Thursday, November 29, 2012

Message From The Past

Last night I was looking through some paperwork that I'd brought with me to Korea. In between the various pages, I found a journal entry from orientation that I'd written but never posted online. Here it is, from February 14, 2012.
(I'll do my best to type word-for-word).

Valentines Day:
The day went pretty well overall. Still getting used to full days of lectures (even the 2 hour ones). I was, overall, happy when the day started, but as it progressed my mood began to change. At lunch, the cafeteria surprised us with choco-dipped waffles.  They were pretty tasty, and a nice, thoughtful treat to all of us scholars. As I ate, I saw some people (girls) sitting with choco-boxes beside their trays. This, I hought, was neat, but I wondered if they had signif others here close by. By dinner, I'd see girls dressed fancy, as if going on an evening date, and everyone (girls, at least) seemed to be disappointed that there would be no second dessert. By this point in time, I was feeling moody. I remember when celebrating Val-day simply meant sharing choco/candy/cards w/ everyone. As adults there's hardly a requirement to do so. It might even seem awkward to some. Val-day, as one of my dinner-mates pointed out, has become singles-awareness day. Very unfair. I long for simplicity of group-sharings, and so that evening my mood was quite sour. I wanted to go for a walk. Get some fresh air. Everyone was already out, or in optional evening classes, unavailable to help me escape my emotions. I went to the piano room and tried playing Namikaze Satellite (among other tunes) but my impending self-awareness prevented any consistent, pleasant tunage. This being frustrating, I turned to roaming to my room, to the hallway, etc. until I finally gave in and went to Nurse Linda's office. Her son, Optimus Prime was there as usual, having an unusually bad day (due to impending rise in [body] temperature... possibly getting sick), but he let me play with his legos and help him build things (he did the building. I was only allowed to pass blocks). One of the last things that happened before it was time to go was that O.P. gave me some choco treats. It was prob at the request of his mother at first, but O.P. sat w/ me and had his [own] choco treat. We took bites one at a time and compared the sizes in b/t [each interval... like a science experiment lol] . He let me have some of his own and I shared mine... and then I realized that this little boy had just given me the kind of Val gift I wanted. Needed. It is truly a Val-day that I will have to remember, and be thankful for. With all my heart I love the gift God and O.P gave me that day. Needless to say, there was a smile on my face the rest of the evening.
Ok, I know. A little sappy at the end, but seriously. I was able to have the kind of honest, friendly moment I wanted to that day.... ...and O.P. probably forgot about not feeling well with someone there to play with and help distract him from an oncoming fever.

'Til next time,

The Wedding

So, I didn't actually write the wedding details, did I? (Sorry, Katie. I was just explaining an event before the wedding day :) ).

I arrived at Shinhwa Yeshikjang (Wedding Hall) thirty minutes before the ceremony began. People were already milling around.  A lady in the lobby told me to go upstairs to the second floor. I walked up with other relatives and friends who had just arrived. On the second floor, the first person I spotted in the crowd was the groom. He was standing in the open room greeting guests. Various people (probably family members) occasionally walked up to him to adjust his tie. We exchanged greetings, and he told me that our other mutual friend would arriving soon. He asked where Corey was. I didn't know, I told him. I'd waited outside the Dunkin Donuts at 12 like we'd arranged the night before, but he never showed up. I didn't tell him that part though. Instead, I went to go peek at the bride. She was in a small sitting room off to the side. It was decorated beautifully for photo-taking. I think people could just go up and ask to take a picture with her. I'm not quite sure if people were going in to take pics with her, or if they were going in to greet her while she was in the middle of taking pictures. Still, when there was a free moment, I peeked my head in and said hi. 너무 예뻐요, very beautiful, I told her. I might've mispronounced a syllable, now that I think of it. Still, she smiled kindly and said thank you. Afterwards, I headed back downstairs to wait for the phone friend.

Instead of seeing my phone friend arrive, I saw Corey come in. A-ha! He responded with the same phrase. There was a moment where he explained what had happened to him. He'd forgotten about the wedding and was about to settle down to watch a movie, when suddenly, the word wedding popped into his head and he rushed over! Ah, I see.... I told him what was happening upstairs ( i.e. everything), and we went upstairs to greet the groom again. Look! Corey has arrived!

