Sep 26, 2012

Student Artwork and Korean Healthcare

My 2nd graders are learning about animals, so today we drew what we would put in our zoo.

I like the way he thinks.

So close.

A shocking (or not so shocking, I suppose) number of angry birds made the cut.

In unrelated news, I just realized I never finished the story of my encounter with universal healthcare (GASP).  Last we left our heroine, she (I) was fighting some sinister infection in her throatal/chestal region. (Yep. It's a thing. Just go with it.) I made an appointment at the international clinic at one of the major hospitals in Seoul. It was easy. They would have been able to see me 2 hours after I called, had I been available. As it was, I made an appointment for two days later. Wednesday afternoon rolled around, and I headed out. 

(Side note: this was my first time EVER being paid to be sick. So this is what being a normal person feels like? You just get all the time?!)

Focus, Meg. Stay on topic. 

Anyway, I arrived at the clinic and they whisked me right into the doctor's room. A med student examined me, then a real doctor came in. She said she was going to give me a refiill of my inhaler (damn you, asthmatic lungs), antibiotics and a cough suppressant. I asked if it would make me sleepy. She looked at me like I'd asked if it would help me grow an extra head. So no, then.

After the exam, they told me to pay in the lobby and wait for my prescription. I walked up to the cashier. This was the Moment of Truth. Everything in my American brain was meticulously going through my bank account balances, trying to divvy up how to pay this bill. I was convinced that the health insurance wasn't going to work. It's too easy, I thought. I can't possibly just give them my ID card and expect it to be attached to my insurance, for which I have zero other documentation. 
The cashier told me it was about 105,000 won (the actual number escapes me, but that's about $100 USD). My stomach clenched. I was right. It wasn't going to work. I started mentally tallying how much ramyeon I'd have to eat until payday.

 That's when I realized I'd never shown them my ID. I fished it out of my wallet and handed it to the cashier. "Oh, you have national health insurance?" "...yes." Pleasegodpleasegodplease. I braced for impact as he ran the number. "That's 33,000 won, then." I was still marginally disappointed. 30 bucks for a doctor's visit is about what I paid in the US. I forked over the cash, and sat down to wait for my prescription. 

I assumed what I was waiting for was the script to take to the pharmacist, so you can imagine my surprise when the nurse came out and pressed three ziplock baggies into my hands. One contained an inhaler, and two were full of pills. "This is your antibiotics," she explained, "And this is your cough suppressant. The instructions are on the bag." Sure enough, English instructions were printed on a card stapled to the baggie. She smiled and walked away, leaving me holding 3 bags of drugs with my mouth agape.  Then it dawned on me. The $30 wasn't just for my doctor's appointment. That money covered my doctor's visit, an inhaler, and 2 pill prescriptions. That was it. I was set. 

A week later, I feel good as new. 

The moral of this story is: health care does not have to be a nightmare of red tape and prohibitive expenses.  
Ok. I'm off my soap box now. The end.

I take it back.

I take it back. Problem Child was a Very Big Problem today. Like, a "Megan-Teacher-has-to-write-an-incident-report" kind of problem. Kids, don't throw your classmates' backpacks across the room. It makes them cry.

Luckily, I also have these two little angels.  They never fail to cheer me up, especially when they draw such flattering and accurate portraits of me. Can I keep them, please? Kthanks.

Sep 24, 2012

Turning a Corner

One of  my "problem children" just came into my classroom all by himself. Surprising, because during after school class he essentially doesn't acknowledge my existence. But today, he saw me in my classroom and walked right up to me to say hello. This is rare from my students, but what happened next is unprecedented. Instead of shyly running away (like they all do), he stayed, swaying nervously and wringing his little hands as he tried to think of what to say next. I asked him how old he was. He paused, counted on his fingers, and said with a smile that he was nine. Then I asked him if he likes English. He smiled even bigger, nodded and said "yes!" Then he looked at my computer screen, (I was on Gmail), pointed and said "Google?" I said "Yes! Google!" He smiled, said "Bye!" and ran out of the room.

