Friday, October 30, 2009

South Korea OST

Songs that I would put on a CD to sum up my experience in South Korea. In no particular order:

1. It's Five O'Clock Somewhere (Allan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett)
2. To The Left (Beyonce) [The joke being that Koreans default to passing people on the left when they walk, despite driving on the right. The government actually just launched a "pass on the right" campaign. I'll post pictures of the signs sometime.]
3. Alcohol (BNL)
4. Take This Job And Shove It (Johnny Paycheck)
5. Just Dance (Lady Gaga)
6. Changeless (Carbon Leaf)
7. So Far Away (Carole King)
8. Ana Ng (TMBG)
9. Carpe Diem Baby (Metallica)
10. Suicide is Painless (the theme from M.A.S.H.) (preferably the version by The Ventures)
11. Take Me Home, Country Roads (John Denver)
12. I Got A Feeling (Black Eyed Peas)
13. Fight For Your Right to Party (Beastie Boys)
14. It's A Hard Knock Life (the original from Annie, not the "Ghetto Anthem" Jay-Z remix)
15. Who Needs Sleep? (BNL) (Korean students probably get about 4 - 5 hours of sleep a night on average; it's not unusual to see some of them doze off in class.)

Also more songs that would go on the album I would ideally write and record about being an Engrishee teacher:

Gimbap (to the tune of "Mmmbop")
One Night in Hongdae (ref. "One Night in Bangkok")
Seoul Man

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Take me out to the ball game...

I like to talk about baseball with my students. My preferences in American baseball are a bit more accessible to them than they might be otherwise, since one of their own superstars pitches for the Phillies. Apparently Maddie ran into a cab driver who wanted to talk to her about the World Series when he found out that she hailed from Colorado, whose team we had knocked out earlier in the playoffs.

"World Series!" I cried in one of my classes, It's a small class, only five students, and one of them is a baseball nut. His name is Kyle. "Phillies and Yankees!"

"No no no," he said. "SK Wyverns and [some other team, I can't remember]."

"America," I said. "American championship game: my Phillies and Yankees."

"Teacher, who champions now?"

"2008 champions, Phillies. 2009? Game right now."

"Ah," he nodded. "Yankees win, teacher Yankees fan?"

"No way!" I made a face. "Teacher hates the Yankees. Teacher Phillies fan...forever." I made a big gesture with my arms.

A look of understanding crossed Kyle's face. "Ahhh. My SK Wyverns fan...forever." He repeated the gesture.

I've come to the conclusion that the SK Wyverns are the Korean equivalent of the Yankees: a giant powerhouse of a team with lots of money to buy lots of talent for lots of championships. I mentioned this to Jong-min and he agreed.

"So what would be the equivalent of the Phillies, then?" I asked while I was out with him and another friend on Thursday. "Not as much money, not many championships, more working-class city, really dedicated and passionate fans."

They both had an answer for me immediately. "Busan Lotte Giants," they laughed. "Definitely the Giants."

So there you go, family: there's your South Korean team to root for.

Also, Wikipedia tells me that the starting times for the games will be at about 8 in the evening. This makes it very inconvenient for me to watch any of the games: either I watch them in the morning by myself in my apartment, or I try to find a sports bar with the games on tape delay at night. Either way, if anyone spoils any part of the game for me, I'll be pissed. I'm swearing off of Facebook and Google for the next few days as a preventive measure.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Some days are not what you expect.

Thursday, for example, was a great day. Phillies clinch the pennant, my mom's care package arrived, a friend of mine came into some windfall cash...but my day at work was mediocre at best.

Friday I arrived at work feeling less than stellar. Exhausted from lack of sleep, I thought there was no way I could make it through the day and thanked the schedule gods that I had my short day that day. But as it turned out, Friday was a good day. My kids had a lot of energy but also a lot of enthusiasm for class.

Even so, I called it a day pretty early and crashed as soon as I got home from work. Eleven hours of sleep for the win.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This October keeps getting better and better.

  1. Quentin Tarantino's latest movie will soon be out (one week to go!)
  2. NaNoWriMo is fast approaching.
  3. The Phillies are going to the World Series (again!).
  4. Halloween is coming up soon, one of my favorite holidays.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lost in Transition

I no longer teach middle school listening classes. There are no words for how thrilled I am about that. Instead, I now give conversation "classes" to two of the middle school teachers four days a week. I use "classes" in the loosest sense of the word; most of the time it's just 45 minutes to chat and have tea and get my nails done. Free manicures? Win! It's much easier for me to deal with adults—I imagine most people would say the same thing. Were I to stay in Korea, I think I would bounce the hagwon business and look for adult classes.