There was a moment of watching all the other people in the room and guessing who they were, which side of the family they were on. Some people we'd met at the phone shop came over to talk to us. Then, Corey and I noticed white envelopes everywhere. We asked someone about them. Is it some gift you give to the bride and groom?  Maybe. Every time I asked about these envelopes in the past, someone would start to explain, and then say, "...but you don't need to do it." I wanted to know why! So the person we asked started to explain. He said something about you putting money in the envelope and writing your name on the outside. You return it to the desk where they hand out the envelopes, and your name is recorded (somewhere, but someone). Then, in the future, if you have a wedding (or wedding-related event), "they" will give you some money towards the event. I guess it's an investment of some sort. Corey and I decided to give some money anyways. We wrote our names on the outside of our envelopes. They looked drastically different from all the others (English letters vs. Korean hangeul). Then we were told that women return their envelopes on one station, and men turn theirs in to a separate station. There wasn't time to ask why, as our informant started going to talk to other people. We mosied about for a little while until our phone friend showed up. After that, there were just a few minutes left until the ceremony began.

Ok, so let me explain the layout of the room. When you walk up the stairs, there's this open area. On the left is the little half-room (the size of a large closet) that the bride sat in. On the right is a second room (only set apart by the change in decoration and flooring). The second room is where the ceremony takes place. Down the center of the room was a raised glass (or most likely plastic?) platform, which the bride, groom, etc. would use to walk to the front of the room. At the front was a stage of sorts, with a few steps at the front (which came in handy during picture-taking time). The room itself was decorated very nicely. There were many lights everywhere: chandeliers, fake candelabras, etc. In the minutes before the ceremony, the fancy lights above the platform went on and off like timed Christmas lights. As Corey correctly pointed out, it looked like the inside of a noraebang. It was a little TOO flashy. An announcer near the front corner introduced all the event thereafter. The mothers-in-law walked the platform first, turned away from each other and walked to opposite ends of the stage to each light a candle. Then the came to the front of the stage and bowed before taking their seats. Then it was time for the groom to enter. He walked up the platform and bowed to the audience, too. Following him was the bride and her father. Here, the lights did more fancy synchronizing. The bride and groom joined and the ceremony ensued. There was about 10 minutes of speech from a priest-like person in the front of the room. From what I could understand, he talked about normal marriage things: happiness, love, the city they live in... things like that. Then the ceremony was somehow complete and the couple turned to the audience to bow. I suppose that here, the priest-like person pronounced them a married couple. The couple then turned to the bride's family and bowed. I couldn't see clearly from my seat, but I suppose the groom did a full-body bow (including kneeling down), because he would disappear completely from view during this time. The bride did a modest bow. The couple then turned to the groom's family and repeated the gestures. After much bowing, the bride and groom faced the announcer, who was standing next to the wedding singers. At this time, the singers sang a romantic song ...or tried to. The female singer, she's a really good singer, normally, so I mistook her performance as her feeling under the weather and not having recovered enough to sing the whole song. Later I found out she wasn't sick, just nervous. You see the female singer got a case of stage fright. Finally, everyone was to clap again for the couple, signalling the end of the ceremony.

Now, I should've written this earlier, because I can't remember if they exited via the platform or just stayed on the stage. It matters because after the ceremony was about 20 minutes of picture-taking. There were pictures with immediate family, pictures with all relatives, and pictures with friends. I was happy to take part in the last picture! I hope that when they are old and grey and looking at their wedding pictures, they will remember my name... *daydreams*

Erm, anyways. Some comments about the ceremony. During the ENTIRE ceremony, the people standing in the open hall would NOT stop talking. This wasn't just whispering commentary about the happenings of the ceremony. No. The people talked with normal voice levels, sometimes higher. Sometimes they could be heard over the priest-like person's speech. They were talking loud enough (and not paying attention enough) to not clap when all the sitting guests clapped. Later, it was explained that the family members were merely catching up because they hadn't seen/heard from each other in so long. ...Still! I say, if you traveled this far to see a wedding, you should WATCH THE WEDDING!

