Monday, December 6, 2010

Abnormal Thanksgiving

Lots of people have been asking me about how I feel about the current tension between North Korea and South Korea. To be honest, there is not a whole lot that I see on a daily basis that would make one realize these said "tensions" even exist. I only have a few examples of these, actually.

I was teaching some 6th graders, and we were writing party invitations. Most kids wrote things like "Dear so-so, This saturday is my birthday party, would you like to come?", and other fairly normal invitations. I sit next to this one kid who had just began writing his. He didn't address it to anyone, but did include that the party he was hosting would be in Hell. At least he capitalized the H, I thought. So I tell him to erase it and start over. Five minutes later I come back and his letter looked a little more sinister: "Dear Jong Il Kim, please come to my nuclear party in Hell. From Kim Min-su." Well Kim Min-su, you just earned a spot standing in the back of the room holding your hands above your head for the remainder of the period.

Then the other day I was walking home from school, and this well-dressed man approaches me with a "good morning" (it was around 5 PM.) As if I'm not already caught off guard, he then states "You should be an American". It's a good thing I am because if I wasn't and a stranger said that to me I'd probably be offended. He then started to ramble off some things which I couldn't understand, but I assumed he was trying to get me to join his church, as has happened a couple times before in almost the exact same physical location. Just when I expected him to produce some kind of Christian church pamphlet he said something along the lines of "We should not the Communists.", smiled, and walked away.

Outside of those two specific instances there really haven't been too many references to the North and their situation. Most people here are pretty nonchalant when talking about the current situation, as many of them have been through similar things of this nature throughout the past couple of decades. Even my friends Mr. Yu and Patty--who were alive during the Korean War in the 50's--didn't have much to say about it. I am beginning to wonder if part of this attitude has to do with the types of media that Koreans are exposed to. But really if you follow the happenings, as I have, there are many good reasons to believe the North is only trying to flex their military might and reconfirm themselves as powerful adversaries to the Western, developed world. Their economy is largely based on supporting their defense and supplying their 1+ million strong military personnel (4th biggest in the world). Without a war or foe to fight, the importance of all that investment goes for naught. By instigating little annoyances to the South, the North is giving their economy a reason to exist. When a war-based economy lacks the enemies to sustain it, the only viable option is to literally start a war. In this case, I don't think the North thinks they could ever contend with the powerful Western world, but by poking their heads into the South's business every few years they are maintaining their rationale for being such a militaristic nation. Further, most South Koreans whom I've talked to don't think any 'war' would ever happen between the two Koreas again, as it would inevitably lead to the end of the "Korean" race as we know it. Oh, and the 30,000 U.S. troops stationed in Korea, in addition to the tens of thousands around Asia (including the aircraft carrier the USS George Washington, currently stationed in the Yellow Sea) might have a problem if the North did as much as shoot any American base/soldiers. So, all that said, I don't think the North poses any immediate threat to me personally. And as "crazy" as Kim Jong Il's opponents say he is, well I just don't think that is the correct term. The guy has inherited and maintained the most secretive country the world has ever seen, which is even more amazing considering the speed at which information flows across today's porous international borders. And seriously, who still believes in Communism these days? Everyone in North Korea has been tricked into it. That's pretty amazing to me..just thinking about the education their kids probably get, for example. I bet it is so backward and skewed.....

The last few weeks have been very routine for me. Mondays are WWE Raw night. I started watching this stuff lately because it is so damn entertaining. And at the very least I need to know a little bit about wrestling if I am going to continue to rock my Hulk Hogan hat. Tuesdays I have my Korean tutor, we usually study together for about 3 hours. Wednesdays we have recently had volleyball games against this other school. One time we went there and one time they came to our school. When we went there, I was warming up and saw a couple (12) bottles of makkgeoli, or this rice wine. Wasn't sure why it was there, ya know being in a school and 1 PM and everything. But after the first game, sure enough that boozehound vice principle of ours started sippin away. I didn't want to be rude and so accepted the offering from him. And the next one. And the next one. For game 2 you could say I had a bit of a buzz going, which I wasn't sure how to feel about. But after games 2 and 3, the other school's principle insisted that I/we keep drinking. This is early afternoon inside the school building, keep in mind. We won the match and then went to dinner for another hundred rounds of drinks, yet I never ended up getting nearly as drunk as the other guys there. The same thing happened last week at our school, except we waited til school hours had ended before we indulged this time. Same result though, we came out on top again. Thursdays is "Namja Night". Namja translates to "man/male" and some guys sometimes go to this awesome all you can eat Korean BBQ place then play ping pong or get beers or play Madden/FIFA. It's awesome. Then the weekend comes. I really don't like the monotony of it all, but it certainly speeds the week up and gives me something to look forward to each day.

Thanksgiving night was great. I have a little crew of about 6 friends that live near me, all of whom happen to be American. My tutor Jin also came along, which was great for translating purposes. So we all got together and went to this restaurant VIP's, which is actually pronounced like it is spelled (Vipps), and not V.I.P.'s. But because many Koreans have difficulty saying the letter "v" and often switch it with the letter "b", and likewise they switch the "p" with an "f", when I told my co workers where I went they all said "ohhh, beefs". It was so wrong that I couldn't do anything about it and just played along. Anyway, it's a huge buffet and was by far the most unusual Thanksgiving meal I have ever eaten. It wasn't quite so Western, but it wasn't entirely Asian. We had tacos, but also shrimp. Pizza, but mussels and shellfish. I had pasta but also salmon, and fried chicken but then fried rice. There were some other things too but it is now almost three weeks later and I cannot remember. But it was really nice to be completely stuffed.

Final exams are here and that means I only have about two weeks left before winter vacation starts. After winter vacation starts I have two weeks off then two weeks of winter English camp, followed by a week off for Chinese New Year, followed by ten days of teaching, followed by 12 days off entirely as the academic year will end. That puts me at a grand total of about two weeks of teaching regular classes from Christmas Day until March 2nd, at which point I will be merely two months away from completing my contract. So, while I still have quite a bit of time in Korea, the end is in sight and then that means I will have to figure something else out to do with my time. We'll see about that.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Yeah its been some time since anything was posted. Woops.

