A Year in Seoul - video by Maddy

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In other news...

A group of foreigner teachers are currently under quarantine in Seoul for Swine Flu. Schools all over Seoul are trying to limit foreigner to foreigner contact. Luckily mine hasn't succumbed to the hysteria yet. Check out the hilarious blog straight from the quarantine room... Hang in there guys! No worries, kimchi can cure anything!! (Watch this to see how...)

North Korea has decided that once you pop you just can't stop and is sending missiles out like fireworks. I also read an interesting article about how U.S. experts are trying to determine how long Kim Jong Il will live based on two month old photos released by the North Korean government. Right, because all the information released by that government is so reliable... Why is it that dictators never seem to die of natural causes until they've reached the ripe old age of 437?

On a more somber note, the former South Korean president committed suicide over the weekend amid accusations of bribery. From what I am told, he was popular with the people and the charges are somewhat overblown and part of a tradition of incoming administrations to heavily investigate former leaders in an attempt to gain support.

It has been an eventful week in Korea to be sure. I'm feeling pretty good right now as neither missiles or H1N1 have managed to do me in (for now...).

Monday, May 25, 2009

I'm thinking about home. Home as a concept, home as a place, home as a troubling indefinable illusion. The word reveals a bouquet of dull sensations, sweet and heavy like ripe fruit. On this rainy night they are apparitions all around me. They cling to the walls and watch me mutely, waiting for a trigger that can set them wailing like banshees. No such luck.


I turn the word over in my palm and study it with numb detachment. Its edges are worn soft by use and it feels nice to hold, but I can't figure out where to put it. Does it belong behind me, somewhere I can turn to, a place which exists when I remember it and recedes into the distance as I move forward? Or maybe it belongs in front. Maybe it exists ahead of me, waiting to be revealed at some arbitrary moment in the future. I place it in my lap and turn it over a few times, feeling it out. It feels okay, but the word is humming. No, this is good now, but this is not it. It is restless in my hands.


The word is restless and I am restless. I vibrate with a thousand possibilities and toss the word onto the floor, absentmindedly moving on to new vocabulary. They tell me I have a short attention span, and they're right, but some of us were just born to move.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I teach therefore I am... mental

They like to choose English names...

My teacher's day gifts! (I got some yummy sushi too)

Break time = drawing on the board time for Brian and Kay

Shelly and Brian clowning around in English Club

Today is Teacher's Day in Korea and when I arrived at school it dawned on me: somewhere in these past five months I became a teacher. Now this should seem obvious, after all, I came here to teach. When you leave for Korea, however, you think about the flight, you worry about how you will fit in, if you'll like the food and the people, if you'll be lonely, and how difficult the language is. The one thing you don't think about is the very thing you are coming to do. At least that's how it went for me.
I've always loved kids and worked with kids, but this is something new entirely. I find myself talking about class control when I'm out for a beer. I smile on my walk to work. I hear "Teacher! Teacher!" in my sleep. I enjoy writing "teacher" instead of "student" under occupation when I am filling out immigration forms. I hope I'm good enough, funny enough, strong enough, and patient enough. After believing I'd never be content in any occupation, I find myself happy, I find myself caring.
I have no control over any of my classes. I am the world's biggest pushover and it's got to stop. I spend my days yelling over thirty screaming voices. I beg, plead, bribe, and threaten to no avail. "Game Teacher! Game!" It's the only thing that shuts them up.
I choose favorites. Sometimes it's just because they are so cute I want to pinch their cheeks. Others crack me up with their dead on impressions of the characters on our CD-ROM. I have a student who named himself "baby dog" and another who wrote "Brittany" on the back of his name tag, which he shows when only I (and not my co teacher) can see. The third grader who runs to me and hugs me every time she sees me is a clear favorite, as are all my English Club students. I love the fifth grade boys who act so tough, but then crumple up and cry at the slightest incident and remind you that they're still little boys. And I'm endlessly amused by the sixth grade girls who have made it their life missions to teach me Korean pop culture and the Korean language in rapid, excited, impossible to follow lessons.
Sometimes I want to kill my students. I imagine that they are giving me premature wrinkles and I get very bitter. They always want candy from me... and stickers. I am a candy and sticker machine with a good accent. Luckily, they are funny kids. Laughing makes the exasperation fade. Talking about animals, I asked my kids, "Do you like pigs?" "No, " a student replied and when I asked why he said, "Influenza." The kid can barely answer the question "How are you?" but somehow managed that. And today when I asked "How's the weather?" a student raised his hand and said, "The sun is very angry today!"
Best of all. Being the only foreign teacher in the school gives me rock star status. All the kids want to use their English so they are always yelling and waving to me outside of class. It makes me look cool in front of the other teachers.
So, Teacher's Day has been a good day. The moms brought me a pot of flowers and some sushi in the afternoon. My kids made me Teacher's Day cards. I'll end this post with some of the messages. You can tell by their perfect English how great a teacher I am...