I think my heart just grew 3 sizes.

Sep 19, 2012

Crazy kids, Sweet Potatoes, and Long Walks

Oh, look! A real update! It's been a few days. I suppose that's for a variety of reasons.

One is that I've been sick for the last week and a half or so. I had a sore throat last week, following getting caught in a freezing monsoon at 2am over the previous weekend. Then, after an epic night out on Saturday, that sore throat devolved into something a bit more serious, involving difficulty breathing, a nasty cough, and major voice loss. Fear not, I'm going to the doctor tomorrow and I'm already on the mend.

But the real reason I haven't written a real update is just because I'm finally settling into a routine. I wake up at 7 every morning (Nightteam, if you're reading this: I KNOW, RIGHT?!), check the New York Times online, then go to school. I teach between 4 and 6 hours every day, then spend the rest of the time planning lessons.

Ok, fine, I spend about half of the rest of the time planning lessons, and half of the time reading American news online.

Ok, ok, fine, I'm on Facebook. There. I said it. Happy?

Some of the most entertaining parts of my day (aside from my wacko students) are trying to decipher the mangled google translation of the office memos I get, and sitting through staff meetings. We have one every Monday. It's my weekly "pretend there's a reason for me to be here" session. I sit and eat whatever snacks they had (last time it was boiled sweet potatoes that people were just eating straight), and listen for 20-40 minutes of the principal and vice-principal speak in Korean. I pretend that I understand, or I make it up. Sometimes I think I actually catch a word they're saying, but then I tell myself they couldn't possibly talk about ramen as much as I think they do.

Most of the lessons I teach go really smoothly. However, my 3rd graders are slowly descending into madness. They're worse with each passing week.  It doesn't help that I've been operating at about 30% normal vocal capacity this week. They simply ignored my feeble, crackly bleats of "eyes on me, please," "5-4-3-2-1-shhhh" "Han-pyo, stop hitting Joo-Min." and "open your books, please."  Coteacher had to step in the other day and give them a stern lecture. I don't know what she said, but their little faces got all sad. I was grinning inside.

Not all my kids are little devils, though. My 5th graders are absolute angels and the 4th graders keep me entertained. They're studying present progressive verbs right now (verb+ing)  and every time we say the word "dancing" they all yell, "GANGNAM STYLE!!!" and do the hand gestures in their seat.

On a related note, yes, that song is even bigger here than in the states. By at least one order of magnitude, I would imagine. 

Tonight I went for a nice long walk around my neighborhood. One thing I miss about Boston is that if you set off early enough, you can walk just about anywhere.  I got home from work today, and it was one of those evenings that is just too perfect to stay inside. I'm finally comfortable enough with the layout of the area around me (read: I now have Google Maps on my phone), so I hit the road. Few things calm me down like a long walk with no destination. It was great. I found a really cute little neighborhood just blocks away from my building. I had no idea it was there. It's full of cafes and restaurants, it has a branch of my bank, and I think I even spotted a dog cafe! Stay tuned.

I also walked to the next subway station, which gave me a better idea of the distances between things in Seoul. I think on Friday I'm going to try to walk home from school. It's only 2 subway stops away.

Now,  I'm home trying to decide what to do for dinner. I ordered kimchi jjigae last night, but I'm running a bit low on funds (t-minus 5 days till payday!!!) so I'll probably just do scrambled eggs and toast. I know. My life as an expat is full of thrills and adventure.

I'll leave you with one final note: I paid 8 dollars for a stick of butter the other day. Bright side: It's about 4 times the size of a normal stick of butter.

Oh, Korea.

Korean Brownstones

Even in Seoul, you can live in a brownstone:

Sep 18, 2012

Address Confirmed!

Exciting news from the Land of the Morning Calm: I have confirmed that my address is, in fact, a functional address. My piece of test mail (thank you, korean keyboard stickers) arrived today, right on schedule.