Another somewhat funny thing to mention is the use of music during the ceremony. It was like filming a movie. You know, when you watch a series of scenes, and they each have their own background music? This is what the wedding was like. Some of the sounds were odd, like when the priest-like person began his speech. The sound of birds and woodland creatures played on the speakers. Corey and I looked at each other, baffled.

After the ceremony and pictures, there was lunch two floors down. The bride and groom shared a special room with immediate relatives on the first floor, while other guests ate together in the kitchen area below.  One of the dishes served was a bowl of noodles. Noodles symbolize long life and happiness. After lunch, everyone was free to go, but most just continued to mingle.

Yes, so that was the wedding! Overall, it was really enjoyable. I'm glad to have witnessed a Korean wedding.

'Til next time,

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Happy Birthday

Last week, it was one of the first grader's birthdays. This kid was throwing a birthday party. I didn't see it start, but soon everyone in the classroom was holding little paper cutouts. Invitations. By milk-break time everyone in class was talking excitedly. This party was such a big deal that several students took the time to tell me all about it.
"Shannon Teacher, Lotte Mart! 2!"
"Two," I asked? Two students looked at each other for a moment, then agreed to make hand movements simulating going up the flat escalators (those moving sidewalks, only they're elevated) in the store.
"Upstairs," I asked? They almost nodded. They weren't sure. Then I moved my fingers as if to walk up the stairs, and pointed up.
"Yes, 2!" Alright we were on the same page. What's happening up on the second floor?

After much more charades and random Korean/English words, they had successfully told me the event, location, time, and persons hosting. It was the hardest I think I'd ever seen them trying to speak English. Well, that's not quite true. There have been instances where these little guys hastily attempt to tell me who's been fighting  in the hallway. They give me all the details in the form of replays. Who started the fight, how it was started, where they are now. Still, I felt especially proud of them for telling me about the birthday party because they had to think of altogether different English words, and rather than be satisfied with sound effects, they took the time to think of the words to say.

While all this explaining was happening, it seemed like every kid in the classroom pulled out their cellphones to call their parents about the party. They looked like little businessmen and women, seeing when they had an opening in their busy schedules. One of the students, whose mom is the 3rd grade teacher down the hall, called his mom while she was teaching to ask about the party. Why couldn't he just walk down the hall and ask? Better yet, why couldn't he just wait until lunch time to talk to her when she wasn't busy? I left the classroom and saw her standing in the hallway, on the phone. Ridiculously funny.

You know, I've heard that Korean birthdays are celebrated differently from western cultures. I haven't experienced a Korean birthday party yet, but I've heard that it is the birthday boy/girl who pays for everything if they want to, say, go out to dinner with friends. I find this strange. Shouldn't friends/family pull together to do something special for the birthday girl/boy? Another thing I've learned is that its customary to eat seaweed soup on your birthday. I don't know the exact details, but I believe it's a traditional food because it's what the mother would eat while she was pregnant (for the baby).

Well, I like seaweed soup, provided it has bits of cooked beef floating around in it. Though, since my birthday falls in between Christmas and New Years, I wonder who I'll be spending it with. You see, Christmas in Korea is a dating holiday, and New Years is spent watching the sun rise in the East. I have a feeling people will have plans (as always).

'Til next time,

Friday, November 23, 2012

Evening Outing

Yesterday after lunch, the first graders captured me and pulled me down the hallway, shouting, "Come on! Come on!"  They also said some things in Korean and laughed and squealed like little children who have something disturbing to show you. I was led down the stairs and around the back of the building. Finally, I recognized a Korean word. Dong. Poop.  Oh dear.

They all shouted my name, telling me to look at what they'd found. The pointed to some stones on the ground. One kid lifted one of the stones and the others squealed and laughed louder. A bunch of students pointed to their butts. Look, Shannon! Poo! Smelly! Ahahahah! Of course, all that was in Korean, but I don't need confirmation to know what they were telling me.