Lately things have been getting really routine. For three weeks in a row I didn't have one class canceled (I think that word should have two "L's" in it. I also think the word 'buses' should have two 's's' in it. That was so hard to type.) Every week up until recently I would have my classes canceled for one reason or another. Unfortunately this gives me less time to pore over my fantasy team. Which brings me to my next point..

I have decided that no foreign teacher in Korea does less work than me. I don't like to put it that way, and would even welcome a little "work" from time to time. But none of my co-teachers want me to do the lesson planning, only to teach. Teaching here, especially to the little kids, is more playing than anything else. And since I have every afternoon off every day, that means I have 3-4 hours to do as I please. Since I technically don't really do any work, nobody could possibly do less than me. So, by default, I think its fair to say that nobody in Korea does less actual 'work' than I.

Lots of the foreigners around here love talking about how poor some English literature is. So many people wear shit that just does not make sense, and they have no idea what it says/means. Like the security guard at my school who wears a very nice New York Islanders pullover every day. Or take, for instance, the boy in my school who wears a shirt with an American flag on it. Great! I like America. But the flag is not a flag at all, rather, a marijuana leaf but with the stars and stripes. It's ok though, because "My Glorious" is written above it. How in the wide world of sports is everybody ok with this? Do teachers not notice things like that? I suppose they don't know what it is and therefore cannot enforce anything. But who in the hell has the audacity to even produce a shirt such as that? Especially for a child?!? I like this country.

I have gathered a couple nicknames lately: Tigerburke, Hulk, and Optimus Tighe are just some of them. I also have too many secret handshakes with kids to remember. Seriously one kid got upset because I couldn't remember what came after the double-pound/elbow tap/explosion sequence. I have also given up trying to get these kids to stop poking my buttcrack. It's futile. Cherie, this girl who teaches in a private academy within my school, gets it around 5 times per day.

I walked to school last week, in the building, up the stairs, and sat down--all without sweating--for the first time since I have been here.

Last Wednesday, to celebrate the fact that the entire school had some standardized testing, all of the teachers in the school took a little trip to this island about an hour away. I was told that we would be eating sushi. Great! I like sushi. So we get to this restaurant, and of the 70 teachers present they of course make me sit between the principle and vice-principle (who drinks like a fish). As usual we were sitting on the floor and without shoes on, which neither me nor the principle benefited from. I don't like to do laundry/dishes/most normal person hygiene stuff, so the socks that I was using had also been worn the previous day. They didn't smell good. I digress. The food comes in waves, there are lots of different courses and everybody shares everything. Then the octopus came. It didn't look too great, but I tried it anyway. Something was different about it though. I wasn't quite sure---most food that humans eat doesn't move on its own, especially when in a mouth. That wasn't the case with this, as I felt that shit latching onto my tongue and twirling around. I looked at the plate and was surprised to see the octopus on it moving. Hmmmm. Although I've eaten scorpions and dog thus far, I've yet to eat something thats moving. An abnormal amount of effort is needed to chew and get them to stop suctioning your mouth.The principles found this very funny. Anyway, it was pretty good. But it was not sushi.

Every Thursday afternoon I play basketball with a group of kids. Over the summer we'd go outside but now that its getting colder we stay inside. When I first got here I didn't understand what it was they were asking of me; they just told me that I had to do "basketball with children". I tried getting them to do layup lines and then scrimmage, but the layup lines didn't really work out. Nowadays, there is absolutely zero 'coaching' happening on my behalf. The 9-ft hoops are so fun to play on. Some of these kids literally think I'm in the NBA. The scrimmages are getting better and better though. We are really starting to understand 'team defense'. Our best defense is when this fat kid with Down's Syndrome runs and screams into the faces of the kids who he is 'guarding'. They all fear this kid, and nobody wants to be on his team. To make it fair I usually play with him--I do the scoring and he does half the defending. I say half because apparently none of these kids has ever actually learned the rules of the game, if they had, they would know that goaltending is illegal. I probably average 12-15 blocks per class. It's also educational, as I have them practicing their "L's" and "R's", since they all now know how to say 'block party'. They still are having a tough time with "LeBron" though...

One day at lunch one of the teachers asked me if it was ok to hit students in the U.S. Ummmm, no. Not usually. Not in any legal way, no. She then explained how it was acceptable in Korea maybe 5 years ago. Fast-forward one week, and she is swinging her hand as hard as she can towards a student. I turned the other cheek.

Last week I had the single most awkward moment of my life...

Maybe once a week the 5th grade teachers and I will all get food delivered to school. Usually pizza or chicken or something Western, so its great. My co-teacher Hye Kyeong can speak English pretty well, so we hang out whenever the teachers get together. She didn't want to eat, as her OCD was forcing her to finish some work she was doing. (I guess some teachers do that sort of thing here.) I can go eat and be social without her, right? The other teachers know very little English, keep in mind. So we're eating some pizza and chicken, and they get some grapes out. The grapes here are soooo good but lots of them have seeds. On my makeshift plate I have maybe 15 seeds and a couple of chicken bones. I had already had like 3 pieces of pizza, and there were 12 of us so having three pieces was pretty sweet, especially since there were only two pizzas. Well, nobody is really eating the one with pineapple, sweet potato, potato, corn, and bacon on it. I decide, screw it, I can eat all I want. I reach over for my 4th piece and in doing so my shirt clips my plate and throws all of its contents onto the remaining pizza. I honestly don't think you could have placed these grape seeds in a more difficult to find place. Literally all over the remaining pizza. If that wasn't enough, the chicken bones were neatly resting on another 2 pieces. Remember that nobody really speaks communicable English. So uncomfortable. One of the teachers didn't see what I had done and grabbed a piece, to my relief. A minute later she was surprised to find a grape seed in her pizza, and had to spit it out. Guilty. I mean it really wasn't all that bad--I got to eat a couple more slices, but I'm sure my PR took a major dive.