Hello! Brittany! My name is so hyun. I like English study. It's very fun. Brittany, your like English and English study. I'm very English study. I love you. Goodbye.
Brittany, Hello Teacher! I'm Seo Young. Do you know what day is it today? Today is teacher's day so I prepared some present. It's a flower It made of paper. Teacher! I love you forever
hello, Brittany. My name is shin-hyun-ji. Today is teacher's day. Today is happy day. Congratulation! Brittany Have a nice weekend!!
Hello Brittany. Do you know today is teacher's day? Teacher is very kind. Good afternoon dye!
To. hee soung sheen
Hello!! Brittany? My name is Ji won Jung. Brittany, I like English. English is very fun. I love Brittany!! See you later!
Ho brittany teacher... Hello teacher, I'm choi seo young. Always, I feel very thank you. Happy teacher day to you and never hate you. I <3>

Monday, May 11, 2009

A gift for your ears

So I'm pretty much obsessed with Korean pop music at this point. I hear my students sing it all day long at school, its blasting in my gym, on the street, in stores... It's awesome. So, I was psyched when I was catching up on my gossip via Perez Hilton on Sunday afternoon and saw that Giant Korean Boy Band extraordinaire, Super Junior, had gotten a mention from Perez.

It made me realize that I should be sharing the wonder that is Korean pop with all of you. So... click here and enjoy "Sorry Sorry" You can thank me later.

p.s. They must set a world record for most members in one band. I mean, its crazy.

And don't worry... there is more Korean pop to come

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Taipei Taipei!

A nice little upgrade...