One reason I prefer these classes is because "Christina" and "Victor" (I really hate the idea of "English names," I really do) obviously have a much better command of the language than even the smartest of my students. They can speak to me in sentences and understand English enough that I can explain words or phrases they don't already know in English. Because of that, I can pry a bit deeper into Korean culture than I can with my students and ask more complicated questions. I've learned that while I can be pretty patient and tolerant with children being, well, children, I have zero tolerance for the language barrier. You need to be able to break your explanations down to very simple words and exaggerated facial expressions and body language; to slow down. I have such a hard time slowing down. Such a hard time.

While Christina was painting my nails on Thursday, she asked me what kind of music I liked. I'm pretty sure she's asked me before; I don't know if it's because she forgot or because she didn't know what else to talk about. In any case, I said that I liked all kinds of music: hip-hop, rock, classical, get the idea. (My playlist just jumped from Meat Beat Manifesto to Maynard Ferguson to confirm my eclectic tastes.) "Anything that's energetic and happy," I said, to sum up. It doesn't quite cover all the bases but close enough.

"My personality is very happy, optimistic," Christina replied, "but I like sad music. Blue music."

Ah hah! Here was a chance to do a little cultural digging.

"One of my favorite singers is Janis Joplin," I told Christina. "Do you know her?"

Christina looked puzzled. "Janis Joplin? No."

I wrote down her name on the notepad Christina brought with her. "Janis Joplin was a singer from the 60s. She died in...1970? 1971? Too many drugs. But she sang the blues. Sad music. I listened to her a lot in high school, when I was depressed about my boyfriend leaving me. And I listen to her now, too, but it's not the same. I enjoy sad music more when I'm sad, too."

That blew my mind a little bit. I'm well aware that countries are capable of producing their own music and don't need to import Western acts, but I rank Janis up there with The Beatles and Michael Jackson in terms of international appeal (at least to people of a certain age group). And typing that up, I realize how silly and naive that is, but still, that's what I tend to expect. Especially from adults who have studied English for quite some time.

So my new mission is to put together a custom CD, this time for Christina and Victor (and Jong-min, since he has gaping holes in his music library). School of Rock, take two.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Kids Are Weird

I mean, that's sort of a given. But I forget. Sometimes I let myself get distracted by my students—Jane Goodall among the chimpanzees sort of thing.

Yesterday, I had my most rambunctious student. I've mentioned him before, he's the one we call PM. He had left the classroom to take a call from his mother right before class, and pranced back inside. He gave the door a good solid slam to announce his entrance as theatrically as possible.

Unfortunately, another student happened to be in the way. June, a tiny little thing whose backpack is nearly as big as he is, got a door handle right in the face. So naturally, he started crying.

And immediately students descended upon him: PM and two of the girls crowded him and asked if he was okay. For a while he stood sniffling, unable to talk, while his friends just hovered. PM squatted down to June's level and put his hands on his shoulders, face full of fraternal concern.

June is a bit dumb, but very cute, and by far the smallest in his class. I think he may be a year younger than everyone else there. The collective opinion seems to be that June is fun to play with and to sometimes tease, but you don't actually hurt him or yell at him because he's just too adorable. To see PM—usually a hyperactive, ADD, attention-whoring mess—slow down and show a surprisingly mature amount of concern and regret was quite endearing. Since I didn't know what else to do, I let the scene play out and just watched the kids in their natural state, without a teacher hanging around telling them what to do.

One of the girls broke away from June and asked, "Mina-teacher?" As in, "Should I go get Mina-teacher?" I shook my head; PM hadn't meant to give June a faceful of doorknob and didn't really need scolding.

"June fighting," I said in my best Konglish accents, fists raised. A small giggle rippled through the classroom. June sniffled a bit more, wiped his eyes, and sat back down. Five minutes later he was back to his old self.

Kids are weird. They're also pretty tough.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A guide to Asian photos


Also my new favorite, the nyan nyan~ or "catgirl" pose:

Saturday, October 10, 2009


And no, not the kind with LeVar Burton.

Wherever I live, I love. I put down roots. I could comfortably call any number of places "home," really; Minlak-dong is one of them. My job might stress me out sometimes, and I might gnash my teeth a bit at things like lack of good bread or reliable American movie releases, but I still love Korea just as much as when I got here. I love the country but also I've made friends here, not just temporary "I need company in a foreign country" friends but friends. I'm over the halfway mark at my contract and the thought that I will have to leave this place and these people soon is depressing (much as I look forward to the familiarities of home).