So I met this elderly couple who speak pretty good English. Mr. Yu and his wife Patty live close to me, and are really nice people. Mr. Yu lived in Lemont, IL for seven years in the 80's working. They have cooked for me and taken met out to eat; they really are great friends to have. They are both in their late 70's but I enjoy spending time with them. My ankle has been bothering me for months, so they suggested I get traditional Korean acupuncture. I went, but lets just say I enjoy Western medicine more. I did not enjoy having a needle stuck into my hand to relieve my ankle pain. But it does feel a little better I suppose.

Outside of all that there is not a whole lot going on. The weekends have been so much fun lately, I have developed a nice little niche of friends here who know how to party, and the last couple of weekends have been fairly epic. I also have a couple dudes come over maybe once a week to game it. My running back had 439 rushing yards in one game. Having my Playstation here was initially a social burden, now it just attracts everyone.

I bought another ticket to Thailand for Christmas. Christmas day I will be in Bangkok, a city where 95% of the population is Buddhist. Then I'm going to the Philippines. Until then I have to maintain some semblance of reality. We'll see how that goes.....

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


So I got back from Thailand around 11:00 PM Saturday night. The girl who I went with, Shannon, and I had been up since 5 AM and three flights later made it back to Seoul. It was a great time.

We got to Bangkok via Guangzhou, China. I swore I would never again set foot in Commie China, but, alas, it was the only real way to get to Bangkok. We had a 7 hour layover was miserable. For some reason there as was no currency exchange inside the international terminal, like there is at every other international terminal around the world. We really had to get some food, so we got some sandwiches at the downstairs restaurant. But when we finished they told us they didn't take cards, only cash. We explained that there was no way for us to get cash. So they had to go find some Koreans with Chinese currency who would give us Chinese Yuan in exchange for our Korean Won. How they were ever able to track down a Korean in a Chinese airport is beside me. But they did it, and we eventually paid.

So we finally got to Bangkok. We got into a cab and headed to our hotel, the Baiyoke Sky Hotel. We knew it was going to be a different world in Thailand when we saw three motorcyclists driving the wrong way and swerving ON THE HIGHWAY. Good thing there was no traffic. But at the hotel the rooms were pretty cheap, especially for a decent hotel. It is by far the tallest building in Thailand at like 87 floors or something. The room was nice and the service was better.

We hadn't really planned out what we would do in Bangkok prior to the trip but had heard there was plenty to do so we weren't worried. After waking up late we browsed through some tourist packets and saw a shooting range opportunity. We go downstairs and the designated travel clerk explains that a driver will take us there. But we wouldn't go to the one in the packet...there was a better one provided by the army where we could go. So our driver takes us to get some Pad Thay and Tom Yun soup, which were amazing, and then we headed to the range. When we get there, this is literally what happened. Tell me if there is something fishy about this:

I walk in first, and the chain-smoking mini Thai man pulls a bunch of hand guns out of the glass case. He points to a large silver one and tells Shannon she will shoot that. He points a smaller black one and says thats mine. He gives us the ammunition, 50 shots each. One person (who doesn't speak any English) leads us downrange. He shows me where my hands go. And then I begin shooting this extremely powerful .45 downrange. I've never shot a handgun before...but this thing was badass. I was reeling off rounds so quick and everything. It was awesome having that power. My gun had a pretty big kick to it, unlike Shannons. I shot hers a couple times and it was nothing. Her shots made perfect little holes in the target, whereas mine literally ripped across the paper in 2 inch shots. All of this happened in about 25 minutes. So we leave, and realize that not once did we have any introduction. There were no wavers to sign, no formal contracts, not even a tutorial on how to shoot the thing. I could have just as easily turned around and capped all these guys. It was a lot of fun.

After that we took a boat ride down the main river and into some canals west of the river which lies on the western side of downtown Bangkok. While in the canals we came across a "snake show". Yeah we decided to get out and check it out. This place was basically a zoo, with all sorts of animals. We played with pythons and eventually went to the snake show, where these nutcases would mess with the snake and piss him off and get them to spit venom and hiss at us, since we were the only ones there. Real cool.

After that we each got a 2 hour traditional Thai massage and then went to meet up with Chris Migely's friend Sean Olvany, who lives in Bangkok. This whole time we were being driven around by Moon, who was a great great tour guide and actually did more than he was supposed to for us. The next morning we flew from Bangkok to Surat Thani provincial airport. That's not very accurate....I would call it a shack with a landing strip. We get in at 8 AM and then buy a joint bus/ferry ticket to Koh Phangan, an island on the Eastern side of the strait that separates the Gulf of Thailand from the Andaman Sea (east of the Indian coast).

There was quite a bit to do in Koh Phangan (pronounced ko pang-on). One day we rode elephants, hiked up this mountain, and saw some waterfalls. Another day we rented a boat and had a driver take us around the northern part of Koh Phangan to different snorkeling spots. It was really cool to snorkel, but we both burned the shit out of our backs and bodies. A lot of times we spent just cruising around the island on our motorbike. Everybody all across Thailand drives these little things around the island. I had a ton of fun driving this thing. Probably more than the Europeans who do that sort of thing in their home country. Most of the people were from Europe...saw almost no Americans at all. But its ok, because they have to speak OUR language to travel. One night we went to the Full Moon Party. Its this crazy party that only happens on Koh Phangan every month; the night of the full moon. This whole beach is covered with people from end to end. There are tons of bars blasting every kind of music all up and down the beach, its really a pretty cool time. If you are ever in Thailand near the full moon, you should check it out. Additionally, there are other designated beaches for the Black Moon and the Half Moon and their subsequent parties, but nothing is like the Full Moon Party I guess.

Another night we went to a Muay Thai boxing match. We weren't quite sure what to expect, but were pretty satisfied with the results. There were 7 rounds of feet to the face, hardcore knockouts, and 12 year-olds fighting for God knows what. It was kind of awkward to cheer for one 12 year old or another, but we quickly got over it when one destroyed another one with a right kick to the neck, knocking him out cold. Things in Thailand are different.

