supposed to be getting cell phones on Monday, so maybe we can make it work on one of them.)

Needless to say, when you are starving and have been talking about pizza for almost two hours, you cannot just say, "Oh well! Maybe next time!" and totter off to bed. No, you must go out in search of sustenance immediately, anything greasy and Western please. We left here at midnight and ended up taking a taxi to Suyu subway station where there is a large concentration of restaurants. The Pizza Hut was closed (natch) and even the KFC was closed (Emma's second choice), so we were left with McDonald's. Just so you know how desperate of a situation it was, I ordered, and consumed with shocking speed, a Big Mac--for the first time since 2003 (when I read Fast Food Nation). I cannot tell a lie: it was heaven in a wrapper. (And for those wondering, it tasted exactly like I remember it from home. The only thing vastly different on the menu were cheese sticks. Daniel and I tried them, and they were quite unusual. Instead of being filled with just mozzarella, they also had sweet potato in them. It was unexpected, but not bad. It had an overall taste of something sweet and fried that you'd get at the fair.)

The thing was, even at 12:30am on a Thursday, the place was packed--with Koreans. We were the only foreigners there, until one of the senior teachers showed up (she saw us through the window). The man working the counter-the only person up front-was very efficient and respectful. Perhaps he was a manager or something, but he was the nicest McDonald's employee I have ever encountered. And here's something that I haven't mentioned yet. If Koreans are handing you something and they want to be respectful (which is most of the time), they will hand it to you either with both hands or with their left hand bracing their right elbow (that one is more common). And you should only give and receive with the right hand. So, this McDonald's guy did that with everyone, even us, even just when giving change. (I have also started noticing that even the little kids here do that most of the time. It's had an effect on me. I only give and receive things with my right hand if I can help it. I'm even more advanced with my bowing, too. People at work walk by each other and bow slightly as they pass, which I have started doing sometimes, although I'm really only doing a bow of my head since I'm not sure of anyone's rank in respect to myself and I don't want to look like a total idiot.)

The funniest part of our trip to McDonald's was the cab ride home. Usually I carry our school's business card with me; it has our address on it, plus the name of a nearby landmark written in Korean by one of the teachers because no cabbies recognize the name of our school since it's so new. However, I had forgotten it at home, so we used Emma's without the landmark name on it. The cab driver was totally clueless. But, I will give it to the cabbies around here--they are almost always gregarious when faced with a load of foreigners who can't speak Korean. Maybe it's the potential profit to be made off of driving around randomly, but who can be sure?

Anyway, this man was hilarious. I was sitting in the front seat. I tried to show him Emma's card and he pointed to his face to indicate that he needed glasses but didn't have any. Sweet. A blind cabbie. Emma thought she knew which way to start off, but I think we took one too many left turns. So, we're driving along, looking for the road signs that say either "Nat'l Cemetary" or "Nat'l Rehabilitation Center", because if we follow those, they lead us straight home. But, no luck. We were obviously going in the wrong direction. The cabbie kept talking to us in Korean and laughing the whole time. He would occasionally ask me a question about the direction we were going (I assumed), but all I could say was "Na-nun morumnida" which means "I don't know." My friends and the cabbie all thought that was hilarious for some reason.

So, here we are, zooming through the streets in an unknown direction. He was practically driving in the middle of the road (time to get those glasses!) and scaring the crap out of us. Eventually, he pulled over and asked some youths walking on the sidewalk for directions. They had no idea, but were catching a cab of their own. He asked their cabbie, and after a minute's discussion, seemed to have a better idea of where to go. Eventually we started seeing the right signs and were able to lead him to the village. We were all whooping for joy when we saw the first "Nat'l Rehab" sign, even the cabbie. It was hilarious, and on Daniel's dime, so it was all good.

The crazy thing is that we had an almost exact repeat of this episode on Saturday night. We had been shopping all afternoon and early evening at Carrefour and then wanted to get a pizza. We were once again unable to order before the Pizza Hut closed, so we caught the bus to Suyu, ate at McDonald's, and took a taxi home that was driven by a nearly-blind cabbie! But this time we knew the way better and didn't get lost. He would say something and point in a direction as if to say, "Should I turn here?" and I would say, "Ne!" which means "yes". It was almost as though I could understand him. Daniel thought that the ease with which I would say "Ne" or "Anio" (no) was hilarious. All he could think to say were things he had been learning off of Rosetta Stone, i.e. "The lady has white hair." Interesting, but not exactly applicable. :-)

This morning we dragged ourselves out of bed to go meet some of the other teachers at Outback for lunch. We had heard that they did a lunch special at a reasonable rate, with good soups and bread. Depending on what you classify as "reasonable", these claims were all true. I got the medium-priced special. It came with a sirloin steak, baked potato, cream of mushroom soup, their usual bread that you get for free, a glass of lemonade, and coffee. This cost me, with tax, about $20. Beef here is insanely expensive. To buy a filet mignon steak on its own there was about $28. I bought some ground beef at the Carrefour and it cost me $7 for a quarter pound. Enough to make one burger. However, I had rashly purchased a $12 mini-grill to use on my balcony, and I needed something to test on it. I bought a pack of what looks like normal hot dogs, but I wasn't sure about them. I looked for chicken breasts, but they only had legs and frozen whole cornish hens (I think that's what they were). It looks like I won't be able to afford to make a pot roast anytime soon, except on pay days. I can only imagine that it would cost at least $50 for a piece to feed 2-3 people.

