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 months...how 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 Daniel...like 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!

Odds and ends

Here are some odds and ends that I haven't talked about yet, but that deserve a mention:

Mosquitoes!! They are everywhere, and I have been bitten to shit!! Mostly, this is just because when I first got here there was no air conditioning or screens on the balcony sliding doors (we have screens now, so don't worry Grandma!). Wide-open windows and doors equals tons of mosquitoes. I woke up the first day and had a few red spots on me (right on my face were two that looked like enormous pimples-great first impression!). The next day I got up and the entire length of my right arm was covered in bites. I look like I have a pox on me! They're kind of reduced now, but I still look like a minor circus freak. Not a headliner, but still a curiosity.

Bowing! I have started slightly bowing to people when I say thank you or goodbye. And they bow back!! It's the coolest thing! Really, it's an almost involuntary reaction to the culture here because you see bowing all over the place. And I've now added "Thank you" to my Korean repertoire (kamsa hamnida), so it works even better with the bowing. The kids are the cutest at it. At the graduation ceremony that we watched last Saturday, the kids with the most "Excellent" stamps in their passports got an award. When they went to get it from the head teacher, they each bowed. So sweet! And get this shit--tonight at dinner some kids almost mowed me over coming around a corner. "No running" is a rule here, so I quite sternly said, "NO RUNNING!" And one of the kids bowed at me! Then later, as I was eating my dinner and had forgotten all about it, he actually came up to me and apologized. He said, "It was my mistake." !!!! That would SO never happen in America.

"Teacher! Teacher!" This is now what I hear everywhere I go. The kids can't pronounce most of our names, so they call us all "teacher". "Shannon" seems to be well-nigh impossible for them. Kids say hi to me in the hallways and the dining hall, and I will often hear a "Teacher! Teacher!" as I'm walking along. I turn around and a gaggle of girls are waving frantically at me. It will be interesting to see if this gets annoying or stays cute. One night, at dinner, I walked by the line of kids and they all wanted to touch my hand and were saying "Hello teacher!!" Felt like a rock star.

Cafeteria food. Up to this point, I have not had a meal in there that I have been totally unable to eat. Some scary stuff, but I have tried to sample at least a little of everything. A few examples: curry over rice (rice of some kind with every meal), spicy kimchee (also with every meal), a cross between a hamburger and meatloaf with special sauce, spicy noodles, meatballs with a glaze on them, seaweed soup, corn soup, sauteed sesame bean sprouts, fried fish plank with tartar sauce on it, fresh fruit, cuttlefish soup, noodles with black bean paste, fried rice, sweet potatoes. It's an odd mix of western and Korean food. So far, so good, mostly. I haven't yet had a dish that I've fallen in love with (Huzzah rectangle cafeteria pizza!!). I've also not tried breakfast yet. I haven't eaten at a local Korean restaurant because I'm afraid to try one on my own (the ones near here are definitely "No English Menu" types) and I haven't been able to coordinate with my friends to venture out to one. Besides, cash is low until I get my first check. This past weekend the cafeteria wasn't open, so we were totally on our own for food. I lived off of salad from Carrefour and instant ramen from the 7-Eleven. Actually, the ramen here is delicious! My favorites are the spaghetti ramen (nothing like actual spaghetti, of course) and another one that is so spicy, but so yummy. They each have a thick sauce that goes on them; they aren't soup-like. I even found some Frosted Flakes. So, I've been having those and Yoplait yogurt for breakfast. Overall, I'm happy with the food so far. I know that there will come a time when I take the bus directly to Pizza Hut, but not yet!

I almost forgot I'm here to work!

Today was the first day of teaching and I was scared shitless. Not so much for the actual teaching, but for the tour that I was expected to give as a head teacher. Let me take a moment to explain the head teacher part. Basically, every week there is a new group of kids to prepare for. Every week, head teachers are picked to each be in charge of one "team" of kids. As a head teacher this week, I was in charge of Team 12. This is no great shakes, really, it just involves making 15 name-tags and collecting 15 passports to hand out during orientation. Well, you do also have to give them a tour and help them fill out the name-tags and passports. It's a pain in the ass, but your only real duties are on day one. After that, you don't really do anything special.

So, the tour. They handed us these complicated tour routes, designed to keep us from getting all bunched up in one spot at the same time, plus the most ridiculous script to read about each "class". Bullshit. Everyone more or less threw the scripts away immediately, but some people actually practiced the route! Yours truly figured she'd wing it. Mostly, I just didn't want to be huffing and puffing up all the crazy steps in this place, but there was really no way to avoid it.