After having traveled around Asia now, I've become really thankful for a number of things. For starters, being a native English speaker is taken for granted by every single person who speaks it. Every country in the world has English education at some level. You cannot say that about any other language. Every person who travels internationally is exposed to English signs and text in English. Every airport that I have been to has not only that country's native language posted on signs, but also English. Could you imagine the effect/outrage if highway signs in the US started displaying words in Spanish or Chinese, the only languages more spoken than English? It wouldn't happen. It is essential for people who travel to know English. So be thankful for knowing English. Also, being American. We met these really cool German kids who were staying at our hotel. Obviously their English was fluent, as they had been exposed to it for 9 years in school. But they loved the fact that I had played American football for a time. Maybe being surrounded by Europeans created a little more focus on us, but I don't know. But just about every Thai person whom I met (the Thai people are as nice as any I have ever met), was really excited to meet an American. Even our driver Moon, who had practiced English with his wife for the past 5 years, talked about how much better life could be. He was upset that Thai people live a lifestyle where bribing the cops is just another illicit part of their lives. I really didn't know how to respond to him, so I just casually nodded...uh huh...

You Are Gay

Hope things are going good in the 847 and 312. Things in the 082-010 are alright, I am beginning to have a lot more responsibility in the classroom which is sweet because we do what I want. And that usually includes a lot of time being wasted on cheesy jokes and dancing.

So I met this dude Ben a few weeks ago bungee jumping. He is an American here working for the department of defense as a civil engineer. He told me that as a government employee he had access to the military bases around. My first question was whether or not he played golf, to which he replied "Golf is my sport. I played in high school and college." He is from Arizona, so I figured he would be pretty good. So last Saturday night we got together and I was gonna stay at his place that night, then in the morning we were gonna play a round at Osan, an air force base not too far from where I live. (Incidentally, I heard that there are around 50 or so U.S. military bases in South Korea alone. Yikes.) So Saturday night I meet him at the train station, where he picked me up. He picked me up in his massive Dodge Ram which the government shipped over from the U.S. Then we went to his 3 bedroom, roughly 1,000 square foot condo, which had all of his furniture from his apartment in the U.S. shipped free of charge by the government. His $22,000 annual rent is also covered by the government. All of this for a 24 year old recent graduate from ASU with a degree in civil engineering. Now I am beginning to understand a) where our tax dollars go and b) why our defense spending is so massive.

So we hit the links in the morning, each paying 30 bucks for 18. the conditions were pretty wet, but it was great to get out there for a change. We played with this guy who was an airman stationed in southern Korea. He told me all about his trips to South America, the Middle East, and Asia. Although when I asked him what he thought about the current North Korea situation, he claimed he wasn't allowed to talk about it. In my head I said "bullshit", but it wasn't a big deal so we moved to the 12th tee. My drive was ok and my 3rd shot approach went about 30 yards past the green. I was behind the green looking for my ball when I saw these two Korean dudes, clearly part of the joint U.S./South Korean army, dressed in fatigues standing on a platform about 15 feet above where I was, each wielding some sort of automatic weapon. It seemed they were guarding some sort of huge machine gun or something. They hadn't seen my ball, but I eventually found it. I asked our playing partner what they were doing there, and what kind of gun it was that they were guarding. He wasn't positive, but thought it was an 'anti-aircraft machine gun'. Pretending to know what in the hell he was talking about, I asked what kind of firepower they held. He said it was similar to that of an A-10 jet, or those gray jets you sometimes see with the teeth and devilish grin at its nose. So here these two Korean dudes were, just manning a massive automated machine gun designed to shoot down anything that might go near the base's oil center. And I'm trying to putt? Are you kidding me? I ended up doubling that hole, by the way.

The back nine were better...I'm pretty sure the cheap Budweisers we were drinking had something to do with it, at least that's what I'm tellin' myself. After we played we went to Chili's. Now, I haven't been to Chili's since I had to use a fake ID to drink margaritas back in high school, but let me tell you what, its awesome. The Notre Dame game was on then, and we were there just in time to watch Denard Robinson run 87 yards down the heart of the ND defense. I had the Jalapeno Cheddar Bacon Big Mouth Burger. I had no idea how good Chili's could be, especially in a place as far as Korea. It was unbelievable. I am a huge Chili's fan, and will continue to patronize it as long as I live. There are all sorts of similar American restaurants on base, where all Koreans speak English and the US dollar is accepted everywhere. There is even an American supermarket and a free movie theater. Its a sweet place.

So at the beginning of September I moved into a brand new classroom with my host/co-teacher. I have one co-teacher for each grade 3-6, but the one whom I talk most with and deals with all my paperwork and translation stuff is the 5th grade English teacher. She is really cool, I'm glad to have her. Before we moved rooms we sat pretty close to each other. This new room was built over the summer as a strictly English classroom. We now sit roughly 20 yards apart from one another. The room is in what was a vacant space before, so everything in it is new. New desks, chairs, tables, walls, computers...everything is new. There are six table/desks where up to 6 students sit. Each of those tables has a built in computer. There are new small tables and English signs and even a few chessy TV monitors which display English literature and things of that sort OUTSIDE of the classroom. Inside, we have a space that is twice as big as every other classroom. Our place, dubbed "Jamwon's English Center", is one of only two air-conditioned classrooms in the entire school, with the other being the other "English Zone", which 6th graders use and where I spend the other half of my entire work week. Perhaps the best feature of this classroom is the CommBox. It is this 70-inch TV/computer that is much more than a computer. You can control what happens on it via connected mouse, mobile mouse, or by touching the screen. I teach little Korean kids English by touching a screen and having it make noises and words. It is the coolest thing ever. It has too many features to list, but I will just say that I highly doubt any public school in the U.S. (even within district 36) has something with this thing's capabilities. Oh and when I get tired there is a couch in my classroom too. Thank God, you wouldn't want to be too sleepy on the job. The whole room cost over $25,000 I believe.

