Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A venting session

The last week or so I've been particularly busy. The end of the month always is with work, because we have to write evaluations on each student (so for me, that's around 100). It's sort of like a monthly report card for their parents to see their progress. I'm used to that, although it's time-consuming.
In addition to that, our school was chosen among the many YBM ECC's in Korea to be video-taped. Certain classes that they film will be posted on the website for prospective students to watch. Lucky me, my class was chosen to be taped. I wasn't too happy about this, as the class they wanted to tape was my 5 year olds (really about 3 years old American). I love my kids, but they can be hard to control and are less than attentive at times. So this was a big stressor for me. I had to prepare a phenomenal class for them to film, because it was a pretty big deal. There was a sort of "test run" on Monday and the final cut was filmed Tuesday. Let me just say that it's not gonna win any awards. Did I mention that I hate being video-taped??

In addition to even that, summer classes started on Monday. Most children get vacation from their "public schools" for about a month in August. That means extra work for people like me who work at "private" institutions (hagwons). My school is something they do as an extra-curricular activity, so when they're off of school, they still come to the hagwon and even more: they'd like us to provide extra classes, (aka: baby sitting services). So, all of us teachers have to work overtime by teaching more classes than normal. So, yippee for me, I get to be at school for 10 hours a day.
For those of you who really know my work ethic, I'm pissed. Work, I'm fine with. I do my best when I'm there. It pays the bills, I get the warm fuzzy feeling like I'm helping out the world at times. Great. But it's when work starts taking over my life that I REALLY have a problem with it. So, needless to say, I've been pretty upset the last couple of days. Not only am I writing evaluations outside of my normal work hours, preparing for my video debut, but I'm also teaching extra classes.
So, I was ready to go postal on Monday. Now, I'm not saying I have the worst situation in the world. In fact, other teachers (mainly Korean) at my very school have it worse than I do. But, I have to say, I didn't sign up for this. That's what's gets me about it. Our contract spells out pretty plainly about what is expected of us, but it happens to be ever-so-vague in many areas. It's not just this time either. "Something" always seems to come up to get us to put in more than we've bargained for.
I guess that's ultimately my fault for not going through it with a fine-toothed comb, but live and learn, I guess.
Now that I'm done with my evaluations and video-taping, I feel a bit better. My friend Keri is coming here from Milwaukee on Thursday evening. We are heading to Japan (!) on Saturday, and we arrive back in Korea on Wednesday. I have a break from work! Thank you! My friends Gilles and Geoff are also vacationing in Japan, so we'll get to hang out. Our plans so far include Tokyo Tower, Mt. Fuji, Imperial Palace, and a singing room (of COURSE I have to compare their singing rooms with those of Seoul...).
I can't wait!!!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Odd Beach Behavior