Also, in all honesty, I was terrified of how the kids would react to seeing such a big woman as myself. Yesterday, some boys in the street I was walking down stopped to take my picture on their cell phone. I figured it was a tits thing and kept on going, but I was nervous that there would be a similar reaction today.

Well, as I was walking into the building first thing this morning, my worst fears came true. As I was going by a line of boys, a few of them started laughing and saying, "You so big! So fat!" I just smiled and said, "I know!" as brightly as I possibly could and kept going. Jesus. In my head, I said, "And so it begins."

Once inside, the kids all had to line up, with us head teachers at the front of our team's line. This gave all the kids plenty of time to gawk at me. (I'm quite serious when I say that I am definitely the fattest person for MILES, certainly the fattest at SEV.) After a few words from the senior teachers, we all had to go up and introduce ourselves. The nightmare playing in my head included lots of snickering and cat calls, but thankfully, they just cheered for me like everyone else.

In response to my own fears about the day, I found myself snapping into "substitute teacher" mode early on. This is a very strict Shannon that few of you have ever seen. Let's just say that I give a mean stink eye. Once in this mode, I have little tolerance for misbehavior and fidgety children. It usually serves me well in uncertain situations, and it definitely helped today because it made the kids take me more seriously.

So, my group was one that had to do the tour first instead of going through "immigration" first. Naturally. I led my group of half girls, half boys upstairs and basically plopped them in the first room we came to (the "hotel") so that we could fill in their documents. What a trial! We had been told that almost every student would already have an English name just as second nature. Hah! Maybe 5 of my 13 kids did, and making the rest understand the concept was incredibly difficult. A few of them I had to give up on and let them use the anglicized version of their Korean name. Some I created names for. One boy suggested "Clinton" as his name; that was a real winner. One girl was "Candy."

Once the agonizingly long process of filling shit out was done, I had to do the actual tour. Luckily, they were unlike American schoolchildren in that they stayed with me the whole time without running away. We went through the classrooms inside the building, outside on the balcony, upstairs to the library, right back down because you can't cut through, over to more classrooms, up more stairs, by more classrooms. By the time we took a small bathroom break, I was an overheated wreck. (They only really use air conditioning in the individual classrooms and the auditorium, not the hallways or stairwells.)

After tours were done, the kids were dismissed for lunch. I had one class after lunch to teach and then I would be done for the day. (I don't know how I lucked out on that one.) I will be the Doctor for the next two weeks in the "Medical Center." Yes, I do have my own stethoscope and an enormous thermometer. Try not to be jealous.

The kids I had for my first class were really an ideal group. They spoke a pretty fair amount of English and they were talkers (but not too antsy). I had gone over the lesson plan with the teacher who taught it before me, and it was pretty straightforward. Everything went great (and I had the air conditioning in there cranked up, too!) Another bonus was that when I got home from teaching, I found out that our hot water had been turned on. And I now randomly have an SEV wall clock. Still no garbage can or laundry facilities, though. Patienza...

A shopping excursion

Last Saturday I went shopping with Emma and Ryan at the Carrefour department store. I was looking forward to getting some stuff for my kitchenette. It turns out that I have a hot plate already here (plus the dorm fridge), so all I needed to get was a microwave, a pot and pan, some groceries, and then I would really be in business!

Doing this little bit of shopping turned out to be the biggest adventure I have yet had here. The plan was to take the bus there (following a route recommended by a girl who had done it the night before--the crazy Vanessa, who will never again be trusted to give directions) and then get a taxi back since we would have so many packages. Getting on the first bus was easy enough; it was just a 5 minute walk outside our front gate. Getting the second bus proved to be a little more difficult.

We got off at Suyu subway station to catch the second bus, the #106 toward Carrefour (the bus doors opened up to reveal a Pizza Hut straight ahead and a Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins just down the street--good grief!). We could not find the right bus stop no matter where we checked. Up and down the side of the street we got off on. Couldn't cross the street because of bus barriers, so down three flights of subway steps, under the street, up three flights of subway steps. Up and down the other side of the street. Nowhere. Back down into the subway because we remembered that we needed two passport pics to turn in for our alien registration forms on Monday (they have those little funny photo booths down there and our senior teachers had advised us that they would also take normal passport photos). They neglected to say "Good luck trying to figure it out!" It was entirely in Korean, so I started grabbing random strangers to help us. Finally landed this guy and his wife who were so helpful and wouldn't leave until we got the damn thing working (it wouldn't take our money for some reason). They were so nice! And the pics weren't bad either!