So, if you would like my address, shoot me an email.

On an unrelated note, I'm venturing into the land of Korean healthcare on Thursday. I believe my karaoke-related vocal loss has turned into something a bit more sinister, and I'm eager to test drive my new health insurance. Wish me luck.

Sep 15, 2012

Public Service Announcement

And now, a public service announcement from TASK: Teachers Against Sick Karaoking.

Sep 14, 2012

K-Fail of the Day: The Bank Incident

This is the next  installment in a series called "K-Fails", in which Meg does something dumb because she can't speak Korean.

This story has two parts.

I have recently acquired a Korean bank account. Koreans do their banking a little differently. For one thing, everyone gets a passbook, not unlike the bank books that used to come standard with every account in the US. But these have a magnetic strip on them, and you theoretically stick it into the machine and it updates it.... or.... something. The whole thing is still a little unclear to me.  I decided to test this theory out. I took my passbook to the (all Korean) ATM and stuck it in the slot with the picture of a passbook. Immediately, the machine started beeping and saying very stern things in Korean, while I frantically tried the universal strategy for making a computer stop doing whatever it's doing: push all the buttons. It goes without saying that this strategy was less than effective. This all happened in a tiny ATM vestibule with at least 3 Koreans using/waiting to use the machines. I still have no idea what was going on, but it took about 2 minutes to spit my passbook back out.  Meanwhile, the Koreans waiting in line at the ATM are rolling their eyes at the stupid foreigner who got her passbook stuck in the machine.

This brings me to part two. After that little debacle, I decided I really needed a debit card (I'd already decided this, but that just reinforced it). I wasn't able to get one when I opened my account because they needed my passport number. So, I went back, passport copy in hand. The nice lady handed me the form to fill out, and highlighted the areas where I needed to put my phone number and name. I started writing my number and she said "oh....that's where your name goes." I looked at the paper and sure enough, 2 lines below the one I was writing on was a highlighted line with a picture of a phone.  Stupid American can't even fill out a form.

K-fail. Squared.

Sep 13, 2012

This is a picture of my phone...

Which I am uploading from my phone, because... you guessed it... I finally have a working phone.

Sep 12, 2012

Where are the Men in Black?

I'm officially a registered alien! Insert Men in Black joke here. After two weeks of waiting in limbo, I was finally able to pick up my ARC today.  That picture is what I looked like after waiting 2 hours to drop off the application

I've blurred out my registration number so you creepers can't steal my identity/health insurance. 

This means I now have health insurance (just in time--I think the germbags/angels I hang out with all day gave me something), I can get a Korean bank account, and I can get... wait for it... a working phone! It's weird being in a country with one of the highest cell phone-per-person rates in the world, and still having to say to people, "ok, meet Friday at exit 9 of the Hongdae stop at 8. I'll wait for you for 15 minutes."

On the teaching front, every day brings a fresh hell (ahem... I mean surprise). I taught my first after school class on Monday. My beginners are almost all first grade girls, and they're angels. My intermediate class, however, consists of 5 ten-year-old boys. I turned my back to them for 5 seconds, and the next thing I knew someone was on the floor, and someone else was crying.

So that was fun.

Yesterday, the same student who cried during after school threw a massive temper tantrum during 3rd grade. He flipped over a desk, hurled himself against the window bars, and was screaming incoherently (at least, it was incoherent to me. It was probably understandable to the myriad Koreans in the room.) Coteacher and I rushed the rest of the class out as quickly as possible and called the student's homeroom teacher. He was still flailing about when she came, and then he grabbed a pencil and gestured like he was going to stab himself in the eye with it. I think he has emotional problems that the teachers may have neglected to mention to me.

I was in absolute shock. I had no idea what to do, and was afraid trying to do anything would just make it worse. Thankfully, Coteacher and the student's homeroom teacher jumped in and were able to eventually calm him down. We finally got him out of the room. I suggested to Coteacher that we skip lunch and get a bottle of soju instead. She laughed. I think we're bonding.