In a school so big, especially a public school, its not surprising that I would find and meet many different kinds of kids. Lately though there have been a number of kids who stand out for one reason or another. I wish I could make some of this stuff up, as it is all true and likely hard to believe. But they include:

This one kid who runs towards me, jumps on my back and screams "you are gay!" At first I was kinda caught off, what in the hell in this 11 year old Korean child saying to me? But after a few days I remembered that when we ate dog a month ago, we ordered gae, or dog meat (which was delicious). He hasn't been calling me "gay" as the Western world knows it, but instead he's been calling me a dog. So now I call him gay back. It's good fun.

This one little girl who I see every day walking in the halls. Every day she smiles ear to ear, points at me, and says "You like dick". And every day I say something like "no, no you can't say that; that's not nice." But she never gets it, and is always a lock to be there the following day repeating her one and only phrase.

Or the kid who refers to just about everything as "Obama". I will call on him and say "how do you spell 'hat'', and he will respond with "Obama". I pretend to get upset sometimes, as if to say 'you shouldn't talk about the president of my country in such a humorous manner'. But really? Who am I kidding? It's pretty funny. You gotta pick your battles with these kids, and that's not one I'm willing to fight.

Because its a public school every kid of every kind of accepted. So there are some kids here who are mentally or physically retarded. Although they probably have no idea what is going on, these kids are a lot of fun. They love to smile and have a shitload of fun doing the simplest things. They also don't really cause trouble (except for this one kid with severe hardcore ADHD who doesn't shut his damn mouth). But at the same table as the ADHD kid is this girl whom I had never seen talk before. We were playing a game last week where if the ball came to you, you had to answer the question on the board. The ball comes to her and she says nothing...for 45 seconds or so. I try explaining what is going on but get nothing. Not even a movement. The ball is sitting in her lap and she doesn't even look at me or move or speak or anything. I give up and get the ball to another student. After class my co-teacher tells me that when this girl leaves her house in the morning she doesn't talk. Not once during the day does she open her mouth, only when she is at home. I guess it is some kind of psychological syndrome or something. While at school the students and teachers all act like they know that she can talk, as if to encourage her to do so. It's really kind of neat that everyone understands this girls situation, but nothing has really worked yet. But for some reason my co-teacher neglected to tell me this prior to class beginning. I still don't know why...

There are also some kids who have experience living abroad...among others, there's a girl from England, two boys from the U.S., and a brother and sister who just moved from Egypt who are fluent in English because that's the type of education they get at international schools. Most of these kids are pretty fun to talk with (although our conversations usually revolve around nothing I could give a damn about), and some of them have better English than the Korean co-teacher who accompanies me (one for each grade). That's when I feel bad; some of these kids have better English than the teachers and are soooo bored in class. I wanna go hang out with them and talk about how boring school must be for them. At Red Arrow, for instance, that would be acceptable. You are more or less friends with the kids. Here--unlike most of the other teachers--my maturity level can be just as low as the kids, so its easy to get along with them. For example, I'm the only teacher who ever does stuff fun like throwing them around the halls and arm wrestling 6 of them at once.

I am going to Thailand all next week, but I thought a post now would be appropriate since I'm sure I will have plenty to say about Thailand. I'm going with this girl Shannon, and we are staying a few nights in Bangkok then heading south to the islands on the eastern side of the straight, in the Gulf of Thailand. Pretty excited for the beaches and snorkeling and we might even ride elephants, although I have heard they are really slow. Who'da thunk it?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Party Time

What a two weeks I have had since returning from China. During the week I had Summer English camp. The first week was 3rd and 4th graders, the second was 5-6 graders. I would have the same 25 kids from 9 AM to 12:10 every day. I'd then eat lunch and go home with the whole afternoon off. Camp was different from regular classes because I was in charge of everything. I had to do all the lesson planning, preparation, and ran the whole camp by myself. I had a Korean speaking English teacher to help me, but she would come and go as she pleased and was there only for support and to run errands for me.

All morning long I would teach them a little something like directions or geography or random vocab words then we would play a game with it. We played musical chairs, watched the Simpsons, played bingo...a bunch of really fun and easy to manage stuff. Oh and the first day they each picked English names, some of which I provided and others that they came up with on their own. For kicks I provided a bunch of really hard to pronounce names, like Harold, Gilbert, and Waldo. We also had a Larry, Curly and Moe. Some of the kids are a little slow though. One insisted he be called Dragon Rider, which wasn't nearly as bizarre as the boy he sat next to, Naver, or his other friend, Movie. That's right I called a kid "movie" all week long. In addition to Larry, there was also a Harry and Terry.

Last week some friends and I went to this Canadian bar in Seoul for 300 won (30 cent) wing night. My friend from college Kate is visiting and staying with my friend from Knox, Kim. We all went out and had a real good time, especially when these Korean guys whom we met insisted on celebrating Tequila Tuesday with us...meaning they buy all the drinks, most of which were shots of tequila. I mean, as much as I wanted to buy my own stuff, I supposed I could let them pay for drinks. While at this bar I talked to the bartender about playing hockey. He said as long as I got my stuff here he could find a team for me to play for, since goalies are fairly uncommon. So I might consider playing soon. But we'll see. I am really enjoying this unathletic lifestyle I live.

This past weekend a bunch of people got together and took a trip to Gangwahl-do (or something), which is this area somewhere outside of Seoul (we weren't sure where) to go rafting. There were maybe 40 people on this bus, all English speakers, that we took up there. But before we got to the river, we stopped at some lake. There we could go swimming in the lake, or go bungee jumping, which is exactly what I did. I was just under the weight limit of 105 kilos, which was a relief. I got up there and just jumped right off without thinking about it. I wasn't really too scared for some reason. But it was really cool...I think it was like 65 meters high into a pool. It was so awesome...such a rush. I really had fun doing it, and it was only about 30 bucks. After that we went rafting in this really lame river which apparently was the best rafting river in Korea. But we made fun of it and jumped out of the boat and pushed our guides in. They really had a blast with us. That night we all stayed at this camp-type place with small houses that we all bunched up in and had a barbecue and bonfire by the river. It was pretty cool. There were plenty of spirits to indulge in as well.

