Here's my story while I'm out conquering the world. Okay, so just South Korea.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
After several hours of hard labor, I finally figured out how to post photos. So that's right, you get to go back and read all my entries again with a little something to lay your eyes on. Enjoy! P.S. You can't miss the "Shannon teacher" photos. Those kids are so damn cute when you can't hear them! Here's a view as I cross the street in front of my apartment...
Hope you all had a good Thanksgiving. I nearly forgot about it since it's not celebrated here. No turkey for me. The only other American teacher from my school invited me to go for Thanksgiving drinks (just as good as turkey, no?) after work Thursday, and I was introduced to several other American teachers (from different schools). One from Michigan, one from Ohio, one from Minnesota, Colorado, and California. They're all pretty nice, and I'm the newbie, so they are eager to take me under their wing(s) and show me the ropes. 2 of them are Korean-American, and they can speak Korean really well because they grew up speaking it in their household. I thought I'd have a lot of free time here, but I'm just as busy as I was back home. No time to sit around and be lonely, that's for sure. In fact, I wish I had more time to read and relax. Damn job. My life would be so much more fun if work didn't get in the way. ;) It's funny, all day a language that I can't understand is being spoken around me...I just tune it out because it sounds like giberish to me. Since I've been here of course I've picked up a few necessary words, like "hello", "thank you" and "whitey". That's right, I just learned the word for "white person" in Korean (or more appropriately, "whitey")---it's "waygu". I guess it's used a lot when referring to us foreigners. Thursday night on my way back from drinks I could hear it being yelled at me (in a non-threatening way, of course mom). Now that I know certain words, my ears tune into only those words. Especially when drinking is involved, all inhibitions just leave. They will come up to you in the street and attempt any english word they know "hi how are you" and "america?" or "canada?" in a broken accent. And they are just so thrilled to speak those 4 little words and they want recognition, dammit!
Tonight, another teacher and I went to a members only Sam's Club-type-place called Cosco (I think they have them in certain regions of the U.S.). It's nice because many grocery stores here do not carry brands I'm used to back home, but Cosco carries some American staples (only the packaging is in Korean). I was able to stock up on things like dill pickles (that's right, I bought a years supply), peanut butter, jelly, PREGO (yep), cereal, etc... very exciting. They also carry very interesting Korean things, like big vats of dried seaweed, octopus legs, hot pepper paste, and weird flat fish. I saw them in an aquarium outside of a restaurant here and they looked dead. They are normal looking fish, but they rest on the bottom of the aquarium and lay on their sides. Anyway, I've digressed... I can finally bring my own lunches to school, as I've been eating a free kindergarten lunch at school. Sometimes it's questionable... most of it is home-style Korean cooking, so there are things like chewy squid, kimchi (the spicy pickled cabbage), dried fish, tofu and rice (you can count on that with every meal). There is always at least one unidentifiable thing too...and no one (not even the Korean teachers) knows what it is. However, sometimes you'll get an American surprise, like chicken or fish nuggets. Soup is served with every lunch, and that is usually pretty good...it will have a semi-spicy flavorful broth, and then cabbage or bean sprouts in it. So I eat a lot of rice and soup for lunch. Thanks to Cosco, now I can make PB&J! Because everything is so big at Cosco, Kristin and I had to take a cab home (she lives across the street) with all of our purchases instead of the subway. Cabs are pretty cheap here anyway. I have my address written down in Korean to show the cab driver, but because we don't know our way around the city, we really have no idea whether he's taking us the "long" way or not. If he is, we couldn't really do anything about it anyway, since we can't communicate with him! C'est la vie...
I finally got internet installed in my apartment!! No more going to smoky PC bangs!! This also means that I can actually read in English what's going on! Up until now, when I have been posting and editing my blog, I have only been able to see the commands in Korean (Korean version of blogger, even when I go to the .com address) That's why I haven't been able to block weird people from making comments. Thanks to my cousin Luke, I turned on Word verification so there won't be anymore random comments. ALSO, I made it possible for anyone to comment, so you don't have to be a member of blogger or have your own blog to comment. So I expect to hear from more of you! I'll be watching you...