I'm not afraid of seeing poo. I raised a dog from early puppyhood, and I usually ended up being the first to find and clean up every mess that occurred.  Still, my imagination went a little wild and I started wondering a few things as the kids ran around me. Why were they so excited about this particular amount of poo? Why was it more special than the poo I saw out by my bus stop? Surely, they walked past that without making a fuss. Was this poo, by any chance, human poo? It was possible. Why were rocks covering it? Was that to prevent others from stepping in it while they played back there? Possibly. Still....


Last night, I had dinner at the daycare teacher's house. I got to meet her husband and baby boy. As her husband picked me up from my home, we chatted in English. At school earlier that day, the daycare teacher told me that the health teacher (one of the teachers I regularly have dinners with.. you know, those "secret" dinners) would be coming over too. So as the husband and I were driving along, I expected us to stop by the health teacher's house. Instead, we drove over to the down town area and stopped outside a hospital. The husband said she was in there visiting her boyfriend. Boyfriend? Who? Oh, maybe... but does he mean boyfriend, or BOY friend? What happened? So, we waited for her to come out. Instead of one person, two people came out. It was the previous 4th grade teacher that I'd suspected. He was wearing a jacket over hospital clothes. When we were all in the car, they told me he'd been in a car accident, and he'd been in the hospital for back strain pain.

Ok. Now, if not for this dinner, I have a very strong feeling that I would never have found out that he'd been in an accident, or in the hospital. Sure, nothing was super serious. He was able to come join us for dinner, after all. Yet, I feel like the lack of info I get from my Korean FRIENDS extends beyond the school grounds. I settled for being unusually talkative and asking him questions about the accident. It had happened on Monday. Today was Wednesday. Hmm.

Dinner was great. Samgyeopsal at home is awesome. The daycare teacher's son was very hesitant to interact with me at first (I look very different, after all), but by the end of the night, he had successfully given me an apple slice and one of his toys. I also made friends with the husband. He proposed that I join his family for traveling trips whenever there was free time. He said I must be lonely (even though I expressed having several foreign and Korean friends). He said I should be more of a people-person. Honestly, why are all my Korean friends telling me to be more talkative? It's called being quiet and shy. It's a personality type. Despite that, I DO talk to people. I have somehow managed to make tons of friends here in Korea, despite not appearing to be a "people-person". But, Mr., I'll take your advice. You, like all the other Korean friends I've made, seem to know me better than I know myself.

He is the typical caring Korean, who wants to know what you eat for breakfast (if it doesn't sound as filling as a Korean breakfast, you fail); how many friends you have; and how you spend your time outside of work. The daycare teacher and her husband are very nice people. I wish I'd met them earlier, because I truly felt more alone earlier in the year than I do now. Now, I've gained many friends, especially Korean friends. There's much less time to interact with them all, but I hope that our friendships won't die when I leave Korea.

'Til next time,

Thursday, November 22, 2012

On The Side...

This week so far has been filled with evening events. On Tuesday, my school had another hweshik. Near the end of the dinner, people began changing tables as usual, moving to exchange drinks and chat. At some point, one lady who works at my school (I'm not quite sure what her title is, but she works with the principal and vice prinicpal often) came to sit at my table. Her English isn't very good and so with the help of other teachers she asked me questions about universities in the U.S.  Which universities were the best for a major in chemical biology?  Well, of course, I had no idea. I told her so, but I also told her I'd look it up for her. Her son wanted to study in the U.S., she said. Chemical genius, another teacher said. There was a moment where the the translating teachers were trying to figure out how to translate the Korean word for chemical biology.

At school the next day, I had time to spare, so I set to work researching. It began with looking up the meaning of chemical biology. Was it it's own major, or was it part of a bigger subject? I'd never really heard of a chemical biology major before, but it seemed completely possible to exist. Turns out, the phrase "chemical biology" is still relatively new in the U.S. There are several schools and research facilities that offer special courses in chemical biology today, but most schools only offer it as a single class (if at all).  As my research went on I became uneasy. I compiled a list of every university that offered undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemical biology. The list of names featured top tier universities (Harvard, Yale, etc.) Sure, they called him a genius at dinner last night, but was he looking to go to the most expensive schools in the U.S.? Still, I continued making the list.

