Dec 28, 2012

Notes from Bali

I'm currently sitting on the front porch of the cottage where my friend, K, and I are staying in Ubud. As I write this, I can hear gamelan music from the nightly dance performance happening down the street. The only other sounds are the chickens wandering the courtyard and a very enthusiastic cicada in the flower bush nearby. My tall bottle of water is sweating on the table beside me, next to the carafe of tea set out earlier by our hosts. The warm, moist air is making my hair curl and stick to my sun-drenched skin.

There is a tiny gecko in our bathroom. I'm naming him George.

Tonight I had raw avocado for the first time in 4 months. It was in a salad with tomatoes, basil and lettuce drenched in lemongrass-flavored oil. It was so good I almost cried.

Yesterday we went to Pura Tanah Lot, the most photographed temple in Bali. Tomorrow we're taking a bike tour to see a volcano, rice paddies, monkeys and more.

Korea feels like a world away.

Dec 24, 2012

Onward to Paradise

And by paradise I mean Bali. I'll try to post once or twice on my trip, but no promises. Your regular glimpses into the depths of my mind will resume after the new year.

Meantime, Merry Christmas!

Dec 23, 2012

'Twas The Night Before Christmas...

Twas the night before Christmas , and all through Korea
all the waygooks were saying to their family: 'won't see ya"

A teacher of English was  hunched in her room
while dreaming of soju-the liquor of doom.
when from the outside there rose such a clamor
but it was just an old ajumma in her highest of glamour.

She glared at the waygooks and shoved them around
then turned and with a breath: spat on the ground.
The foreigners rubbed their rib cages in shame,
amazed an old lady their bruises could blame.

As the teacher of English went down to the subway,
she heard a loud noise that sounded like a stray...
rocket that could have been sent from the north
to blow her to wee bits, pieces and so forth.

Much to her surprise, her eyes they did see:
a man dressed as Santa soaring above the trees.
And what was that written on his sleigh’s shiny rung?
“Korean Santa: sponsored by Samsung”

As the teacher of English sighed with relief,
Korean Santa shouted one message brief:
He reached out his arms and rang out a gong:
saying merry Christmas to all, and to all “annyeong!"

Dec 19, 2012

4 Months Gone: A Reflection

I was on my way to Artbox to pick up some new headphones because I left mine in the pocket of my gym shorts, before throwing them into the hamper in the locker room.

As I passed the rows of ddeukbokki and ingappang vendors and stepped around displays of raw fish for sale with nary an ice cube in sight, hoping to find a vendor selling egg bread-- my favorite street snack-- it occurred to me that I am not the person I was when I got here.

No longer do I notice the sharp contrast between the sleek, glittery Lotte department store and the ramshackle food vendors that populate the plaza in front, selling everything from fish-shaped waffles filled with warm red bean sauce (DELICIOUS) to dried squid on a stick (less delicious).

 It doesn't occur to me to be amused/repulsed at having to avoid the puddle of fish juices that accumulate in front of the guy who sells raw fish out of a box on the corner of my block.

It's weird if I don't eat rice at least once a day. When I make food at home (read: microwave ramen or frozen dumplings), I eat it with my own set of chopsticks.

Sometimes I crave kimchi.

It's obvious that I've changed in a thousand tiny ways, but I think the big changes are ones that I can only notice if I look very carefully at myself.  They're the ones that are more difficult to put into words.

I'm becoming more confident in myself. I mean this in the sense that I know that I'm capable of taking care of myself and figuring out how to navigate new environments.

I'm also becoming more confident in my ability to interact with people. I still don't love talking to strangers (shudder), but I know that I can make friends with a diverse group of people and make a moderately decent impression on at least a few of them.

 I'm also learning the art of humility. This one has been tough, and is something I still struggle with.  I don't like admitting that I am fallible and am capable of making mistakes. Spoiler alert: I'm kind of a huge control freak. I'm one of those people who plans important conversations with a flow chart to outline all possible outcomes. But I'm learning to acknowledge that I can't always do everything all by myself and to admit when I screw up.

On a related note, I'm learning to relinquish some of the control I hold over my own life. I think I'm getting better at trusting that things will all work out, somehow.

Case in point: Next week I will be adding another country to my passport. I'm going to Bali on vacation for a week. Granted, Bali isn't exactly a rough-n-tough, off-the-beaten-track destination, but the fact remains that I will be spending a week in a foreign country (Indonesia, for those of you who are not geographically inclined) where I don't speak the language and have only a vague grasp of its cultural offerings. And yet, I don't think I've ever planned less for a major trip. My friend and I have a rough outline of what town we plan to be in on what day, but that's about it. We don't even have a hostel booked for the last two days there. She and I are just trusting that we'll decide what we want to do and will be able to deal with it  there.

I know I'm changing in other ways, ways that I can't even detect right now. I probably won't even notice them until I return home and have the mirror of the familiar to hold up against the "new" me.

Until then, all I can do is keep plugging away and living each day like the amazing opportunity it is.

(At least... I will definitely do that when it stops being a giant kimchi freezer here. I had the whole day off yesterday, and spent most of it curled up on the floor watching Community. We can't carpe diem every day, ok? Sometimes it's just too cold out.)

Dec 18, 2012

These Are My Kiddos

In light of the devastating tragedy at Sandy Hook, I am brimming with teacherly love for my students and and their enthusiastic (read: loud) little voices.

I shot both these videos yesterday. The first is of my 3rd graders singing their favorite ABC song. (The little boy in the Mickey Mouse hoodie who runs up to me is my secret favorite student.)