Hi again... There are so many things to tell, so little time. I'll give you a crash course in the food, since I haven't touched on that much yet. Well, what can I say? It's S-P-I-C-Y. Ridiculous, so-spicy-there-is-no-taste-only-heat-spicy. I am reading a book called "Korea Unmasked". It's great--a very informative book about the culture, how it evolved, and how Korea compares to other countries. Evidently Koreans are some of the most extreme people in the world in many ways, and one way is through their food. It is the spiciest food in the world. Indian food is spicy too, but at Indian restaurants you can specify a degree of spiciness. In Korea, red pepper paste is mixed into most dishes, and there is no such thing as "mild". It's all or nothing, and believe me, they are very generous with the paste. According to the book, Koreans like spicy food for the stimulating sensation on their tongue, not just the taste. Because of their affinity for extremely spicy food, Koreans are number one in the WORLD when it comes to stomach illnesses!! ( highest rate of intestinal cancer!) I've tried many of their spicy dishes. I can stand it, but as I'm eating, my nose is dripping and I am sweating. Rice really cuts the spice, so I use a lot of that. And I drink a lot of water. Most of the restaurants I've been to are different from back home, in that you order one dish for the whole table and everyone shares. Whatever it is comes out in a big dish or plate and everyone just digs in. This makes it very cheap to eat. One dish (feeds at least 5 people) will cost around $20, and you get lots of side dishes with it (free refills on the side dishes). I've never finished a meal with others at a restaurant. They really go overboard with their serving sizes. Even if you eat at a place where you get your own dish. Ridiculous portions. I once ordered a soup with noodles, vegetables, and fish, and the bowl was seriously bigger than the size of a frisbee, and deep. I didn't even make a dent in it (not to mention it was too spicy for me to enjoy).
Another very common type of food is called a galbi. This is barbequed beef or chicken. Each table has a grill on it, placed over a fire. The waitstaff brings out your raw meat and you get to cook it yourself. This is the best, because the meat doesn't have spices on it! :) I love this.
Even if you don't like spice, it's ok. I've had some soup that isn't spicy, as well as Mondoo which are like potstickers or dumplings. They weren't spicy. Also, ducas is great. It's fried pork. Other than Korean food, there are tons of Western restuarants everywhere, including TGI Fridays, Outback Steakhouse, plus all the fast food and pizza places. There are also Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Thai restaurants. So I'm not starving by any means.
Sunday I went with one of the foreign teachers to the bookstore. We took the subway. When we reached our destination, we ascended the stairs to the street level. We were surrounded by thousands of people standing and sitting in the street, chanting (in Korean, of course) and holding signs. We had no idea what was going on, but it seemed like some sort of demonstration or riot. There were speakers set up and at the far end of the street, a man was standing on a stage yelling into a microphone. It was an angry, Hitler-esqe yell. Kristin and I had to push through the crowds several blocks to get to the bookstore. On the way, I saw many signs featuring none other than George Bush. Although I couldn't read the writing, I can assure you they were not nice signs. Then, I saw a sign with the Statue of Liberty on it, with a skeleton face. Suddenly, I realized that it may not have been the best place to be an American. Luckily, there are many other people who look like me (i.e., white) who are from Canada, Australia, England, Ireland, etc... in the country, so they can't necessarily tell that I'm American. We got to the bookstore without incident. On the way back to the subway, the protest was still going on. This time, people were handing out newspapers with GW on the cover. I found out that the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation) meeting is being held in Busan, South Korea (a city about 3 hours away) this weekend. There are expected to be over 100,000 people protesting free trade and President Bush. The press is warning Americans to stay away from that city. I decided that from now on, I'm from Canada. Thanks, GW! Due to you and "the powers that be", I have to pretend I'm from another country so people don't hate me.
I moved into my apartment about a week ago. It's in a 20-story building, and I'm on the 2nd floor. The apartment has outside entry (there are no inside hallways), and it's bigger than I expected. I was told that I would get a studio (in Milwaukee, those are literally one room), but my apartment here has an entry hallway, a bathroom, a laundry room (with a washer!), a kitcher/dining room combo, and a bedroom/living room combo. There is also a back porch, but it is completely enclosed (just screen windows). Some interesting/different things I've noticed:
Dryers aren't popular, so I have to air-dry my clothes...ugh. I still haven't figure out how to make them soft...