Before leaving school, I printed out the list and went to go give it to her. There wasn't time (or any translators nearby) to go explain the list to her, however, and besides, she wasn't at her desk. I settled for writing my thoughts and an explanation of the list at home that night.

I went out to pay bills that evening and paid a visit to the phone shop. I asked my Korean friend, if I wrote a short explanation down on paper, could he translate it for me. He agreed, so I explained the situation (as well as my concerns) to him. We worked together on the translation, and I soon had a nicely written, printed note to give the lady at work.

Today is the day I give her the note. She is busy ... teaching... or something, right now, so I'll have to wait. I hope that my efforts will be helpful.

'Til next time,

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Minor Details

My computer... somehow... deleted my TaLK essay as I was typing it. It deleted the file and closed Microsoft Word. While I would like to correct my computer from every doing that again, I am prevented from doing so as it operates in Korean. If only I could remember all those buttons I memorized way back when. Then I wouldn't need to double check my actions by reading the words in each prompt. Well, despite my essay being forever lost, writing it helped me realize some things. I  might end up writing about the topic here in this blog, but in less words, of course.

Did I tell you that I haven't seen my 5/6 grade students in a million years? Well, my MT took the time to notice that I was browsing the web instead of teaching an empty class. She made a phone call, and the next day one 5th grader showed up. After that day, it was back to usual: no students. One of the 6th graders told me that he and the other get told to stay in class and study, or go home and study, rather than come to my class. I say, what am I hear for? Plus, how will I become a better 5/6 grade teacher if the students don't show up?

Well, it's time to catch the bus.

'Til next time,

함 (Ham)

No, not the food. The wedding ham (pronounced hahm).  This tradition is no longer practiced on a usual basis, but a few of my friends and I had the pleasure of witnessing one Monday night.

One of my phone friends is getting married. He (for whatever reason) decided to do this ceremony with his wife's family. The groom will travel to the mother-in-law's house with his friends on one scheduled day. He comes with a "treasure box" containing gifts. It's kind of like a dowry that a bride might bring with her, only the groom offers this to the bride. Before entering the perimeter (passing the fence that surrounds the house), the bride must break a basket (by stepping on it). This is done to ward off misfortune, as the sound supposedly scares away any bad luck/spirits/etc. Once successfully done, he can now enter through the gate and go to the front door, where he must shout "Ham saseyo!" or "Buy the treasure box!"

...There's actually a lot more to all this than I'm explaining. The ceremony that we watched was a very shortened version of the historical tradition. Therefore, I can only continue by telling you what I saw Monday night.

The bride's maids (or really anyone except the bride) may answer the door to let the groom in. If he is let in, then he presents the box, bows to the family, and food celebrations begin.

Before going to see this, my friends and I were all at the phone shop talking about what was going to happen later that night. It was kind of hard for our Korean friend to thoroughly explain every part of the tradition. For example, he mentioned  that the groom's friends would find entry into the house much more difficult. They had to get some sort of permission to enter, just as the groom does. People from inside the house would try to bribe the others with food, etc. The friends might be able to get in by being handed envelopes with money inside. They could recieve these and take one step closer to the house. We, luckily, didn't have to do this. We were swiftly pulled into the house after the groom.

At this point, I feel like I'm doing a really bad job at explaining all of this. I will resort to researching the correct information later, so that I don't fill your mind with a made-up tradition. So, please wait a bit! I will finish by saying that dinner (cooked by the mother-in-law) was fantastic! There was more than enough to go around, and it felt like an early Thanksgiving dinner. There were two separate tables (probably because there wasn't enough room to bring the two together), one with the bride's family and the other with the groom and his friends. From time to time, the bride would join our table and eat with us for a bit before going to sit with her family again. Our Korean friend mentioned that this time together was especially important because during the wedding, the groom might not be able to spend much time with his friends. Instead, he would be busy greeting everyone in attendence, and speaking to elders and other family members. This time was a good moment for him to be with his friends before the big day.

