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!

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