Shower curtains aren't used often either, because many Koreans don't mind getting water on the floor in the bathrooms. There are drains in the middle of the floor for that. I couldn't stand getting out of the shower and stepping in water, so I had to search for a shower curtain.
Their heating system (ondol) runs in pipes underneath the floor instead of through vents. Therefore, the floor is nice and toasty. This is why some Koreans eat sitting on the floor at low tables. It feels great on your butt! It's also more energy efficient.
My television has one english channel (without having cable). It's called AFN. It is here because American troops have been stationed in Seoul since the Korean war. It's nice because they play Good Morning America, Grey's Anatomy, Las Vegas (among others) and many movies. Also football.
Garbage: You must separate your garbage into 3 places: trash, recycling, and FOOD. Yuck. The garbage bins outside with only food in them are absolutely disgusting. I get nauseous just looking in them (not to mention the smell).
In spite of all these differences, I am pleasantly surprised with my apartment. It is not bad at all (for free!)
Last night (Saturday) I went out for my first night on the town in Seoul. It was one of the foreign teachers' birthday (she's Canadian) so about 6 of the teachers went out with our supervisor Angie. We went to dinner at a kalbi barbeque. Each table has a grill on it and you are given strips of beef to cook yourself. In addition to the beef, you get garlic, mushrooms, and a bunch of side dishes: kimchi (the national side dish of Korea--which really means any side dish but most often includes fermented cabbage), lettuce to wrap the beef in, and different seasonings and sauces to dip the beef in. It was an awesome meal. After that, we went to a noraebang (sounds like noribong). This is Korean karaoke. If you have seen "Lost in Translation", it's exactly like the karaoke they do in that movie. You go in with a group of friends and order a room. It's $15-$20 an hour. There were 7 rooms in the place. These rooms are roughly 7x7, so rather small, with benches lining either side. There is a huge screen on the back wall that provides the words to the songs you choose to sing, as well as what looked to be a Korean American Idol going on in the backdrop. There are 2 microphones in each room. Also, there is no drinking at noraebang but of coure, some of the foreign teachers snuck in some beer, so you can feasibly get away with it. It was hilarious. Their songbooks are really thick, with a good selection of English music as well as Korean (of course). I did a duet of "Picture" (Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock) with one of the foreign teachers, as well as "Patience" (Guns N' Roses). Since I was already losing my voice (a cold due to adjusting), it doesn't sound so great today. Anyway, it was a blast, we stayed there until 3a.m.
My supervisor took me to get a cell phone yesterday evening. Foreigners can't get phones unless a Korean signs the contract for them, so my supervisor Angie was nice enough to do that. Evidently everyone needs one here (probably a good idea, in case I get lost). And, everyone uses their cell phone here way more than in the U.S. (if you can believe that). People are on them all the time...in the subway, at dinner...basically anywhere you can think of. They are much more high-tech (some of them have TVs on them) and people hang charms off of them to individualize them. Anyway, I didn't want to spend a lot on a phone or a monthly plan since I'll only be here a year so I went with the cheapest model they had, about $70. Their crappiest phone is much nicer than the phone I had in the U.S. It has a digital camera built in, an FM radio (I can listen to radio on my phone) and a UV index meter. That's right, just point your phone at the sun and it will give you the UV reading of the day. What?!
I don't get charged for incoming calls (unlike the U.S.) and I can use calling cards on it for free. For local calls I'll just pay for the time I use. Pretty sweet deal.
Wednesday night I went to dinner with my Korean supervisor (Angie) and 2 foreign teachers (both from Canada). Outback steakhouse is all the rage here. Why? I have no idea. But anyway, that's where we went. I took a trip to the little girl's room, and noticed that the toilet had a control panel. There was an arm (much like a chair arm) with 8-10 buttons on it (labeled in Korean). Wow, I thought, as I began to sit down. This is high-tech. Well, the toilet seat was warm! The seat warmer was on! What a novel idea! So I get up to flush, and I can't figure it out. I lean over the "bowl" and start pushing the buttons on the "toilet arm". Well, out shoots a thin, powerful stream of water clear up to the top of the stall door. Nearly took my eye out. So I push that button again to shut it off. I try pushing another button (to flush) and another stream of water shoots up but this time in another direction. Sheesh! Turns out the flusher was where it should be, on the back of the seat. I'll never know what all those other buttons are for...but I did take a picture so I'll be sure to post in when I get my computer equipped with the internet. And BTW...the toilet was empty when I took said picture. :) Have a great day.