'Till next time,

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Weekend

Friday afternoon, I finished teaching and surfed the web a bit before running out of school in my attempt to catch the bus. I was not lucky, however, and missed the last bus to arrive for another 2-3 hours. I hadn't even left the school perimeter yet; from one corner of the school building, I could see the bus driving through the intersection, leaving me behind. Luckily, the kindergarten teacher kindly offered to drive me home.

Though I was cold, tired, and hungry once I got home, I went back out into the cold night to buy dinner, buy a train ticket to Seoul, and get money from the bank. With all that taken care of, I made a last-minute decision to straighten my hair (something that took many hours). It was close to 1 AM before I fell asleep.

I woke up early and caught a 7 AM train to Seoul. I needed to arrive early enough to take the subway down to the Gangnam area. What was happening there? SeoulTube November 2012 was happening! This gathering was particularly special. It would be different from previous gatherings in that Youtube would be helping to host the event. (I've written about SeoulTube before, haven't I? Well, if not, I'll explain in better detail later). Rather than just a simple gathering of Youtubers, fans, and the in-betweens, this event was complete with guest speakers, seminars, and workshops. It started at 10:30 AM and ended at 5:30 PM. Hyunwoo Sun, Simon & Martina, and Manjoong Kim. A lot of the speaking was done in Korea, though there were people of many different nationalities in attendance. Lunch was served, and people were able to mingle and film together. All of the guest speakers were very kind, funny, and helpful in their explanations during the Q&A sessions, as well as during the workshops they each had to lead. Despite not understanding every word that was said, it was interesting and fun being there and seeing everyone in their various stages of video production. What I mean is that some people chose to interview or create videos while they were there (during lunch breaks or chatting time), and during the workshops, many of the guest speakers started creating videos and including all the attendees in the production process. For me, someone who wants to do more of this kind of work, it was a very good feeling being surrounded by like-minded people, and just watching them work.

All of the attendees were split up into three groups: Team Create; Team Curate; and Team Engage. I was a part of  Team Create (go team!), taught by Manjoong Kim. We basically created a video from scratch. We started with an idea (pre-thought by the leaders/teachers) and created a script. After that, some people were chosen to be characters. There were props available and equipment a-plenty. Other people from the group volunteered to do other important tasks like film and edit. We filmed the actors, transferred the files to the computer, and began editing. Filming the actors was quite entertaining, despite any language barriers I faced. Editing (something I personally enjoy doing) was interesting to watch. The group watched Mr. Kim speedily cut down the video, deleting bad takes and creating special effects. Some others from the group got to help add other effects and text to the video. With at least 30 minutes to spare, we all watched the video get converted and uploaded to Youtube. Because this event was partly hosted by Youtube, there was talk about how to utilize Youtube's many editing functions after a video has been uploaded. It was amazing seeing all this work I attempt to do over the course of several days get done in the span of a few hours. It think it helped immensely that there were so many people available to help.

Here's links to the guest speaker's Youtube channels, if you don't already know them:
Hyunwoo Sun []
Simon & Martina []
Manjoong Kim []

AFTER ALL THAT, I went over to Itaewon to check into a hostel. This was my first time spending the night in Itaewon, so checking in required searching for the place for the first time. My stomach started furiously complaining though, so I cut my search short and stopped in a small shop for some ramyeon. All the while, I'd been talking to my friend from TaLK, a Korean co-teacher whom I met during my regional orientation. She wanted to meet up and lived close by so she found me at the ramyeon shop, and we searched for the hostel together. After much settling in, and meeting nice owners, we went back out into the populated streets, pondering what to munch on while we caught up. She took me to a nice cafe with amazing patbingsu, and we talked about what we'd been doing since we last saw each other face to face. Before the night was over, I found out that her birthday was the next day, so we planned an outing together.