The second is my 5th graders singing "All I Want for Christmas is You." Yep, that one girl is knitting. I don't ask questions.

You may want to lower your volume.

Dec 16, 2012

Things I Should Be Doing vs. Things I Am Doing

Things I should be doing:
-Writing a proper blog post
-Writing my article for ESL101
-Writing something for my latest side project (to be discussed at a later date)
-Watching the children's TV series my coteacher says we're showing the kids during winter camp so I can know what vocabulary to teach.

Things I am doing:
-Defrosting mandu for dinner
-Dinking around on Facebook
-Everything pictured below

Dec 10, 2012

Precious Moments

Remember problem child, from a while back? Little second grader who is a handful in class?

Long story short, he's not a problem child anymore. At least, not to me. He's one of those kids who is extremely talented and too smart for his grade, so he gets really bored and acts out. He's also the biggest ham I've ever met.

Anyway, just a few minutes ago he peeked into my room and asked "teacher... phone?" I told him to come in and he used my desk phone to call his mom. I think she was late to pick him up. I heard him say he was in the English classroom. He hung up and said "teacher... stay?" I had him pull up a chair and help me make nametags for English camp. When we were done, I asked if he wanted to listen to Christmas music. He smiled. We were listening to Christmas music last week in after school class, and he'd repeatedly requested "All I Want For Christmas is You." I put it on and pulled up a page with the lyrics. We spent the next ten minutes learning the words and singing them. Boy, kiddo can SING! Future K-Pop star here. Calling it.

His mom showed up a few minutes later and he ran out without the song lyrics. Of course, I had to chase him down and give them to him. I'm hoping to get a youtube-worthy performance before the end of the year.

I was touched that he picked me to visit. His homeroom is two floors down. He's visited me before out of the blue. I get the feeling that he has a hard time getting along with the other kids, and that some of the teachers think of him the way I used to-- like a problem child. Without getting too much into a cultural critique, I get the impression that it's even harder to be a "different" kid here than it is at home. Korea is a culture of collectivism and conformity, and anyone who doesn't quite fit in faces a tough road.

Anyway, he's the sweetest little boy and I worry that he's going to have a hard time as he gets older.

My heart is all full of teacherly love.

Dec 9, 2012

Yay Korea! Dog Cafes

This is the third in a series I'm calling "Yay, Korea!" There are a lot of things here that are just so brilliant, you don't know how you ever lived without them.

I finally went to a dog cafe. It's a cafe where you can just play with all the dogs that live there. It was everything I'd dreamed of. I'm not going to explain it in depth because I think the pictures speak for themselves. I did talk about it in my article for this week, so you can go here to read about it. 

Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy the puppy pics.

Dec 4, 2012

Winter is Here

Winter has officially come to Soongshin Elementary. The kiddos had a snowball fight at lunch today.

Speaking of lunch, Special Food Wednesdays continue to be the highlight of my week. Today I saved these bad boys to eat alone in my classroom so my happy awkward noises wouldn't disturb the other teachers. On my way to my classroom one of the sixth graders asked if he could have one. Back off, punk.

One final note: today Principal said something to me for the first time in months: "Stop coughing."

Breaking News

Guys. I ate all my kimchi at lunch today. This is huge.

Dec 1, 2012

Winter is Coming

It's getting cold. Really cold.  Wear-long-underwear-every-day kind of cold.

You'd think I'd be used to this, having spent my entire life in exceptionally cold climes. In theory, Seoul and Boston have almost the exact same climate, and neither place gets as cold as my hometown of Bozeman, Montana. But for some reason, I cannot get warm here.

Maybe it's the fact that my classroom gets one hour of heat a day. My day revolves around the little jingle the heater sings when it turns on. No matter what we're doing, Coteacher and I will stop and do a little happy dance when we hear that sound. This includes times when it happens in the middle of class. Then, an hour later, when it makes the sad little "I'm turning off now" jingle, Coteacher and I will stop, look up, and sigh in unison, resigning ourselves to knowing that we will only get colder for the rest of the day. 

It doesn't even matter what I wear to school these days because I never take off my coat. I could wear the same thing every single day, and nobody would ever see it. I probably could get away with not wearing a bra. Just sayin. It may happen. 

One thing I do wear to school every day is long underwear. My collection of high tech long johns is quickly becoming extensive and varied. Koreans take their long johns very seriously. Every major department store has a giant section devoted to long underwear in every shape, style and color. In fact, later today I'm heading out to purchase some more.

Another thing that contributes to the unending cold is my bathroom. For some reason, it is an absolute ice box. All the time. I keep the door shut so it doesn't make the rest of my apartment cold.  I'm starting to think the real purpose of those ubiquitous shower shoes is really just so that Koreans don't have to stand on the frigid tile floor. Unfortunately, a frigid bathroom makes it almost impossible to have a nice, hot shower. Even if I turn up the hot water, I never stop being a little bit cold.

Thank God for my ondol, which does make my apartment quite toasty. But that takes a long time to heat up, and while I love my giant windows, they mean I have to have the ondol on pretty much all the time if I don't want the temperature to drop into the 60s.

I'm a bit nervous about what my hot water bill will be this month. Oh well.

I keep telling myself that it really isn't that bad, yet. It's only dipped below freezing in the last few days, and I know colder times are ahead.

As my friends and I have taken to saying in our best Ned Stark (from Game of Thrones) voice, winter is coming.