Hi everyone- Sorry I haven't written in awhile, but this week has been killer. After going to orientation on Tuesday, I observed at least 12 classes a day Wednesday and Thursday. Friday I started teaching. I am SO glad it's the weekend. A few notes about the school... The school I teach at is called a hagwon. These are very popular in South Korea. A hagwon is a place students come either before or after their regular public school to learn english. Students work very hard here (nothing like the U.S.) in that their days of learning start early, around 8 a.m., and don't finish until 9 or so at night (if not later). This is because the university system here is very competitive. To get a good job, you must have come from a good university, and getting into one depends on ONE test score. This test is given only once a year. All students must take it on that day. If you're sick, too bad. You wait until the next year. It's very strict, there are no make-up tests or re-takes. Plus, getting into the university is completely dependant on that test result, regardless of what your grades were or if your teachers liked you. This is why Koreans study hard from kindergarten to high school. A little pressure, huh?
Anyway, my hagwon is k-middle school. Classes start at (kindy who may go to an afternoon Korean kindergarten) and don’t finish til 9pm. Usually the students take 2 class periods there, one from a native English speaker, and one from a Korean English teacher. Half of our staff are native speakers (most are from Canada), and the other half are Koreans who speak English as a second language. It is good to have them teaching because they can teach things like grammar in Korean so the students can understand it better.
I start at (MWF) or (TTH). I usually finish Classes are 40 minutes long and have 5 minute breaks in between. I usually teach 7 classes per day, but not straight through. I have some long breaks. My first 2 classes are kindergarten. My first class is 5 year olds (age 6 in Korean), and my second class is 4 year olds (age 5 in Korean). Koreans count age differently than the US. You are 1 year old the moment you are born here. I guess living here I’m closer to 30 than I thought!
The class size is 12 students max. That even feels like too many. Especially when the students are young. My 4 and 5 year olds are uncontrollable. There are many naughty children in there, but they are just being kids. What really makes it hard is that they are just learning to speak English, but for the most part they have no idea what I’m saying. If they are doing something wrong, I can’t really explain it to them. I use a lot of body language and “looks”. It gets easier with my older classes. I have several classes in which they’re 7-10 yrs, and they’ve had English for several years. There is a basic understanding. They also tend to be better behaved. All in all, I have about 100 students.
How do I remember their names, you ask? Each child is assigned an English name given by their Korean teacher. What’s funny about this is that the Korean English teacher may have spelled the name by how it sounds to them. For example, one of my students names is “Poe”, this is supposed to be Paul, but oh well. There are many instances like this. SO when I go around and say “my name is Shannon, what’s your name?” I write in on the board, they think I’m the idiot when I spell Poe “P-A-U-L”. They call me Shannon teacher. Koreans tend to name by rank. Someone explained to me that Koreans call the manager “Manager” instead of Sarah, and “Supervisor” instead of “Angie”. So instead of “Ms. Ahrndt” they call me “Shannon teacher”.
Another funny thing is that these students don’t see many Westerners. So of course they all come up and inspect me like I’m an alien or something. One 6-year old who was inspecting said “your head is long, cucumber”, and then she laughed (along with the others who were around). Then in the same conversation another girl said “nose long, Pinocchio” I said “well, your nose is short, bitch” (ok, ok, so I didn’t...). I guess they aren’t used to seeing these differences so I have to be tolerant.
All in all, it will definitely be a challenge but the good thing is that 1) lesson plans are already there for me, 2) there are other native speakers who can help me out, and 3) the kids are pretty cute and loving at times (as you can see in the photos).
