Archive for July, 2008

Stuff.

I find myself sleeping much better here at Lisa’s apartment where there is air conditioning, though she has no curtains so I wake up pretty early from the light. I wish this were my apartment and not hers, but hopefully in the process of repairing the collapsing wall in my apartment building they will also use that time to renovate it as well.  By the time I move back in, the lack of air conditioning will not be an issue, thankfully, but I would love to have some improvements in the apartment, like wallpaper without huge patches of mold. I’m in this apartment until Sunday morning, when I move up to Damyang for two weeks to teach teachers that are, on average, about 15 years older than I am. Awkwarrrrrd. After I get back, I move to the house in Gunnae, though what I am doing between August 22nd and September 1st (when school starts back up again) I have no idea. It could be anything between having that time completely off and sitting in the office from 9-5. I obviously am hoping for the former. Hopefully the annoyance I have caused my supervisor this week will sway things in my favor. I wish I knew when the estimated date is to finish repairing my apartment building is, but here in Korea, even if I could find out such a date, it would likely be wrong, sadly.

I’ve been hanging out with Erin in the evenings, as her husband is away in Seoul working at a hospital (he’s a doctor) this week, and I have been feeling a little lonely since Marc left on Sunday. Plus, this means that I don’t have to worry about buying food while I’m here at Lisa’s (since I am only here for 3 more days).

I have been having to revise my lesson plans every day, often on the fly, as the energy level of the students seems to vary from day to day far more than it does during the school year. I got them interested yesterday by providing candy as a reward for “winning” the lessons, but that always feels like cheating to me. I am somewhat comforted by knowing that most other foreign teachers, even those in Seoul, get the same uninterested response from their kids (well, the middle school kids anyway), so I am able to remind myself that it does not mean I am a bad teacher. I wish I didn’t feel quite so much like I am merely here to entertain the kids while teaching them a modicum of English, but since I only see each class once every 2 weeks, it’s hard to make progress with them outside of what they get with their Korean teacher. They mostly do traditional school work with their Korean teacher, so when they do see me, all they want to do is play games. Makes me feel somewhat devalued, but it also makes my job easier, as when I am feeling low energy, I can just play hangman with them or something.

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Finally.

I went to Gagye beach today after work (and will write more about that later). I was going to take the 12:30 bus, but at 12, right as I was packing my bag, my co-teacher FINALLY arrived at my door (after several days of emails and phone calls going unanswered) to tell me that they were going to move my stuff out of my apartment but that they had lost the key I gave them. >.< I had one last box to take to Lisa’s, so I went with her, and took my stuff to Lisa’s and watched them move my stuff out. They took everything out of the apartment, which bodes well for the place being remodeled on the inside as it was rumored might happen. I really hope that’s the case, as that would mean no more mold, hopefully lineoleum that is attached to the floor, a grate on the drain in my bathroom floor, and no more mystery smells coming from under my kitchen cabinets. My fingers are crossed.

Excuse me while I die…

The heat index here today is 107˚F (about 42˚C).  It’s 95˚ with 82% humidity and no wind whatsoever.

I seriously thought I was going to pass out on the 15 minute walk over here this afternoon, carrying my camera (it’s an SLR, so it’s heavy) and laptop in my bag.

Thank god I am moving to an air conditioned place starting today.  My fan is in my livingroom/bedroom, and this afternoon, I started sweating in the amount of time it took me to go to the bathroom.  That, my friends, is too hot.

BackPost

This is a post from July 18th that got lost in my masses of drafts.  It’s a bit out of date, but entertaining, I think:

As Marc said yesterday, “Life with [me] is always an adventure…”. Yesterday was no exception.

I got off work at 11, because my co-teacher had to go to Gwangju to pick his son up from high school (public schools have small dormitories here for students who don’t live conveniently close), so I came back to the apartment and finished my lesson plans for the camp I work a week from now, and then Marc and I picked something off the tourist map for Jindo and headed there on a bus, after dealing with the stationmaster, who I suspect sees me as a bit of a moron because I can’t read their bus schedule.

We headed to Namdoseokseong, a 13th century fortress that still has all of its walls intact, and a reconstruction of a couple of the buildings inside. The neatest part, to me, is that people still live almost entirely inside the walls, in the village. There were only 3-4 houses that were outside the walls. What was even neater was that the old roads and stone irrigation ditches were still there and still being used, virtually unchanged. I’m pretty sure that none of the houses inside were original, but many of them used the traditional stone/mud/thatch construction that was used for most of Korean history, so it was virtually the same as it would have been. Don’t worry, I will post photos soon.

Where the nuts part starts is actually when we LEFT the fort.