So, I went to the beach again last weekend (but a different one). This time about half of us were Korean teachers, and half were foreign (there were 13). We took the train about 3 hours to get there. It was further down the coast. It's funny, all the beaches here are complete with little beach towns. They have TONS of hotels/motels and restaurants practically on top of each other right on the beach. All of the restaurants have the same cuisine, seafood (of course). They eat quite different seafood here, and they prepare it differently than we would back home. There are lots of clams and mussels, and seafood stew. Most of the places specialize in barbequed seafood, so there are grills on each table and you cook it right there. They are also big on squid and octopus. I'm not a fan of the octopus. I don't like seeing the legs with the suction things on them. It freaks me out. It's also waaaaay to chewy for me! Will the chewing ever stop???! There are also restaurants where you can get "fresh" octopus, meaning they chop it up live and you eat the legs while they're still squirming. NO THANK YOU. I hear that the little suction cups on their legs can still work so they can get stuck to the inside of your mouth or throat. Disgusting.
Seafood is really a part of their live even in the city, where every convenience store has dried squid and fish/shrimp flavored snacks, like chips. Anyway, that's another blog entry.
So, we of course ate some barbequed seafood at the beach.
"Different" beach behavior that I noticed: No one really wears swimming suits (except the foreigners). I, of course, was in my bikini, along with the other foreigners who were wearing normal beach attire for back home. It was fricking HOT out, so of course we were. Well, I went for a walk down the beach and I did not see ONE other person in a swimming suit. Everyone had on clothes. Even people in the water. WHAT? So, you'd better believe I was the object of everyone's stares. There was even a person who took a picture of me as I was walking because it was so odd to see someone in a swimsuit. Well, don't worry, cause I took a ton of pictures of the "crazy dressed people on the beach". When I came back from my walk I was so shocked and a little embarrassed that I threw a skirt on over my bikini bottoms. I asked my korean friends (who were also wearing clothes, but at least they had swimsuits on under them) what was going on. I thought they were going to eventually take their clothes off, at least when they swam. But no, all of them swam in their shorts and tops. HUH? So I guess the deal is that they are modest about being that naked in front of others. Nothing like America. What's funny is that on the streets, I've seen some of the shortest skirts of my life. So I guess they're not that modest.
So anyway, I'm sure I looked like a big whore being on the beach in a bathing suit. (I never thought I'd say that).
Also, there were a lot of people who pitched tents on the beach. They'd sit in them with their families. Wow. That must be really hot.
There also were a lot of people jet-skiing and boating, but there wasn't a boat landing, so people would just drive their cars or tractors (yes, you read that right) right on the beach up to the water to pick up their boat or jet ski. SO weird!
Finally, since we stayed at a hotel on the beach, we went and hung out at the beach at night. Everynight there are fireworks and people hanging out. Drinking on the beach is legal (as is drinking anywhere outside, even in the city), so you've got the crazy drunk people shooting off fireworks on the beach at all hours of the night. Scary. The beach was lit up by different colored lights. One section of the beach was green, one section was pink, one was yellow, etc...it was a great way to ruin nature. That's one thing I notice overall in Korea: They just can't leave a good thing alone. It seems like they try to "enhance" nature but it always ends up looking overdone and tacky. (another example is when I was at Jeju Island and there was a waterfall that dumped into a river....they dyed the river turquoise blue, so it looked like the Carribbean or something, but it was a river)
Here are some pics of the weekend: my clothed Korean friends, a tractor on the beach, and our seafood dinner.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

My 28th Birthday

My birthday was last weekend. It fell on a Sunday, so I decided to go to the beach for the weekend with some friends. The closest beach to Seoul is on the west coast (on the Yellow Sea). It's about 2 hours by train to get there. In my guidebook, it said it was one of the nicer beaches on the west side of the country (evidently the East Sea/Sea of Japan) is a bit better. But it's further away, so we stayed close. There were 6 of us. It's monsoon season here, so the weather wasn't that great, but we still had fun. The beach wasn't exactly what I would call "nice". There were some really weird things that were lying on the beach, like rusty pipes, for example, that I didn't really understand. Not exactly the Carribbean. Oh well, we got over it and were still able to enjoy ourselves. Not many people were at the beach, so it was nice that it wasn't crowded. My friends really came through with some great gifts and cards, which I wasn't expecting at all. They are kind of like my surrogate family here, so we go out of our way to make the holidays good for each other since we are all away from our friends and family back home. I got some really funny t-shirts from Geoff. Because he is Canadian and I am American, we have a little rivalry going there. He bought me a shirt with a maple leaf (Canada's flag) on it and it says "Pure Fuckin Canadian....Born in Canada...Made in Italy". There are also a lot of shirts you'll find in Korea that have English writing on them (because that's the cool thing to wear), but a lot of times, it doesn't really make sense. I got a nightshirt that says "Happy Virus....Sweet! Happy summer! Have a happy day!" What??? I got a tshirt that says "I agree with the cosmetic surgery". Priceless. As you can see, weird. I also got some more "normal" gifts from my other friends.
We shot off some fireworks on the beach that night and watched a scary movie in our hotel room. We also had a massive pillow fight which I haven't done in quite some time.
It was a good birthday! Thanks to all of you who sent cards in the mail. I know some advance planning went into that. :)

Field Trip

I got to go on a fieldtrip with my kindergarten students. We went to a place that teaches traditional Korean manners, such as bowing, sitting, and wearing the traditional clothing (called Hanbok). I was asked to wear hanbok for the day. I think most Korean people have this. They wear it on holidays and special occassions. I think to look good in it, you really have to be Asian. :) My kids look soooo cute. I think the dress does a good job of making me look pregnant. I promise, that is NOT the case.