I had my after schoolers again today. The beginners were as good as ever, aside from a few boys who insist on causing problems. As for intermediate, the boy who threw the tantrum was noticeably absent. The rest of the boys were as stoked to be there as any 10 year old boy would be to sit in an English class after school.

I'll get through to them eventually. I'll go all Dead Poets Society on them if I have to.

Sep 10, 2012

School Nights in Korea

I party hard.

And by "party" I mean ordering delivery and watching questionably legally downloaded episodes of The Newsroom. That's what that means, right?

Sep 8, 2012

Fun Fact

Fun Fact: My apartment is closer to North Korea than to the airport.

View Fun Distances in a larger map

Life in Pictures

Every day brings something new and unexpected. These are some things that caught my eye in the last week.

This was a subway car with forest decor....but the weirdest part was instead of benches, it had tables and outlets for laptops.

I always think temples in the middle of cities are fascinating. I think it's the juxtaposition of the tranquil and the hurried.

This little one was studying the subway map so intently. I had to sneak a picture.

 Yep.  That watermelon is 21,800 won. That's about 20 bucks. For a watermelon.

 And finally, the view from my rooftop. That pointy thing in the distance is the N Seoul Tower. Not too shabby.

Sep 5, 2012

1 week down...

You got a snippet of my life in my post yesterday, but, as promised, here is the Life Update.

I've almost survived my first full week of school. I'm exhausted, and I didn't even have a full class load. Next week I add 4 after school classes!!

Last weekend was my first weekend off in... well.. a really long time. I met up with some friends on Saturday to go to E Mart (like Target, only in Korean).

But before we got to E mart, we decided to get some lunch. We were in an unfamiliar area and had absolutely no idea where to go! After a lot of herd-like walking back and forth, we finally decided to just go into a random restaurant. We walked in and were seated by a little ajumma. That's when we realized the place didn't have menus (with pictures), and the selection was just written on the wall. Well, Ajumma either didn't think we could read hangeul at all, or was too impatient to let us sit there and sound out every word. She started gesturing and pointing to things. We think she was making suggestions. She said something with "bap" (rice) and "gogi" (meat) so we were just like Ne! Ne!
It turned out to be pork belly, which came with lettuce and a bunch of tasty sides. She showed us how to eat it, which was to take a piece of lettuce and put a piece of meat and whatever other goodies you wanted, roll it up, and eat it. Let me tell you, it was pretty tasty. Then, while we were enjoying our new-found appreciation for pork belly, she brought out a plate of scallion pancakes. They're just as delicious as they sound. Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my keyboard. She handed them to us and kept saying "service-ee! service-ee!" which is basically Korean for "here's some free stuff." The whole meal came out to about 4 bucks each. I could get used to this.

Then, we hit up Emart and bought a bunch of stuff. I won't bore you with the details, but I did get a pimpin umbrella. It's giant and green with little ladybugs on it.

After E mart we decided to take a tour of everyone's apartments. This took the better part of four hours. We all live really far away from each other. It was fun, though. It gave us a chance to see each other's neighborhoods, and we all got to drop our E mart stuff off at home.

When we got to my house, we decided to be brave and try to order delivery.
A word on Korean delivery: It's amazing. Everywhere delivers, including McDonalds. It takes about 10 minutes to get there. It comes on real dishes with real silverware, and when you're done you just leave the tray outside your door and they come pick up all your dirty dishes.
Oh, and it doesn't cost any more than it would in the restaurant, not even for tipping. There's no tipping here.

However, ordering delivery involves speaking in Korean on the phone. It's harder (but not impossible) to mime over the phone. Our quest for delivery involved several minutes of me on the phone trying to convey my needs in broken Korean. We were moderately successful.  Food was, in fact, delivered promptly to my door. It was the food we ordered. The only problem was that we ordered 3 bulgogi soups and only got one. We're still counting it as a win.