So, we had checked when the next bus left the station before we left, and then figured we’d track how long it took us to get there the first time, and then just add that to the new departure time, to figure out when to catch the bus back. By our calculations, it should have come around 5:15, so we got to the bus stop around 5. A few minutes after we got there, three old women were dropped off at the bus stop by a tractor, so we assumed that was a good sign that we were at least somewhat right about the timing. Nope. 5:15 passed. 5:30 passed. Around 5:30 the women were picked up by a car. That was disheartening. Around 5:50 I tried to talk to some old men who were just sitting around one of the buildings about having them call a taxi. They said, basically, “bus in 10 minutes!”. So I went back to the bus stop, since they seemed to think that it was better just to wait. Around this time, I decided to explore the tidal flats behind the bus stop. While chasing a crab around, I took a wrong step, sunk ankle-deep into the mud, and lost my shoe. I then had to dig around in the mud for my shoe, resulting in one muddy arm and one muddy leg (the other leg wasn’t exactly clean either). I rinsed myself off in an only slightly cleaner stream, and then found a utility sink to rinse off the dirty water. We waited around 20 minutes after I had talked to the old men. No bus. By that time, the men had disappeared. Around 6:30, two cars worth of Koreans pull up, get out of the car with a camera and tripod, and gesture towards us. We assume they want us to take a photo of them in front of the fort, so I agree. As it turns out, they want us IN the picture. Foreigners here are a bit of a spectacle, so this is not the first time I have been grabbed to be in a random photo. It’s a bit demeaning, but whatever. So we let them have us in their weird family/friend photo, and then since we did THEM a favor I asked them to call us a taxi, since their 8 year old son spoke some English. They gladly called, and the taxi finally came around 7:00 and we were back in Jindo around 7:30ish.

I am often entertained by this sort of zaniness that is so pervasive in Korea, though sometimes, such as that day, I do find it more on the frustrating end of the spectrum.  Makes life an adventure though, as Marc found out while he was here.  You have to be very flexible here in Korea, or you’ll go crazy.  It’s something I thought I was good at in the US, but Korea takes it to a whole new level, and I’m still adjusting, two months in.

Here’s a photo from the bus ride there that day:

“Fan Death”

While he was here, Marc and I came up with a phrase that we say whenever we discover something very odd about Koreans/Korean culture (typically some belief or another, typically an ignorant one):  “Fan Death”

Koreans believe that if you have a fan on and the windows closed, you will die, because fans “steal your air”.  There are even warnings on the boxes, and they all have timers with a maximum of 3 hours.  They also believe that if a pet is left alone with a fan in the room, that it will explode.  Not just suffocate (as they believe humans do), but spontaneously explode.  It’s absolutely absurd, and at the same time rather humorous.  Thus, when something similarly odd about Korea comes up, we both look at eachother and say “Fan Death”.  It’s an inside joke, and one that won’t get much use now that he isn’t here, but it does make me chuckle.

Generally, I am very accepting of odd cultural beliefs, but the Koreans have several (such as the examples I just gave) that just reek of plain old ignorance, and so I can’t help but laugh.

 

And because I hate making posts that don’t contain a photo, here, have a visual-overload one from Marc and I’s visit to Cheongpyeongsa temple in Gangwondo:

Sometimes I think that monks must be into psychedelics…

Egalitarianism? What’s that?

From Learning to Think Korean: A Guide to Living and Working in Korea by Robert Kohls:

One of the most difficult relationships for Americans to adjust to in Korea is that of master and servant.  Korean servants are unequivocally inferior to their employers, and it is embarrassing to the servants and offensive to Koreans of higher rank to treat them in any way as equal, to introduce servants, for instance, to your higher-ranking guests.  It has been 80 years since servants were common in American middle-class households.  The mere idea of servants is foreign to us, which, combined with our egalitarian impulses, makes it hard for us to order them to do something instead of asking them if they would please do it.  If you speak Korean, the imperative to surmount your egalitarianism is reinforced because the language demands that you talk down to servants as inferiors.

Replace the word “servant” with “teacher”, and you have how I often feel.

One thing that Marc remarked on while he was here is that Koreans don’t really have words for “Please”, “Excuse me”, or “Sorry”.  Technically, they do, but nobody uses them.  My Korean phrase books and cultural etiquette books say that not only should you not bother learning them, but that you will make Koreans feel awkward if you do use them.  Similarly, when asking for something from someone who you can’t immediately and positively identify as more important than you, the Korean phrase to do so (주사ㅛ, I believe) translates pretty much to “Give X to me.”, rather than what we would consider more polite – something along the lines of “I’d like X, please.”.  When I read that excerpt above, my mind went immediately to these two linguistic examples.

Honestly, these linguistic features are very indicative of Korean culture, I feel.  Cultural attitudes can often be found written into languages, and Korean is no exception.  In French, you have the “Tu” and “Vous” forms:  the familiar and the formal.  In Korean, there is a whole different way of talking to someone, and it’s not based on the familiar/formal model, it’s based on “how much higher in status am I than you?”.  A slip up is not merely a grammatical mistake but a potential insult.

I recently found out that one of the reasons that my supervisor has been pissy with me is that I have stopped referring to her as “[Name] Chang-ak San Nim”, which means “[Name] Supervisor” and instead have just been calling her by her last name.  This degree of formality is very alien to us informal Americans, and it has been a major adjustment for me, especially since I am often seen as relatively informal, even insolent, back in the relaxed USA.  I am slowly learning that the way to get things here is not only to stand your ground, as I am very used to doing, but also to be overly, sickeningly sweet, and make it look like you are trying hard to work with them.