This song has been in my skull all day, so I'm sharing it with the rest of you. The lyrics are a perfect encapsulation of how I think of my relationships and all of the friendships I've cultivated with people I may only see a limited number of times in my life:

Call my friends to share some wine.
To share some laughs, and last goodbyes.
My photographs of these years
Will make me laugh through the tears.
What are the odds, what are the odds
This ends and we don't meet again?
What are the odds, what are the odds
That I will miss your smile?

Take a while! Take a while! Take care and
Fly away and see the world.
Take a while! Take a while! Take time and
If you need rest, I'll keep your nest

Let fondness be our souvenir
To keep it warm, we'll keep it near.
Otherwise, with no heart to recall,
A memory's just a memory after all.
I will not leave this pulse alone
Though it may take the long way home.
I will not wait until the end
For my applause for you, my friend.

What are the odds, what are the odds
This ends and we don't meet again?
What are the odds, what are the odds
That I will miss your smile?

Take a while! Take a while! Take care and
Fly away and see the world.
Take a while! Take a while! Take time and
If you need rest, I'll keep your nest

The music is beautiful, too. If you're reading this on Facebook, I've posted the video on my wall. Otherwise, watch here:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fat Girl in Korea (Pretend this post is about Chuseok)

Obligatory: yesterday was Chuseok, but instead of doing a really bland write-up about it, I'm going to be lazy and link to the Wikipedia article. And if that's TL;DR, here's the short version: Chuseok is almost (but not really) like Thanksgiving; a more apt comparison would be to the old school Celtic/new school Wiccan concept of Samhain, but that remains too obscure a reference for most Americans so the Thanksgiving comparison stays. If nothing else, the comparison to Thanksgiving does work well when you consider that both days are notoriously bad travel days, as tradition dictates you spend said holiday with your family. I tried to do the next best thing to going home, and that was have something appropiately ethnic for dinner, but my usual Uzbek haunt was closed for the holiday.

And that's all I have to say about Chuseok. What's prompting me to write is a desire to write about being a fat girl in Korea, after seeing this article from Glamour linked in multiple places.

I should preface this by saying that I call myself a "fat girl in Korea" with the greatest possible affection. Fat is not an inherently negative word for me. I generally consider it to be pretty neutral (as opposed to "lardass," "slob," "pig," and other pejorative terms based around weight). So don't read it as depressed self-deprecation, because that's not how I intend it.

To say that most of the time I'm okay with being fat girl in Korea would approach the truth, but not quite. Right before I left, I was more than okay with being a fat girl in the US, being that I was in better physical (and mental) shape than I had been in previous years. It was a good attitude to bolster me through the fact that I was going to Korea where I knew the average was no longer a size 16.

Nonetheless, you do notice things. I can't buy any bottoms except men's pants in the department store—and even then, just barely—even before I gained a sort of "freshman Korean fifteen" (remember how I said Koreans like to eat and drink a lot? yeah). Because I'm a bit bottom-heavy, I can make do with tops from the women's section, but again—barely. Which is strange when at home I was rocking the 12/14 range, easy enough to find in an American department store of LotteMart's caliber (as well as Goodwill and Salvation Army, where I do an equal amount of clothes shopping). But in Minlak-dong, a poor neighborhood in a country where fat, not thin, is linked to wealth and money, there's no market for anything that big. And even at my "ideal" weight (ideal in terms of where I want to be, not according to whatever medical authority), I don't think I could squeeze my ass into any but the tippy-top end of the size range, if that. I can't imagine doing that even if I were skin and bones; I think my bones there are just too big. And yeah I dig having hips and not looking "like a 12-year-old boy" (as my own boy would say), but sometimes I need a new pair of pants!

So wandering through the clothing aisles, walking down the street on the way to school, spending all of my time around Korean begin to feel like a whale in a country full of sardines. You do occasionally see chunkier Korean women out here, but they are few and far between. And I still don't know what society thinks about them. As for obese? Out and out unhealthy? I can count on one hand the number of obese Koreans I've run into, man or woman, and still have fingers left over.

One of my former students (who since moved to another hagwon, unfortunately) was a sixth grade girl named Julie, on the tall side and also a bit heavy-set. She was one of my favorites in a class that I largely despise, and the rest of the class seemed to like her just as much. She was outgoing and commanding of attention (not in a bitchy way, but in a natural leader sort of way), and she had a really cute sense of style. I can't tell if she ever felt insecure about her body, and I can't tell what the students said about her when she wasn't around (if they even said anything), but from what interaction I could witness she was really quite popular.