An interesting weather description at the Taipei Airport

the park by our hostel


Confucian Temple

Confucian Temple

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial

Taipei 101

Shillin Night Market
The choice of Taipei as our destination for Children's Day Weekend had a lot more to do with plane ticket prices than anything else, but I'm really glad I got the chance to go. For one thing, I have been considering teaching there in the future because the jobs are well paid and the climate is nice. For another, it was a whole lot of fun.
The glow of euphoria was still upon me when I woke up at Maddy's on Saturday morning and we headed for the airport. The universe was most definitely happy with us because we were informed at the ticket counter that there were no more seats in coach and we would therefore have to endure an upgrade to business class. Fiiiiiiine. On the way through security my skin, warmed by a slight sunburn, set off the heat sensors they had set up to find sick passengers and I was stopped for a quick temperature check. I was informed that I didn't have swine flu, so all in all it was a positive start to the day.
After stopping for some extremely necessary mocha lattes, we realized we were a bit late to our gate. With a little hustling, we made it in time and settled into our cozy business class seats with our lattes and the Wall Street Journal. We wanted to look the part. A few glasses of complimentary champagne later and we had arrived.
A large sign in the Taipei airport informed us that the weather outside was "sultry," and I thought that sounded like a great time. We hopped a bus into the city and my spirits brightened even more (if that's possible) when I saw the blue skies and palm trees. I could definitely do this. We dropped our stuff at our hostel and immediately set out for some exploring, lunch at a veggie restaurant, and some serious lounging in Peace Park. It was Saturday, so we felt it was our obligation to check out the Taipei nightlife as well. We went to a really cool club called Luxy where a DJ played some awesome music while we danced all night long.
The next day, we rallied for some sight seeing even though our skulls were rebelling. We visited a beautiful and unique Confucian Temple first. Then we headed to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial which was a gorgeous, absolutely huge white building with an intricate blue roof. It was in the middle of a large public square where some sort of health fair was taking place. The Taiwanese are seriously into giving out free samples, and I am seriously into getting them, except for one weird drink that Lacy described as "a little bit like dirt in my mouth." Later that night, we headed to Taipei 101, the World's Tallest Building. It was really cool to see, because it towers of everything else in the city and I really love the design. The building itself looks like a large bamboo shoot and its exteriors are walls of glass. Conveniently Taipei 101 also has the World's fastest elevator. It only took 36 seconds to get to the observation deck on the 88th floor. Later we headed to the famous Shillin Night Market to try out some Taiwanese street food. We had oyster pancakes and Thai papaya salad (oh how I missed you!!!) But we were way to scared to try to the stinky tofu, a fermented dish that smells like dead bodies. I just couldn't get past that minor detail.
Tragically, our beach day turned out to be the only rainy day of our trip. Instead of the glorious day in the sand I had been dreaming about we decided to visit the hot springs in a local town about one and a half hours away by train. We went to a nice little hotel whose owner, Oliver, was very eager to befriend us and make sure we were comfortable. "I love Americans. I want American friends, they are so nice." he told me enthusiastically, "But Koreans and Japanese I don't like." he added ominously. He gave us a gorgeous room with a private mineral bath to relax in, which also allowed us access to the larger rooftop hot spring. Maddy and I decided to splurge on massages first and soon two Taiwanese women arrived at our room. The next hour can only be described as the most painful thing that has ever happened to me. These women took the term deep tissue to the next level. Not wanting to seem like a baby, I gritted my teeth and tried to go to my happy place, hoping I wouldn't end up covered in bruises the next day. It turns out both Maddy and I contemplated whether our massages were anything like real torture at several points during our ordeal.
My date with pain behind me we headed upstairs for some relaxation. The rooftop hot springs were immediately dubbed "The Grotto" for their resemblance to Hugh Hefner's backyard. There was even disco lights. Someone had the bright idea that Oliver should take our picture for his hotel brochure and within minutes he had set up a tripod and the picture became a full on photo shoot. I hope we end up on a billboard somewhere.
Maddy and I left the other girls and headed back to Taipei because our flight was leaving the next afternoon. We have gotten used to restaurants never closing in Korea so we were dismayed to find the Buddhist Vegetarian Buffet we had trekked all over the city looking for was closed when we got there. Instead we ate Pizza at the world's classiest Pizza Hut ever. A poor substitute and we felt kind of defeated, but I won't lie, it was damn good.
We flew back to reality in Korea where I was happily not quarantined for swine flu and for the first time I was "coming home to Korea." It felt really nice. When I opened my apartment door I just flopped onto my bed happily. I had missed my little apartment and I immediately felt comfortably at home. It seems I'm settling in.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I smile and the universe smiles back.

On Friday afternoon, life is great. It was my school's gym festival so there were no classes for the day. I seized the opportunity to have a Thursday night get together for all the new teachers who have arrived in Gunpo. Long story short, I ended up drinking a few too many beers and getting three hours of sleep. Not to worry, it's nothing a hot shower and an Americano can't cure. I was even early to work.

When I first arrived I was sad because I wasn't wearing a track suit and sun visor like the other teachers. I quickly got over it when I realized that my only duty for the day was to sit in the sun while my students fed my chocolate, gave me massages and told me I was pretty (love my job!) I even got a little tan until my co-teacher pulled me out of the sun and sent me to sit with the old Korean ladies under a tent.

The gym festival is quite the event. The teachers have been planning it for months and the kids have been practicing for a few weeks. Each grade performs a dance and competes in relay races and other events. The school is divided into two teams, white and blue, who compete for the highest total score. Friday was labor day in Korea so all the parents and grandparents showed up to cheer and take pictures. I especially loved the parents who ran next to their kids during the relays, just in case their kid managed to forget what to do. The parents even ran races and played tug of war. One of the dads wiped out during a race - it's no joke!

You can't beat the dances though. There is nothing like watching 5th grade boys shake pom poms to the beat of "Oh Mickey You're so Fine" to soothe the soul.

After the games we had a big lunch with all sorts of special treats (even beer!) My principal wanted me to drink a can of beer, but as soon as I heard the word I had a flash back to the night before that involved me yelling "I'm so good at chugging beer!" and then proceeding to try and prove it. I decided to abstain.

The best part was when at 2 pm my co-teacher told me I could go home. As I walked home in the sunshine, the air around me the absolute perfect temperature, I was feeling what I can only describe as euphoria. And it was only going to get better. Next stop, Taipei....