Sunday morning my friend and I headed to COEX mall for a buffet lunch. We spent 3 hours there eating and talking, laughing and asking each other language questions. After realizing we couldn't stuff ourselves any further, we reluctantly left the restaurant and walked around the mall. COEX mall, by the way, is the largest underground mall in Asia! I thought that was pretty cool, and felt it necessary to visit at least once (considering all the times I've been to Seoul and never once set foot inside COEX mall... AND the fact that I'll be leaving Korea soon). We were able to catch up on a lot of things, and I was able to get some things off my chest that I'd been unable to discuss at length with other friends. We both had a really good time, and it's just another good memory to add to my life. I caught the 8 PM train back to Jecheon. There were no seats available, so I stood for most of the trip, but that's ok. It was still a good day. I got to enjoy buttery pretzel sticks from Auntie Ann's and listen to music on the ride home.

'Til next time,

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Monday Night Dinner (and other thoughts)

There's something to be said about making Korean friends (in Korea). On the bright side, there's a much easier cultural exchange. Actually, there are a lot of good reasons. I really just want to mention the bad side.
Even though I've been actively studying the Korean language since I got here (some months not as dilligently as others), to this day, I still can not understand most of what is said in a random conversation between two people speaking Korean.

I told you about my occasional outings with some of the teachers at my school, right? Just when I start to think it's been a super long time since I last had dinner with the teachers, I get a text message.
<unknown number> where are you?? we want to have dinner today.
<me> Who is this?
<un> im teacher of 4-1^^*

Oooh. I was wondering when I'd get her number again. When my last phone broke, I told the others that I 'd gotten a new phone and didn't have their numbers. Since they hint at things, I thought it'd be ok to do so, too. Stupid me, though. They didn't give me their numbers. I was forced to wait until they sent me messages, and therefore react this way.

Anywho, we went out for ribs (real ribs! They tasted like something from the States, and my taste buds were the happiest they've ever been in a long time!). It was a "take-a-break" dinner for the sports teacher. He'd just taken one of several difficult exams to become an official teacher. This dinner wasn't really to celebrate any results; rather, just to highlight him accomplishing one step in his goal. As usual, the conversations took place in Korean. Sometimes, one of them would say something or ask me something in English. I felt like they were making progress including me in the conversation like that. I thought about the first casual dinner I had with teachers and staff when I started working here. In contrast to last night's dinner, I wasn't talked to after the first 10 minutes. I spent almost 3 hours watching the others at the table gossip fiercely in Korean. Near the end of it all, when a server came over, one looked up and asked what after-dinner drink I wanted. Orange juice, please. Then they all dipped their heads again and began talking excitedly. It wasn't one of them had to leave that they all raised their heads and allowed me to join their reality. Welcome back, I think. In the car, on the way home, my MT apologizes several times. She doesn't say it, exactly, but she knows that  they all forgot I was there and got carried away.  Instead, she says that they rarely get to meet outside of school and talk casually, so this is why all that happened back there. In later months, I come across many instances where they are all gathered around talking and chatting.

My point in all this is that, at the beginning, I hardly knew more than a few words. There was absolutely no way I would ever guess what two people were talking about if I listened in. Today, my chances are much better; still, it's really difficult. At most, I can guess what the subject is (students at school, co-workers, hairstyles, etc.), but I have no idea what else is going on. I can't figure out why their talking about a co-worker, or what happened with 3 students in the 4th grade class. So, I still sit there trying to entertain myself until someone brings me into the conversation. Every once in awhile I'll try and tune in and see how many words I can understand, wonder what connection these words have with their facial expressions and gestures, and then give up and go back to entertaining myself.

Why go to these dinners if I feel this way? Again, because of the bright side. I'm becoming their friends somehow, if they constantly think of inviting me out time after time. I'm (in a way) learning Korean, and studying my friend's social habits. ...And, like I stated earlier, they're learning to include me in the conversations. We don't meet often, but each time, they talk to me a little more. Call it progress, no matter how freakin slow it's taking. It's better than sitting at home with nothing to do. Plus, the ribs were really delicious.

'Til next time,

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rainy Days

It's warmer when it's raining than when it's just windy (and/or sunny). Why is that?