In other news, I recently got my Playstation working. I had been looking for ways to get it working forever...looking for a converter or remote or adapter. There was info on the web that said I needed a converter so thats what I thought. I had the tv repair man come to my place, I had another teacher's son and husband come over to try and get it to work, and I even brought it to school one day thinking it was my TV's problem and the ones at school might work. After not finding any answers and formally giving up, one of the teachers at my school did a little research. He said all I had to do was hold the power button for longer, and it would go on. Yeah the hell would that work? That wouldn't bypass any converter or anything. As a last ditch effort I gave it a shot....AND IT WORKED! I was so happy I started jumping around and screaming. Fortunately for me, Madden 2011 just came out. I found this Asian gaming website ( that sold them for cheaper than in the U.S. and delivered to Korea, which the major U.S.-based ones don't. Up until this point I had been working to learn Korean pretty hard, but no longer, thanks to Playstation. It's reallly hard to get off the couch and away from the TV to study. Thanks, Sony! You have officially ruined my social/educational life!

Well I apologize for this being so short but there really isn't a whole lot else going on. Most of my friends here have already left/are leaving in the next week cuz their contracts are up. I still have a few acquaintances but the majority of my closest friends will be gone. But that also means that a whole new flock of people will be arriving, just waiting for an experienced foreigner like me to show them around. At least I hope...stay tuned.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Its been a while since I have done any blogging, but things are starting to get normal now and I'm finding it more difficult to get motivated to write. But, I just got back from China a few days ago. I was there for two weeks and had a pretty good time. But....

We spent the first 7 days there in Beijing, and that was way too much. The entire 7 days we spent there were some of the hottest days I have ever experienced. Everything you did and everywhere you went you would immediately start dripping in sweat...multiple times I could actually wring my shirt out from sweat. And if this isn't annoying enough, the streets are lined with beggar/vendors who try to sell you crap toys all day long. Even if you refuse they will lower their price until you actually scream in their faces to stop. It was incredibly annoying. And if this isn't enough, garbage lines all the streets and everywhere you go. Its amazing. I understand that you could make this argument about any big global city, but it only added to my disappointment with China's capital city. Oh and I got my haircut in Beijing for 30 yuan, or just under $5. And I think its a great haircut too.

But outside of all of that there is plenty to do. All of our days were full of stuff to do and we got plenty of culture in us. Some of the highlights included seeing:The Summer Palace;Tiananmen Square (probably the most important location in recent Chinese history); the Silk Market (a place where tons of foreigners go to bargain for knock-off goods); and the night market. At the night market there are all sorts of weird foods on display for people to eat. Its a pretty good tourist attraction. They had seahorses, cicadas, scorpions, all sorts of other bugs on sale. I actually tried the scorpion and it was decent. It didn't really have a whole lot of natural flavor cuz it was dipped in oil and salt, but its cool to say I have eaten scorpion nonetheless.

The silk market is absolutely insane. Its a big bargaining market with tons of booths where people try and sell knock-off goods and clothes. If you even look at something the vendors will immediately get your attention and ask you "you wan' buy bag/watch/shoes"? You have to be really careful how to bargain with the people. I got a sick pair of vintage knock off Jordan's for like 45 bucks. I actually paid a lot more than I should have, but that was me as a rookie haggler. There are also nice (enough) Polos and jeans and any other kind of accessories or clothes or bags you need. And everything is about the haggle, which makes it that much more nuts. Most prices start out at triple what they will usually sell for. If you even express a little interest in something and then change your mind or try to leave they will grab your attention and say something like "ok wha price? wha you lows price?" For instance, I was interested in a pair of polo shorts but the price was too high. I tried to leave but this very aggressive woman grabbed my arm and asked me what price. I dropped my price and tried walking out but she again asked me what price. When I completely rejected her price she finally accepted it. I gave her my 100 yuan for the shorts and tried getting my change but she wouldn't have it. I couldn't understand why she wouldn't give me my change, then she pointed out that there were actually two pair of shorts in my bag: the ones I wanted and another pair which I had barely touched earlier when browsing. Ok, whatever, I got two pair of knock off Polo shorts for 100 yuan (15 bucks). They will do WHATEVER it takes to make a sale. Oh, and I was browsing the jerseys one time, and fortunately they had a ton of Hawks jerseys. They literally had every pro team, all with pro's names and numbers on the backs, but I'm guessing there were so many Blackhawks ones because they just won the Cup. So, I'm checking out the jerseys and I see Niemi (who's now gone, apparently?), Toews, Hossa, Kane....and a Steve Larmer number 28 jersey complete with a fight strap and everything!!!! It was a dream come true, and I ended up paying just under 30 bucks for it. It was undoubtedly produced in some illegal sweatshop somewhere, but nobody has to know that. I'm very satisfied with my purchase.

We also went to the Great Wall at Mutianyu one day. It is about an hour trip outside of Beijing. There are a number of different locations to visit the Wall but at Mutianyu you start with a 15 minute cable car ride up the mountains. Once we got up there we walked up and down it a bunch. We got some really cool views and took lots of pictures. Then on the way down the mountain you have the option to cable car it down or take this toboggan. We obviously decided to take the toboggan down, and it was definitely the coolest part. You sit on these little metal sleds and have a simple brake and can just fly down the mountain. They tell you to slow down, but I just pretended to not understand English (not for the first time, might I add). It was pretty cool.

One night we went to a good restaurant with our Italian roommate couple. The male of the coupe, Giordano, spoke pretty good Chinese and suggested we go to this Peking duck place with them. It was awesome. The chef brings out this roasted duck and slices it up in front of you, getting absolutely everything out of it. Between the four of us we barely finished one duck...thats how much meat the chef was able to cut off from it. The duck there is unlike any duck I have eaten before...just really well cooked and with lots of sauces and veggies to eat them with. To properly eat it, you put pieces of duck into this little pancake and put the sauces and stuff in there, roll it up and eat it. It was soooo good.