OK, back up three more flights of steps. More walking up and down the street. Crazily enough, we actually ran into three of our senior teachers, and they were able to point us to the right bus stop, which was CLEAR down the fucking street AND on the the other side. Fucking Vanessa. This time, we crossed at the light and got to the bus stop just as the bus we wanted was leaving. Natch.

Once on the bus, we got to Carrefour alright and made a plan to meet at the front door in an hour and a half. My two friends went upstairs, but I decided to take a quick tour around the main floor. Nothing much there, so I headed upstairs. They have escalators that are just flat, so that you can take your cart with you. Very nice. I got up a flight and there were my friends, looking very confused. Turns out, every flight up is just for parking. We were standing there going, "Where the fuck is the fucking stuff??" Turns out, you have to go DOWN a few flights. Food is on the bottom floor, then it's a Wal-Mart type floor with mostly household goods.

They went right down to the food floor, but I decided to start on the Wal-Mart floor. The girl at the entrance would not let me in, and it took me a minute to figure out that she wanted me to put my backpack in a locker before I could enter. Still, I got some great stuff (an electric kettle for $15, hairdryer with diffuser for $20, laundry stuff, Swiffer Sweeper, etc...) but when I got up to the checkouts, I saw that most people had groceries along with their household goods. So, it appeared that I was screwed and should have gone all the way down to the food floor to begin with. (Turns out that you seemingly can't leave the grocery section without checking out, either, so there must have been some magic way that my friends and I just couldn't figure out.) I went to the entrance and tried to leave to go downstairs, but the same girl was there and would not let me go. She motioned that I HAD to go through the checkouts. Great. Oh, and I had forgotten my money in my backpack, safely tucked away in the locker! Luckily, it was right by the checkouts and I was able to run and get it quick while the lady was ringing up my stuff. Thankfully, my credit card worked with no problems, sparing me any further embarrassment in this section of the store.

Now, down to the food floor. Of course, I was too shady to be let in with a cart full of packages! (I had taken the precaution of putting my backpack in a locker on that floor before even attempting to enter, but that was obviously not enough of a gesture. I would have put everything in there, but the Swiffer would have been a bit of a crunch.) The girl (I think it was even the same one from upstairs!) gave me a claim ticket and kept my whole cart. I motioned that I would be needing a cart (which I had had to get from a rack of carts at a cost of 100 won--you get it back when you return the cart--which I don't even understand because are people putting these carts in their minivans and driving off or what? And would the equivalent of 10 cents even cover the cost of losing one?? *sigh*) so she got some flunky to go get me another cart, while I stood there looking like a big white idiot.

Once inside, it was quite cool. In the prepared foods section, the guys behind the counter were not merely standing there serving food. No, they were loudly hawking their wares, screaming about how great their kimchee was or something. It was really neat (sorry, that's honestly the best word). It felt like being at an outdoor market like I've seen on the Travel Channel. Other than that, it was mostly another Hy-Vee.

Due to time constraints, I ended up having to race through there, grabbing plates and silverware and shampoo (how did I leave that out of my damn suitcase??) and hardly getting any real food at all. I managed to get the makings of a salad and that was about it. I couldn't find balsamic vinegar (then again, I wasn't really expecting to), but I was pleased to try Persimmon vinegar. By the end, I felt like a contestant on the long-lost Supermarket Sweep, just wiping whole shelves into my cart and running to the next aisle.

My friends and I hailed a taxi, relieved to entrust the journey home to someone other than ourselves. However, although the taxi driver was a nice old man, when I showed him a business card with the school's address in Korean, he clearly had no real idea where the hell it was. But, he was game enough to give it a go, and we were exhausted enough not to care.

He drove in what seemed to us to be the right direction. I think that he recognized the name of the neighborhood (which is included in the address), just not the specific street. All we really knew was that we needed to go towards the mountain because our school sits right at the base of it (my balcony faces into it). Halfway there, stuck in traffic, he beeped his horn to get the attention of the taxi next to us so that he could ask the other driver for directions!! They conferred for a bit, after which he seemed a little more confident. Once we got going again, we kind of recognized street signs (which are in English, as well as Korean) listing things like "Rehabilitation Center" turn left. In the end, these signs led us to the main intersection we all knew, with the big 7-Eleven, and a sign pointing the direction to Suyu English Village up the street. When we saw the sign, we all whooped, even the driver! He clapped with unbridled joy. :-) He tried to turn into our gate, but the construction guys were in the way with a big earth mover. So, we had to haul all of our packages up the steep-ass driveway and then up scores of steps to our individual apartments. But, no matter. We had used public transportation, shopped in a foreign department store with minimal embarrassment, helped a confused cabbie to get us home, and we were all in one piece with some cool shit to show for it. Not a bad start to our time in Seoul.