Sunday was devoted to exploring one of the major shopping areas, Myeongdong. Oh, Myeongdong. How I love thee, and yet how I hate thee. Thy stores are so amazing, and thy prices are just low enough to convince me to spend too much money. Curse ye, Myeongdong.

Anyway, it was back to the grindstone on Monday. For the highlights of my week so far, see the previous post.

 I did recover, though. Last night I got beer and CPK (California Pizza Kitchen) with a friend of a friend. On a related note, the existence of a CPK a mere ONE subway stop away has crushed all my dreams of losing weight from a year of a strict Korean food diet. So it goes.

Anyway, no classes for me today, so I've spent the day at my desk planning lessons and trying to watch the DNC. Fun times.

Sep 4, 2012

Earning My Stripes

I think I can safely say I earned my stripes as a teacher today. On a related note, I'm now considering keeping a bottle of soju in my desk.

I knew today would be a little stressful from the start. Coteacher isn't at school today for medical reasons, so I knew I would be teaching the rugrats by myself. Little did I know, Murphy's Law was about to rear its ugly, ugly head.

Everything went smoothly for the first two classes. My advanced 3rd graders are wiggly, but they behave for me. Their homeroom teacher also stuck around for translation and crowd control.  My advanced 5th graders are the best. I see them every day for the first 3 days of the week, so by Wednesday (today) we're pretty comfortable with each other.

The trouble started as soon as 5th grade left my classroom. I opened the shared network folder where Coteacher and I keep all of our materials, only for it to vanish when I clicked on it. I went to send an SOS message to my friend the school counselor (henceforth called Counselor), when I realized the messenger system wouldn't log me in. I opened a web browser and my worst fears were confirmed: my internet wasn't working. I had 5 minutes until class started with no lesson plan, no powerpoint, and no way to call for help. After rummaging around under my desk and making sure my ethernet cable was plugged in, I frantically logged onto the other, seldom-used computer in the classroom.  Miraculously, the internet was working on that one, but it wasn't hooked up to the smartboard. My powerpoints and games would be useless. I plugged in the thumb drive that I keep in my purse and started copying the files over. It said it would take about half an hour. Great.

Then the 4th graders walked in. I was so distracted that I told them just to sit for a minute while I copied the files. Of course, within 30 seconds they were rowdy and yelling, then I hear a very loud and clear "F**** YOU!"

I know. 

I stood up, stood right in front of him, and yelled "HEY. WE DO NOT SAY THAT WORD IN THIS CLASSROOM."
I turned to the class (who was silent) and repeated that we DO NOT ever say that word in this class. I also made the perpetrator stand in the corner to prove my point. I made him stay there until he looked nice and sorry (so, about five minutes).

Meanwhile, I still had no powerpoint or any of the games I was going to spent  half the class playing.
We halfhazardly went over the material in the book that I needed to cover, which took them about 10 minutes. For the mathematically inclined, this means I was about 15 minutes into a 40 minute class... and had nothing left to do. I turned to the old English teacher standby: hangman. Boy. Those kids love hangman. They completely lose their sh*t over hangman. We played hangman for a good fifteen minutes (each game didn't last more than give you an idea of how much hangman that is).

Finally, my powerpoint game finished copying onto my thumb drive. I plugged it into my computer, and was able to spend the last 10 minutes of class playing "pass the ball," (aka hot potato) just like I'd planned.
Finally, the 4th graders filed out. I sat down and put my head on my desk, thinking I was done for the day. How very wrong I was.

Ten minutes later, my door opens, and in strolls... a class of second graders. Now, I had never met the second graders. I had been under the impression that I didn't have the second graders until next week, so you can only imagine my surprise. Not only did I have a class full of tiny strangers, their teachers (yep, more than one) decided to stick around and watch the new (woefully unprepared) English teacher in action. At the same time, I saw Counselor walk past the room out of the corner of my eye. I ran outside and frantically tried to communicate that my internet didn't work. She is such a saint. She saved the day. She barely speaks any English, and I'm sure she had something else to do, but sure enough, she ran and got tech support.