Another one of my students is a fifth grade boy, Jack. He's a bit fatter than Julie; outside of "oh, he's just big-boned" range into full-on fat. Jack is the class pariah. It's hard to tell if it's because he's a fat kid (Mina thinks it is) or because he's just a generally bizarre child who sort of thrives on being the weird kid, but whatever the reason the other students make no bones about their dislike of him. Some days, I'll admit, they play nice, and if he gets upset they apologize, but other days they legitimately give him a hard time.

As for me, I've gotten some amount of ribbing from students because of my weight. I've also gotten an equal (probably greater) amount of compliments, from students and from adults, so it all balances out.

Nonetheless it's one thing to be okay with yourself when you see a fair amount of women who look (more or less) like you. It's another thing to be okay with yourself in a country full of stick figures. It's incredibly frustrating to realize that I can't just run out to the store and get a new tank top or a new pair of shorts if I need one. It's frustrating to feel like I'm a giant clumsy blob who's always in the way. It's hard to love yourself when you don't see anyone like you.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Places I will visit as soon as I get home:

  • Mama Nina's
  • The Q-mart
  • The Chicken Lounge
  • The Steelgaarden
  • the cave
  • Earl Bowl
  • John's Plain & Fancy

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I'm pissed off a little bit (yeah), I'm pissed off a little bit (yeah), actually I'm pissed. off. a lot.

Relevant video is relevant, and totally inappropriate and probably offensive. You've been warned:

I try not to post all my personal, gushy feelings here because that is hardly of interest to anyone besides myself. But I am in a foul, foul mood, and so rather than just sort of vaguely talk about some totally neutral topic, I'm going to let off some vitriolic steam. Get ready and....go.

I realize kids will be kids and that:

  • A) it's been at least ten years since I was my students' age and
  • B) even if I could remember what it was like to be 10, 11, or 12 years old, I was never a 10 year old Korean boy, anyway. Also
  • C) as far as kids go I would rank myself as pretty sedate. While I would occassionally sass an elder (I remember my fifth grade teacher using the word "defiant" to describe me during the one and only altercation I remember having with her; this may be a false memory), it was never a battle of getting me to stop running around. Quite the reverse; I'm sure by my parents' standards (mostly Dad's) (I love you, Dad!) I didn't run around enough.

And some days, I don't know what it is, a full moon or biorhythms or too much sugar or impending holidays (추석, more on that later), but they never sit down and I want to break something over their heads and all I can do is stand there and feel incompetent. And then impose martial law and, instead of playing a game that they'd enjoy, be a total bitch and make them do busywork for the rest of class. But most of the time I just feel totally incompetent.

Or they get older and instead of running around like loons all day, sass you in Korean and act like pieces of shit. Obviously a language barrier is frustrating for anyone; it's especially frustrating for me because I'm used to employing a variety of verbal subtleties (and not-so-subtleties) like irony, puns, and sarcasm. The last one there is my weapon of choice in my other life as a cave tour guide, whether to entertain or to discipline, and when you're dealing with 13 year olds who can barely string together a sentence...they don't really pick up on it. I crack jokes in English all the time in class, but of course they don't understand—it's mostly for my sanity. And while I have no way of knowing whether this is true or not, I feel like those all trump body language and facial expressions when I try to communicate. Obviously I can't watch myself talk, but I sense that I often have a pretty deadpan expression, and even if my hands move a lot, they don't move in a way that necessarily illustrates what I'm saying. But facial expressions and body language are exactly what you need to employ when words fail; slapstick is perhaps the only universal humor. It's also the form of humor I hate the most.

In one of my classes, overwhelmingly female, I decided to bring in Twilight. I can't think of anything in recent years that's offended my feminist sensibilities more, but it's English and at least a third of said class has expressed interest in it by actually initiating conversations with me about it, so I thought "Hey! Great way to practice listening skills and kill time in a unit that drags on for far too long!"

And while my Google-fu is pretty strong, it wasn't quite strong enough to get my media player to successfully communicate with the Korean subtitle file. And there are few things in the world more frustrating than almost getting something...but not quite. I'm sure, given a few extra days/weeks of tweaking my media player, I'll get them to work flawlessly together...but of course by then it'll be too late.

So that went over...not as well as I had hoped, but not as bad as it could have been. Then my last class was absolutely off-the-wall bonkers, and I about snapped. Everything was coming together to be a Beowulf clusterfuck of fuck-ups.

I went home, raged a bit to my boyfriend over AIM, and then put on my running shoes and hit the pavement. Fuming the whole time, I inadvertently ran my fastest mile ever, which took the edge off but not quite the whole thing. And now instead of whatever I was going to do tonight (work on designing some jewelry using materials another English teacher here gifted me), I proceeded to bitch about my day on the Internet. Productive!