A little bit of catch up

Time for a long-overdue update on here. And no, the internet has not yet been hooked up in our rooms (I would rather have had that before the hot water, but I guess that's just me!) so I've decided that I will just bite the bullet and re-type on here everything I've been writing on my laptop. Wish I had a little data stick (what on earth are those things called??) but I don't and can't spend precious money on one right now. Happily, I *am* a fast typer, so it shouldn't take too long.

So, let's begin, shall we? I started writing a couple days after I got here. We'll lead off with that:

"Let's start with the overall look of the place. First of all, the construction is not completed. Mostly completed, but not entirely. Kids have been coming here for a day program for the last few months, but the stay-over kids are coming for the first time on Monday the 3rd. Therefore, construction goes on almost around the clock to get bricks laid, systems (like air conditioning) up and running, and all the little details completed. It is LOUD. My room is near where they're doing a lot of work, so I end up feeling like I'm living in New York City of something. However, once completed, this will be a very nice-looking place. It's clear that a lot of money has been spent on the project.

The layout of the village is very compact. I guess I had been envisioning little buildings where the bank would be separate from the hairdresser, etc. Not so much. There is one main building where the "classrooms" are set up like a bank, hairdresser, doctor's office, etc. It's not a bad idea, and it *is* air conditioned! There are about 40 different "classes" for the kids to attend. The other buildings on site are the cafeteria, student housing (each building named after a continent, i.e. Europe), faculty housing (named after oceans-I live in Arctic), and then at the top of the most ridiculously steep road I have ever ever ever had the misfortune of being required to climb is the huge swimming pool and recreation area. I'm not kidding about the road; this is not just a lazy person's perspective. It is so steep that I was sliding out of my shoes on the way up and fearful for my life on the way down. I'm a head teacher for this first week (I'll get into that later), which means I'm required to give a tour to my "team" of students. Technically, I'm supposed to walk up there with them, but as of right now, I think I might just be pointing up the hill instead of climbing it!

So, as you will remember, when I first got here on Wednesday night, things were quite depressing and I felt like coming home immediately. Well, by the light of day on Thursday, things seemed much better. 10 hours of sleep didn't hurt, either. I had to be to orientation at 9:30, but I was up by 7. My god, it was so humid. Thank you Jesus for my red Spanish fan!!! With no air con in my room, all I could do was open my balcony door and prop open my main door. Still, not much circulation. Even the main building was hot. So, it was a whole day of sweating it out with everyone. We were all in a pretty bad way, but at least I had my fan!

The other foreign teachers I'm working with are an interesting mix. Too many Americans. Lots of Kiwis (New Zealand), some Australians, a few Canadians, and two English. I don't really know all of them yet, but of the ones I do: Michael-Kiwi, "Global Nomad" as he introduced himself, been traveling around the world continuously since the late 80s, really cool, mid-40s, heavy drinker. Emma and Ryan-English, college friends from Yorkshire, never traveled or taught before at all, but they like Poirot and the West Wing, so I think we'll get along fabulously. Cane and Eva-a couple from NZ, young and hip, very sporty, bounded up the steep road like it was my driveway, very friendly, great accents. Vanessa-crazy Canadian chick, way into drama and asking questions, talks too much, reminds me of Elizabeth, but the only other person to bring a fan-although hers is a cheesy little lace number. Daniel-from New York, young and hip, my next door neighbor, very cool. John and Josh-American friends who totally fit the fraternity/kegger model to a tee, John plays rugby for Seoul and taught in Korea last year, Josh's nickname should be "Moose"--although friendly, these are the kind of guys (particularly Josh) who sometimes give Americans a bad name. Kyle-senior teacher born in Korea, raised in the States, absolutely great with the kids, friendly, and sings a mean karaoke song when he's shit-faced. Cade-American guy from North Carolina, very friendly, looks kind of like Stephan. Siamak-Persian guy from Canada, completely obsessed with soccer (football), wants everyone to watch the World Cup games with him, the Korean girl teachers giggle over him constantly because he's pretty cute, although he pretends not to notice this. There are a lot more, but I don't really know them well enough to comment at this point!