Then another day we took a trip to this gorge. We hopped on a boat with this other group of foreigners whom we'd just met and cruised up and down the river for awhile. We had heard about a chance to bungee jump into the gorge and were all excited to do it. I was nervous about doing it, but slammed a beer and quickly got over it. So I went up to the jumping platform with 3 other people in our group, tightened my shoes, paid my fee, and stepped on the scale. That's when these Chinese men started screaming at me and pointing at the scale. You need to be under 90 kilos in weight to jump...and I was about 100 kilos. So I couldn't go. I was really pissed at the time. It only would have cost about $25 to do it there, and I'm pretty sure bungee jumping prices in the states are much higher. So I was bummed. Bad day, right? Well as we were leaving the gorge waiting for our bus, a Chinese man asks me to hold his child and pose for a picture. Before I go on, I need to add that most Chinese children wear very limited clothing during the summer months to stay cool. A lot of them have slits in the crotches so that they can pee and poo without trouble. Or, some parents just let their toddlers walk around completely ass naked. This particular boy had nothing but a bib on covering his front and front of his crotch, and yet his dad insisted that I hold him for a picture. (We were asked to pose for about 1-2 pictures per day by random Asian people with their families.) I could not stop laughing while holding this little kid. And when I turned to give him back to his dad he grabbed my shirt and held on. His dad finally got hold of him and the baby started crying. It was hysterical.

Another night we searched for over an hour for this Mexican place called Mexican Wave. It was pretty good but a little pricey. I guess margaritas are pricey anywhere you go though....

When we finally left Beijing, we took an overnight train to Xi'an in central China. The 11 hour ride was ok until my tummy started rumbling. I ended up spending roughly half of the time in the bathroom. It was a miserable ride. Anyway, Xi'an is a really really old city and is famous for its terra cotta warrior army. Sometime in the 1970's some Chinese guys were drilling for water or oil or something and cracked open this pit which had been covered for over 2000 years. Two more pits were found in the next few years. Inside the 3 total pits there are over 8,000 life-sized terra cotta soldiers and horses that have been standing there for millenia. Its obviously a huge tourist attraction, which kinda reduced the authenticity a little bit, but it was still really cool. Theres plenty of info on the internet if you're still interested. One of the exhibits showed chrome-based sword enamel, which wasn't created in the modern world until WWII. I guess the chrome prevents corrosion or something...but the point is that these people had developed technologies like that years and years ahead of the western world. That night we rented bikes and rode around the city walls. I don't know how long it is, but maybe like 10 miles in total. The old Xi'an was held within the city walls. It has since expanded a ton past the walls, but they are still there and in pretty good (although no doubt they have been renovated) condition. Anyway, I got real tough and decided to ride down some stairs as fast as I could. I got to the bottom and was flying along when my chain came off and I ate it all over the place. Fortunately not too many people saw it and I only had a few cuts, but it was a wipeout if I've ever had one.

The next day we went to a neolithic village on the outskirts of town. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me. There were almost no tourists there and was really different. It was called Banpo Matriachrical village or something. Again it was discovered by people drilling in the 50's. Whats different about this one, however, is that it is a 6000 year old village! You can see where these people made their houses and how they cooked and stayed warm and even buried their deceased. It is not in the best shape, what with it being so old and all, but you can really see how people lived waaaay back then. It was really cool to see and experience.

The next night we took another overnight train from Xi'an to Hangzhou. This was maybe the worst trip of my life. I was still having stomach problems, and this coupled with the unbelievable amount of people on the train made it terrible. The train was packed...all the aisles had people standing in them. Thats right, people stood for the entire 19 hour ride from Xi'an. There was this one guy next to me who kept spraying when he talked and didn't ever shut the hell up. And then the air conditioning would go off and on and to even get to the bathroom it would take 10 minutes just to get there because you had to walk through so many people. And it was a squatter toilet, per usual in China. If you don't know how to use one, well, you're in big trouble. You need to be limber (I'm not), and of course be quick with your business (no way). And the bathroom on the train was disgusting, as it was located right next to the cigarette smoking area. That's right you can smoke on these trains, its terrible.There was no food or drink provided. These people would not shut the hell up, and everybodys seat was facing each other, so Laura and I were face to face with two guys the whole time. But eventually we made it to Hangzhou.

When we finally arrived in Hangzhou, which is about 100 miles from Shanghai, we were completely lost and had no idea how to get around. We finally got to our hostel and searched the area. The city revolves around the West Lake, which is this man made lake with really cool vistas and stuff. You can spend all day walking around the lake checking out parks and stuff. We actually ran into these two girls at this one pagoda in Hangzhou who we kind of knew. They were on our same train from Beijing to Xi'an about three days ago, and also happened to be leaving for Shanghai that night, on our same exact train! It was soooooooo nice to be in a clean, odorless, friendly pretty area for a change. It was honestly the complete opposite from Beijing. But we only had one night there before we left for Shanghai...

When we arrived in Shanghai we were lucky to have been on the same train as those girls because one of them knew the Shanghai subway system fairly well and the other spoke Mandarin. We would have been pretty lost if we hadn't have run into them. One of the nights we went clubbin' with was interesting. But the whole concept of a 'club' is just way beyond me. Don't get me wrong, we had a lot of fun, but thats only because I can cut a rug like its nobody's business.

One day in Shanghai we went searching for the cheapest way to get to a really tall building to see the city from above. We had met a German couple in Beijing who told us about some place where the ride up is free but then you have to get a drink or something once you reach the top. Laura was extremely persistent on finding this one particular place, since the options we had looked at before cost about 150 yuan (25 bucks). But her persistence paid off, and we found out that you can go up to the top of the Hyatt building for free. But being up there you need to spend at least 120 yuan at the restaurant or bar which, obviously, wasn't a problem at all! So we went from possibly having to pay 150 yuan (to only go up to the top of one building and then leave), to actually paying 120 yuan for a) a view that was higher than any other building in Shanghai, b) getting three Jameson on the rocks, and c) relaxing in the air condition on a comfy sofa. It was a great deal.