I am enjoying this book, and you can likely expect more excerpts from it in the future.

Written on the Train

According to my countdown program, I have 9 months and 28 days until I return to the US (or at least leave Korea).  For the next 28 days (exactly), I am teaching at English camps (until the 21st of August) and then I have until September 1st, when school starts again.  They may give me that time off, or they may have me “work” in the education office.  I’m hoping for that extra time off, but then again, a side effect of me holding my supervisor to my contract is that she also holds me to my contract, which I think is reasonable, though I do feel that sitting in an office surfing the internet for like 6 hours is still a bit absurd, as it accomplishes nothing except keeping me under her watchful eye.

After the start of school, I only teach for about a week before I get somewhere between 4 and 9 days off for Buddha’s birthday, depending on how generous the education board is feeling.  That puts me at mid-ish September, and then I have a cumulative 4-ish months until winter vacation starts in January (which I’m not sure what they’re having me do during), and about 5 months until my actual vacation starts in February.  I’m considering a few different options for February; New Zealand, Laos, maybe China, Australia, or going back to the US for a bit.  I’m more inclined towards New Zealand/Australia/Washington DC, because I miss being able to hold more than a simple, somewhat halting conversation.  That 5 months is going to be hard, but I went 4.5 months between the last time I saw Marc and now, so I should be able to make it.  6 months is longer than 4.5, but honestly, not by much.  Once you get above a month or so, and especially above 2 months, it all starts to feel the same.

After my vacation, I have only 3 months before I’m finished, and then it’s back to the US to start looking for jobs with Marc, and for places to live.  He has a bit of an advantage over me, as he can start looking starting this school year, but due to time differences, being unable to interview in person, etc, I will likely have to wait until I return to the US, which makes it a bit harder.  We’re looking in Pennsylvania primarily it seems (though we’d love to find something in Vermont), since it’s a relatively blue state, it’s somewhat of a center for reenacting, the housing is cheap, and it has a good mix of rural and urban areas.  It’s one of few states where it’s possible to live in a completely rural area but still be 15-20 minutes from a city of decent size, which is sort of what we’re looking for.  We want rural, but we also don’t really want to sacrifice convenience, either.  It’s difficult, but quite possible, with some perseverance.

Sitting here on the bullet train, I find myself wishing that Marc was napping with his head in my lap or on my shoulder, but that’s something I’m going to have to get used to not having.  Okay, that’s enough sappiness for now.  I’m sure you’re all quite tired of hearing about him.

Seoul was quite interesting as far as a place to visit.  I don’t know much about the city, and it rained at least a little each day.  Our DMZ tour got cancelled, which was a huge disappointment, as Marc is highly unlikely to come to Korea again, and this is really the only place that the public can visit an active warzone.  We also wanted to visit the traditional village (think Colonial Williamsburg for Korea) in Suwon, but since you wander around outside, we didn’t really relish the thought of doing so in the rain for hours.

We ended up going to several markets, which was quite interesting.  The markets are multi-storied, and packed to the gills with stalls (with products often even forming an inadvertant roof in places), and it can get quite crowded and claustrophobic at times, if you’re inclined towards that sort of thing.

Our final day we ended up just hanging around.  We stayed in a hotel in Itaewon, the foreigner district of Seoul, for our time there, and so I wanted to hit up some of the stores (both legit and blackmarket) that tend to sell western products such as English-language books and western groceries.  We had a leisurely morning, then headed out for about an hour to find those stores, grabbed brunch at a Belgian-French (i.e. Wallonian) restaurant named Mignon (French: “cute”), then headed back to the hotel to lounge around in bed, snuggle a bit, and watch movies.  It was a nice, low-key last day, and I think it was what we both needed.  Marc was feeling a bit melancholy (a guy who shows emotions in a relationship, how novel!), as was I, and so being able to spend time being close was good for both of us.  This morning we had a $50 cab ride to the airport, but for only $20 more than the bus costs, it was worth it to not have to schlep our bags everywhere and stress over making the flight.

When I get back to Jindo this afternoon, I have one final night in my apartment, and then tomorrow afternoon I will be schlepping my stuff over to Lisa’s apartment, where I will be living for a week before heading up to Damyang, north of Gwangju, to teach at my teacher’s camp.  I may even just take my bedding and tomorrow’s clothes over there tonight, as I think that being in the same bed that I last slept in with Marc is likely to make me sad, and being in a new environment will help me cope a little bit more.  I do get very nostalgic (I sleep with one of his shirts, for instance), but far less so when I am not surrounded by reminders of what was.

Anyway, this is vastly too long, and I will stop now.  Time to read some of Aftermath, Inc., which Marc left for me so I would have something other than history books and travel narratives to read.

 

Here, have a photo from one of the markets:


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