Last Friday night was a highly interesting experience. We observed classes all day long and then were going to have a traditional Korean "Welcome" barbeque. The day had been torturous because there was a day group in from a preschool. These kids were tiny! And spoke almost no English. Let me just say that the Seoul English Village (SEV) is definitely NOT designed to handle kids who speak no English. So, the day was a total wash because it was all about how to keep the kids from running around and screaming, not teaching them English. And they must have been from a ritzy school, too, because a professional photographer followed them around all day! I observed them in both the "Restaurant" setting and the "Doctor's Office". Nightmare. So, suffice to say that EVERYBODY needed some drinks by the end of the day. Luckily for us, free beer and soju was provided at the barbeque. (Soju is the national drink here, and it's kind of like vodka, but not as strong.) Let me just add here that giving free booze to people who work with children is not always the best idea. But anyway...

Dinner was interesting. They obviously went to a lot of work to set up each table with an array of traditional Korean dishes. Roasted pork (that was so fatty I could not touch it or even begin to imagine what cut it was from), kimchee (delicious and spicy!), lettuce and veggies that you were supposed to roll up with the pork and kimchee to make a little wrap that you dipped in one of three sauces, fried chicken legs with honey mustard (they ran out of this one fastest, no surprise there), two different fish omelets (one of which was on skewers and sitting in hot broth), kimchee soup, and fresh fruit. I ended up eating a couple chicken legs, veggies dipped into one of the sauces that was so good I definitely do NOT want to know what was in it, and the fresh fruit. And then, of course, there was the beer and soju.

Let's just say that Koreans (in general) and teachers have one thing in common: they can fucking drink. It was about 6:30 when the barbeque started, and by the time it was over at 8:30, almost everyone (including myself for the first time in years) was totally shit-faced. Beer flowed like water...there were empty cans EVERYWHERE, thrown on the floor, crushed underfoot, even stacked in pyramids...and let's not forget the soju. The table of just Korean men were doing shots like there was no tomorrow (always pouring drinks for a friend and never for oneself-it's bad luck). The foreign teachers were mostly going for the beer, but then we were told that mixing a little soju in with the beer makes it taste better. I was drinking soju and Coke, soju and grape Fanta, soju and piss-water Korean beer. But, I didn't get sick somehow... Imagine mixing vodka into your Bud Light! Makes my stomach turn just thinking about it.

Anyway, the best part was that the very head of the school, this old Korean guy in a suit and tie who could barely speak English, showed up to wish us well. He stayed for dinner and more than a few soju shots of his own. Let us just say that by the time Kyle started singing "Twist and Shout" over the mic, the boss-man was out on the floor dancing with several of the foreign teachers (girls and guys!) in a way that would prompt a lawsuit in the States. It was awesome. We all sang along with Kyle for both "Twist and Shout" and "La Bamba", a truly memorable rendition. The whole night was just so much fun! And I was sloshed, so everything was hilarious. Daniel and I were sitting next to each other, and we had a great time being funny drunks. Some people went out dancing afterwards (it *was* only 8:30 after all!), but I was too tired to venture off-campus. Besides, it was important that I remain coordinated enough to pick my way through the construction debris to my room."

--So, that's my first catch up entry. There's lots more, so I'll post them separately--that way you can read them at your leisure. By the way, the lack of pictures is due to the fact that I was in a total stupor my last day in Iowa and forgot to load my digital camera's program onto my computer, and I can't make it work without it. I can download the driver from online, but not until I can hook my personal computer into the internet (we're not supposed to add programs to the school computers). So, when I get pictures to go along with everything, I'll update the entries so you can come back and check them out.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Brief update

This is just a very brief update to let you know I haven't forgotten about you! The internet is still not working in our rooms, so my computer time is totally limited. However, I have been composing Travelpod entries on my laptop, so when it finally gets hooked up (hopefully this week) there will be a MAJOR update on here.

Some quick news: air conditioning is working and hot water has been turned on. Things are definitely on the upswing! I taught my first class today, and it wasn't a total nightmare. The food is pretty decent. The people here are cool. The kids aren't total jerks. It could all be a lot worse!

I can't wait for the internet to be hooked up so that I can Skype and email at leisure. Stephan, I've tried looking for you on there, but I can never find you. Try adding me and we'll see what happens.

Anyway, I must run, but I just wanted to say hello. So far, I'm not homesick, so keep your fingers crossed for me. Talk to you later!