Our final day in the trip was spent at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. Tons and tons of people from all over the world go to the expo, which runs from April to October. We were lucky to have been in vacationing in the host city this year. Anyway it was this ginormous park with tons and tons of pavilions for each country. We went at night to get a cheaper ticket and avoid lines, and its a good thing we did cuz the lines during the day were nuts. We made it to the USA, Chile, Caribbean, Australia, and a few other ones. Its basically just a chance for countries to sell themselves to the world and give reasons why people should travel there, invest there, etc. It was definitely something that I am proud to have gone to, and learned a lot about other countries. Well, thats all for now. Zai Jian.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fear the Reds

Words for the week: snorkel, partly cloudy

So a few times a week the 5th grade teachers, (whom I'm apparently a part of) get together and eats Korean snacks. Its usually some pretty different stuff, but I eat it anyway. One afternoon the teachers came back with this ice cream-type stuff with rice cakes and kidney beans in it. It was ice on top of a smoothie and then the beans and rice cakes at the bottom of it. I don't know what it was called, and I don't know how its sold regularly. It wasn't great, not terrible but not great, and it reminded me why you don't mix beans with ice cream.

Oh and I was recently introduced to how Korean children signify their admiration of someone. One day I was wrasslin around with the kids before class, like I always do, and this one kid came up to me and put his hands together in the shape of a handgun, ran behind me, and stuck it into my butt....Uh...What?!?! I had no idea how to react..I mean what the hell just happened? It was sooo weird. I told the kid "no, no you can't do that", but all he did was smile at me and run away. I've since blocked repeated attempts at my rear end, and am obviously much more vigilant of the kids at all times. I brought this up to some friends and found out that this type of thing happens often, but only to guys. It means they like you, so I guess I got dat goin' for me. What a weird cultural concept.

I finally had an orientation Monday through Wednesday of the past week. We went to this convention center where over 200 foreign teachers in my province (Gyeonggi) alone are currently teaching. It was pretty cool...I learnt a lot about teaching and made a lot of friends who live near me. What was particularly cool was meeting people from English-speaking countries all around the globe--New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, the UK, Ireland, Canada, and all over the United States. So that was cool. And we were able to have some beers at night which made it all that much more fun.

Last weekend I went to a place called Muuido, which is an island off of Incheon (which supports Korea's largest international airport). To get to the island you need to take a ferry, and round trip was like 3,000 won, or less than $3. Real cheap. We then went to this area called Hanagae which is nothing more than a little strip of beach with all sorts of gondolas along the beach, each at 10,000 won a night. Again, very cheap. It was pretty much spring break, just hanging out on the beach all weekend long and eating shellfish and other local marine wildlife. The tides there are pretty outstanding, and I even went out as far as maybe 500 yards one time where the water had been just a few hours ago. It was pretty cool, and again there were lots of English speakers all over the place.

One of the things that I have really noticed since being here is how well Koreans can save space. There are around 50 million people here, all crammed into an area roughly the size of Indiana. So there's not much real estate to work with, and so Koreans have become experts at saving space. For example, many bathrooms' showers consist of nothing more than a shower head poking out of the wall in a bathroom, with everything in the bathroom being waterproof. It's also rare, as I've noted before, for Koreans to have dryers. And there are lots and lots and lots of buses (I still think that word should be spelled busses), and they are usually pretty full. A lot of people ride them, and therefore either don't have a car or have only one in their family. Another space-saving example is in my school. With over 1700 kids, one would think that the cafeteria might be a central room in the building. But actually, there is no cafeteria. The lunch ladies bring food up in these huge carts on elevators and each class eats in their homeroom, and then spends time cleaning up afterwords. Its kinda interesting to see these ways that people have learned to deal with too many people in not enough space.

Prior to my leaving for Korea I was told that people might stop me and ask for my autograph. This hadn't really happened to me, and I figured I wasn't tall enough to be thought of as something like a basketball player, and so it wouldn't happen to me. Well on Fridays, just before lunch, I have my favorite class, 3-5 (a third grade class). I like it because there are two really good English speaking boys who lived in the US for a time, and I can use them to help some translation issues. I also like it because there are some of the most adorable little girls, like the one with a mustache (incidentally the only facial hair I've seen in Korea), or the one who is a little heavier and stares at me with her little smirk for 5 straight minutes before every class, pointing her finger at me and rubbing the hair on my arm. (I guess body hair isn't too common around here.) So Friday they all were really rowdy for some reason and all started asking me for my autograph. Let me tell you what, it was absolutely bonkers. There were shoving these pieces of paper in my face like I was a Korean pop star or something. I mean at first it was funny, then it got to be really annoying. Eventually I just started signing alternate names like "Barack Obama", "Jack the Ripper", and "Marty Dertz". Can't wait til these kids realize what was really going on. I got a good laugh out of it.

Soccer games in Korea are a big deal, and so being here for the World Cup has been really cool, especially since Korea has had success. On game days/nights, local towns organize these huge gatherings of people and have a big screen available for viewing. Saturday night I went to "city hall" in Seoul with a bunch of people and watched the game. It was nuts. I couldn't even guess how many hundreds of thousands of people were there. It was a total mess because right before the game it started raining and didn't stop the whole time. But this was just an absolute party... prior to the opening kickoff there was a concert with all of Korea's most popular bands. The best part about it was that it was all free. It was such a cool experience, seeing people support their country and everything. I don't really have anything to compare it to in the US because while instances like the 2010 Olympics were great and did a lot for national pride, there were still people in the US who didn't really care about it. EVERYONE here is a die-hard soccer and Korea fan. All game long people sing and cheer and dance..even in the rain.

After Korea lost we went to Itaewon (a section of Seoul basically designed for foreigners) to watch the USA-Ghana game. Now keep in mind that the Korea game started at 11:00 PM. The US game started at 3:30 AM. These bars were all open and tons of people were hanging out, it was really cool. Because of the times I ended up getting home around 10:00 AM. I hadn't pulled a legitimate all-nighter since Tony Hawk 2 came out and Slick Willy was in office. But it felt good, made me feel like I'm still in college.