Well, that's about all for this update. Classes have been going well. I am the "Brain Survival" teacher this time around. We do puzzles all during class, so I'm everybody's favorite teacher. It's not bad, except that I can't help thinking that I wouldn't be able to do most of these puzzles myself. They're damn hard!! :-) But the kids eat it up.

Anyway, I hope everyone is well. Hope to hear from you all very soon!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Skinny Bitch

I feel like I have been here for can it be that I only arrived about 2 1/2 weeks ago?? I think this village exists in a time warp...maybe I'll leave here and find out I've been inside for 20 years and everyone has forgotten about me. Of course, the upside will be keeping my stunning beauty while the rest of you will have shriveled up like toes in a long bath. It is a burden I am willing to bear.

Anyway, interesting title this week. It originates from a little girl who came to the village wearing a t-shirt that said "Skinny Bitch" on it in huge letters. She was maybe 10 years old, and of course, had NO clue as to the meaning of the words. I saw her walking in the cafeteria on the first day, so I stopped her and said, "Great shirt!" But she had no idea what I was talking about. Imagine my delight when she showed up in my class the next day wearing the same shirt. She was shy, but when we got to the game portion of the class, she was eagerly waving her hand at a chance to play. So, I would point at her and say, "Skinny Bitch, you're up!" And she had no clue. HOWEVER, the Korean teacher who was assisting me, Jenny, started laughing so hard that the girl realized something was going on. Still, no real clue. Later, she raised her hand again, and I said, "OK Skinny Bitch, what's the answer?" And Jenny lost it again. The girl asked Jenny in Korean what we were both laughing at, so Jenny told her. Damn! Once the girl knew, she started smiling and covering her shirt up. It didn't stop her from wearing the same shirt again the next day, but oh well. Daniel had her in class, but he just called her S.B.

I had a request to go into more detail about my schedule so that people will know when I might be online for chatting, etc. OK, here goes: first of all, my class schedule changes from week to week. What I can better tell you is that I know whether I will be working days or nights for two weeks at a time. So, for example, I will be working nights the next two weeks. This means that I get to work as early as 1:30 and leave by 9. I have potentially 4 classes in the afternoon (if there isn't a full village of kids, I might only teach 3 of those class periods, for example, so if I have free time, I might be online). Then dinner from 5:15 to 6:50, during which time I might be online. Spelling Bee from 7 to 8:45. Afterwards, we pretty much have to leave the building, so I wouldn't be online at night. Since I don't have to work before lunch, I might come in during the late morning or lunch time, if someone wants to schedule a time to chat. So, that's my schedule for the next two weeks. When it changes again, I'll update you.

Anyway, time for class. Working weekends is sweet...hardly any classes, unlike weekdays. Nice. :-)

Take care everybody!

Monday, July 10, 2006

A new entry

So, how about a current entry?? :-) Now that I've given you all the backlog of typing I had been storing up last week, I think it's only fair that I write an entry that will bring you up to date with this week.

First of all, what a long-ass week this was! I really underestimated how fucking BORING it would be to teach the same lesson hour after hour, day after day. I mean, I thought it would be a challenge, but I never thought I would just plain get tired of hearing my own damn voice.

As the "doctor", I have to teach the kids about different symptoms, illnesses, and how to dialogue with a doctor. There is a specific lesson plan in place for this, but it sucks. And the timing is all wrong (they give enough crappy material there to last for over an hour when I only have 45 minutes). So, I have adapted it, and I think it works fairly well. It's just that when you deliver the same lesson all day, you wish you could turn your own ears off.

Other than that, this week has been fine. I've gotten to know a few of the teachers a little better. Ryan, Emma, and I had a "West Wing" night, so that was a lot of fun. I went to the Carrefour with Daniel, Siamad, and a new girl named Amy (from Minneapolis). We finally got our bank accounts open, with $200 in them as a settling-in allowance. I needed some more groceries and was keen to explore the Carrefour further.

It was so nice to go around the Carrefour with no time pressure. I discovered that they did, indeed, have balsamic vinegar (and quite a good selection of imported Italian ingredients). Also, I nearly whooped with joy when I was in the dairy section and saw that there was a hidden escalator that would take you up to the Wal-Mart type floor, thus solving the mystery from my last trip when I couldn't figure out how people were able to pay for groceries and household goods at the same time. I ended up spending too much money on things like Tabasco ($5/bottle) and imported Italian tomato puree ($4/bottle), but it was worth it to have a stocked cupboard. In fact, I made spaghetti for my main meal this weekend, and it was like having it for the first time!

Daniel and I hung out Friday night (I was sick and holing up in my room), and it was nice to have a long conversation with someone. We ended up going out on Saturday to this place called Yongsan. He needed a plug adaptor for his Playstation and had been told, "Oh, you need to go to Yongsan" but didn't know any specifics beyond that. We figured that we would take the subway there (my first time on it) and walk around a bit, and if we couldn't find a suitable store just grab some dinner and come home.