Well, today I got to take the subway to the YBM head office for orientation. I've ridden quite a few subways- Chicago (L), Metro in Paris, NYC Subway, The Tube in London...but I've got to say the subway here is top notch--very efficient--there are stations every couple blocks and luckily all the stops are written in English as well as hangul (Korean alphabet) because of a law that was recently passed. I really don't know what I would have done if there were no english letters. Probably would take all day to figure out where I'm going. However, there are like 17 exits per station so you really have to know where you're going or you could come up from underground totally disoriented. Hasn't happened to me yet. One thing that isn't so great is that the subways are SUPER crowded at rush hour--I mean Summerfest sidestage crowded--people jam-packed together like pickles in a jar, (reference from Ellen Degeneres) pushing to get on and off. However, contrary to what you may be thinking, it doesn't smell! (unlike NYC subway). Another interesting fact that adds to my amazement on that point is that people here do not, I repeat, do not wear deodorant. All of the "Living in Korea" guidebooks make a point of telling the transplant that so that they stock up on it before they come (and I did). So how is that possible, you ask? I have yet to find out. The city of Seoul is so large it can take up to 2 hours to get from one end to the other by subway. That's right, with NO traffic. Massive. It's nice because I don't have to transfer lines to get from my apartment (or love motel) to school. Rock! And it's only 80 cents per ride. That sure beats Milwaukee County Transit System's $1.75 per bus ride!!
Another thing that I'm surprised by (one of many) is that I don't see any non-Asians. The only place I have seen a few are at the school I am working. But none on the street, or in the subways, so it's really interesting to be the minority for once. Serves me right. :) I thought there would be sort of a New York City vibe here with a melting pot of cultures but it's not like that at all, at least in the areas I've been so far. As I was standing in the subway there were some middle-school girls giggling and speaking really fast Korean in front of me...I realized they had a camera phone and were taking pictures of me when I wasn't looking. I looked over and there was more giggling and whispering. Hmmmm... I hope they got my good side. But yeah, it's weird walking down the street and seeing no one of your ethnic decent. Communicating is a whole nother story. I'm glad I like playing charades. Thankfully, people are really friendly about it and go out of their way to help. Very good impressions so far...
Well, what do you know? I haven't even been here 24 hours and there are already fun things to share...Keeping this blog updated is going to be a full-time job...I may not be able to teach.
Well, I arrived here just fine after a mere 14 hours on the plane. And BTW, it wasn't THAT bad. I wasn't able to sleep a lot, but the time passed. Counting how many times a person blinks in an hour kept me entertained. A Korean man sitting next to me was about my age and helped me after getting off the plane to get on the correct bus and call my supervisor (Angie) so she could pick me up. He even called my supervisor back after she picked me up to make sure I made it ok! (I know I'm hot, but GOSH!) It was a 2 hour bus ride from the airport to where I was going, so I finally arrived at around 7pm Sunday night (Seoul time). My supervisor was waiting for me with another teacher at my school from Prince Edward Island (Canada?-I know I've had P.E.I. mussels) and he helped with my just-made-the-weight-limit-luggage. It was nice to be able to talk to both of them in English! We hopped in a taxi and they took me to a motel I will be staying in for about a week...I guess the apartment I will be staying in is still occupied and that person will be moving out next Saturday. But anyway, the motel is funny, the name is Four Season (singular). It is in an alley and we walked through a garage door opening to get in (with fringes hanging down). Andrew (from P.E.I.) explained that it is a "love motel" meaning that lots of Korean couples (who aren't married) go there to "ahem, how do you say...do their thing" since most people live with their parents before they are married so they have no where to go to spend alone time together. OR married Koreans who want to CHEAT on their spouse go there. (this is why it's all back-alley and your identity can be disguised if you don't want to get caught). Nothing like getting treated to the best the city has to offer...It is a small room but ok to stay in for a week. There are some funky things around that I don't understand--like a blacklight poster in the hall with a naked woman on it (and there are no blacklights...) They also have a video library that I can use with great movies like "Lethal Weapon 3" dubbed in Korean. Sweet. Everything in the room is operated by remote control--the lights, the A/C, the TV...and of course I can't read the buttons so it's always a surprise to find out what's gonna happen when I push it... Most of the stations on the TV are in Korean (duh) but last night I was able to fall asleep to an interview with Steve Carell of "The Office" and "40-year old Virgin". Made my night. On the way to my love motel you will be interested (not to mention excited) to know that there is a "Papa John's" pizza place, a KFC, Baskin Robbins and a Puma store. That's right, good ol' globalization. That's it for now...I haven't had the experience of getting food yet...I've been living on granola bars. But I think it's time! I'm starved. Can't wait to hear from you and keep you updated!