So now, my classroom is filled with lots of tiny strangers, and several adult strangers. That's when the teaching gods intervened.  Somehow (and I still don't know how), I pulled a whole lesson plan out of my a**. I said my name, made a few students stand up and say their name and one thing they liked, then we sang the ABC song, then we started going through the alphabet and saying words that started with that letter. We got to about L before the internet started working. I was able to show a youtube video about numbers that I found yesterday, and printed off coloring sheets for the letter M. Note to self: if you ever want to get second graders to shut up, let them color. They LOVE coloring.

Oh, and all of this happened on an empty stomach because I was out of milk this morning, so I didn't have breakfast.

On the bright side: Counselor came to get me for lunch. When we got to the teachers lunch room, she told a few people what had happened, so they laughed and said that was bad and was I ok? In other words, they talked to me!!!

Now I plan on locking myself in my empty classroom for the rest of the day and decompressing. The end.

K-Fail of the Day: The Hot Water Problem

This is the third installment in a new series called "K-Fails", in which Meg does something dumb because she can't speak Korean.

As you may have surmised from my previous post, I've had a bit of a hot water problem for the last few days. It coincided with the beginning of the month, so I figured the likely problem was something along the lines of the last tenant cancelling the water service when he/she moved out, and it taking effect at the end of the month.

Not having the faintest clue what to do about this, I decided to consult the expert. Cue my building manager (or one of them... there are 3 elderly men who seem to rotate the job of sitting by the fish tank at the front door greeting everyone).  None of them speak a word of English.

After extensive repetition of 내가 온수가 없습니다, which Google tells me means something along the lines of "I don't hot water," I wasn't getting any results. My accent may need some work. I was reduced to repeating 물 (water) over and over again, while miming "shower" and "shivering" before I got him up to my apartment to assess the situation. He ran the tap, poked around in the water heater closet, and (I believe) said in Korean that he was going to go call someone. 

Fast forward five minutes. He came back, smiling. He walked into my apartment, walked over to my thermostat and... wait for it... pushed a button. We were immediately greeted with the sound of water whooshing into the hot water heater in my closet. A minute later, piping hot water was coming out of my bathroom tap.

Upon consulting Google, I have now learned that the label on that particular button means something along the lines of "bath." 


Side note: I promise I'm not actually just bumbling around Seoul committing K-fails all the time. I will have a real update with the goings-on in my life on Thursday. Stay tuned.

Side side note: As requested, here is the picture of the offending thermostat. The button in the bottom middle labeled 목욕 is the offending button. 

Sep 3, 2012

Learning Korean on the Fly

I find my Korean skills are improving on a need-to-know basis. For example, tonight I learned how to say "I don't have hot water."  Presented without comment.

Sep 1, 2012

K-Fail of the Day: The Subway Debacle

This is the second installment in a new series called "K-Fails", in which Meg does something dumb because she can't speak Korean.

I'm getting pretty good at riding the subway, but there is still one line that confounds me. The #2 line of Seoul is a gigantic circle with little offshoots.

Side note, if I'd read the above-hyperlinked wikipedia page, this entire K-fail might have been avoided.

I had to meet a friend at the Konkuk University stop today, which involved a transfer from my home line to the 2, on one of the little offshoots. I then had to ride a few stops and transfer from the Outer Circle to the Inner Circle. However, at the time, I had no idea there was an "outer circle" and an "inner circle," nor did I have any clue which direction they ran. I ended up going the wrong direction for a stop, doubling back, getting off at the wrong stop, getting back on, and finally arriving at my destination almost fifteen minutes late. If I'd been able to read Korean, I likely would have seen signs saying "transfer here for inner circle line going clockwise."

Time wasted: about 20 minutes.


To clarify: I can read the Korean alphabet, Hangul.  But reading it doesn't mean I know what it means. It would be like reading Spanish if you don't speak Spanish. You can sound out the words, but that doesn't mean you understand.