The subway was a cool experience, except for the fact that everyone was staring at us. Now, I'm fat and he's black. We are oddities, to be sure. But come on!! You've seen movies, people!! We're not total freaks here! Still, we got stares the whole time we were on the subway. There was this one old grandma with her eyebrows tattooed on (in dark blue) who kept staring at Daniel and obviously talking to her friend about us. He just stared back at her, bitching about her in English. Then, when the person next to her got up to leave, she smiled so sweet and motioned to me that I should sit down. She turned out to be so nice!! I told her "thank you" in Korean, but motioned that we were getting off at the next stop. I said to Daniel, "I bet you feel like a horrible person for bitching about that nice old lady! Shame on you!" :-) It was hilarious. Her eyebrows really were blue, too...

Once we got to Yongsan, we immediately saw why everyone had told him to go there. They had a 9 story electronics mall--in the subway station (it was obviously not your run-of-the-mill subway station)!! They had one of everything!! It was truly amazing. The prices weren't super-hot, but they were reasonable. I'll be going there if I end up buying a new digital camera. Anyway, there were so many cool things about this place, and it was just a subway station! There were two huge restaurant areas and a large shopping mall attached. Also, a recreation area that had a great Mexican band playing salsa music right by where we left the subway.

Just writing about this place makes me want to go back. It was just like being in New York, according to the Times Square of Seoul. We came out of the subway area and rounded the corner to find the Mexican band. As we walked closer to them, suddenly a view of the city presented itself and we both just gasped. We must have been at least 4 or 5 stories up at that point, so we could see out over rooftops and into the distance where there were two huge high rises being built. It was just so surprising!

After that, we went into the electronics mall and shopped from floor to floor. Once Daniel found his plug, we went to the restaurant section for dinner. Talk about choices. Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, French, American. Fast food, fancy food, ice cream shops. Anything you could want, really. Every place had display cases set up outside their doors with plastic replicas of all the dishes they served. I'm not kidding. They were a little creepy. We chose (or I should really say DANIEL chose) Chinese. I wanted anything but Asian food, but we couldn't agree on any of them. So, we ate sweet and sour pork for dinner (I didn't even think that existed outside of America). I also ordered what was called "Chinese steamed bun", thinking that it would be like these steamed calzones that they sell in the 7-Eleven, but with no stuffing. Well, it never came and never came, so I figured it got lost in translation. Nope, it actually took them about 30 minutes to make and turned out to be 5 pillows of dough that looked like little meringues. Like ribbons of dough, stacked up and baked. They were delicious, but we could only eat a few having already finished our whole meal.

We did, however, have room to try "Red Mango", this dessert place that another American teacher had raved about. All they sell is frozen yogurt, but it is the best I've ever had in my entire life. Now, I'm not talking about TCBY's fake-ice-cream-tasting frozen yogurt. No, this actually tastes like YOGURT, quite tangy and delicious. It actually surprised me when I took the first bite because of the tang...I was expecting it to taste like vanilla. Nope, just plain yogurt, and it *worked*. Phenomonal. The toppings were totally un-American, as well. Whereas in the States, ice cream shops have topping jars filled to overflowing with crushed Butterfingers, jelly worms, Snickers, sprinkles, and only a few mushed up fruit selections...this place was almost all good stuff. Freshly diced fruits, mostly. You get 5 toppings for a small, so I chose diced watermelon, honeydew, pineapple, kiwi, and mandarin oranges. Outstanding. And it was only $4. They did have a couple things like walnuts and maybe even jelly worms, but not much. I will be going there as often as possible.

After gorging ourselves on yogurty goodness, we decided to get a taxi home. Walking out the front of the building, we could see that the whole thing was lit up with neon. It was breathtaking. We were shameless tourists, pointing at the different displays, the water coming down the side that was lit up with changing lights, the front of the building that bulged out over the street, the signs in all the windows. So cool.

We were approached by a taxi driver who looked at my business card with the school's address and offered to take us there for $25. We had no real idea how far we were from the school, so we said sure. Turned out to be an almost hour-long drive (thanks to traffic), so we made quite the deal there. It's so nice to be driven home instead of having to stand up on the subway all the way there.

Driving through the city at night is the best way to see it. By the light of day, it looks a little shabby and dirty. The large crowds grate on your nerves. But at night, it comes alive with neon and the crowds seem bustling and cheerful. You zip down a major thoroughfare and can see the little side streets as you go and they are lit up like pinball machines. You make promises to yourself to explore them later, but they are gone in an instant, always replaced by new. It's utterly enthralling. This place really grows on you.

Anyway, I've been sitting in front of this computer for far too long. I hope all of you are doing well! I miss you! I enjoy reading the comments you leave on the entries, if I haven't already said so. If you don't want to leave me a public comment, you can always click on the "Send a message" link that's at the top of the page under my picture. That will come directly to my email, and I'm pretty sure you don't have to have an account with TravelPod to do it. Anyway, take care everyone and have a great night!