The halls of the school are cold again, like when I first started working here. However, I have to remind myself that the temperatures I thought were cold were actually those of winter's end. If winter has even begun here (I think it's still fall. The leaves haven't completely fallen off yet), this is only the beginning. Here in the mountains, it will only get colder. I should bring a blanket.

I have to reconsider letting the first graders use the candy box I made. They just discovered how to use it (answer an English-related question, get a candy). I can imagine the whole class discovering the box, and me spending 40 mins trying to help everyone answer a question. Maybe for them I'll just have them work in groups to answer questions.... On top of that, 5th graders, who aren't even in my English class, have been coming to use the candy box quite often. I'll have to buy some more candy tonight. I can feel the bottom of the box. I don't mind though, because it's probably the only time I'll get to mini-teach every student in the school.

Last weekend was the second culture trip (one every semester, since I'm here for a year). I went with my MT, her husband, Leanne, and her MT. We went up to Gangneun, where the coast is, and enjoyed "sushi" (more like sashimi), a Thomas Edison museum, and a museum about a famous Korean scholar and his mother.

After a forty-minute bus ride to Wonju, three of us were picked up by my MT and her husband at the bus terminal. From there, we drove towards Gangneun, stopping at one rest stop along the way. The Korean scholar (something.. Yi Yi) is featured on the 5,000 won note. His mother's face is on the 50,000 won note. We visited an estate where they lived. Most of it had been turned into public grounds (complete with statues), while most of the houses has been converted into museums and gift shops. We didn't go in all the buildings, but we did take pictures, look at artwork, and buy some souvenirs.

After the estate, we got back in the car and drove up to the Thomas Edison museum. The building is actually privately owned, and features a massive collection of inventions and newspaper articles. One man dedicated his time to collecting all these items, and houses them there. There were tons of gramophones, and millions of other trinkets (lightbulbs, phones, washing machines, an old electric car, etc.) inside the building. Many school children get taken to this museum for educational field trips. It was actually cool seeing all the stuff. There was a waffle iron with (what looked like) real waffles inside. My friend and I wondered how long they'd been in there, behind the glass. The entrance was decorated with movie posters, and ads that featured some of Edison's inventions and improvements. Outside the building, old (old!) music played on loud speakers. My friend and I started waltzing with ourselves.

After the museum, we drove up to Jumunjin, a seaside town with a famous harbor. We ate lunch (well, we tried. Honestly, I have to stop getting into situations where I have to consume raw fish.). They brought out heaps of various raw fish, and the elders in the group were concerned that Leanne and I didn't eagerly wolf down the food. I managed a few bites here and there. I tried at least one of everything, to be fair. After lunch, we walked across the street and gawked at the huge turbulent waves that crashed into the shore. One particularly giant wave jumped across the huge concrete jacks (barriers in the shape of jacks... you know, the game with the bouncy ball?) that line the shore. It soaked my MT's husband's leg, and got a few of us wet as well. It was so random and funny, but we decided to move away from the water and continued up the street.

Up the street was a large fish market. The area was packed and bustling with people conducting business. Occasionally, a car would try and drive through the swarms of people in the larger alleys of the market. Our group walked up and down all the aisles, scouting. I didn't know it at the time, but my MT's husband was planning on buying something. One thing I noticed was the lack of fishy smell. I mean, it was there, the smell, but it wasn't strong like I expected it to be. I wondered if it was because it was raining. Even though seeing all the fish and busy, yelling people was exciting, Leanne and I found ourselves waiting beside a tank of barely moving fish, waiting for purchases to be made so we could go home. After awhile, we became "road blocks" to all the people trying to get by. We moved a bit. Then, we were in the way of one lady's fish. She kept telling us "chamshi manyo" (excuse me) and pausing in between scooping up various fish to stare at us. If we weren't there to buy her fish, why were we standing there?

I asked my MT if Leanne and I could go walk around outside the tents. She agreed, and we walked outside, seeing what else there was to look at. Not much. Just the harbor and seagulls, and hot street food that we weren't allowed to buy (on the culture trip, everything bought must fit within the budget).  We walked under an overpass near the harbor and watched lines of cars drive here and there. We were hungry, a bit cold, and slightly wet. Rather than stay in one place, we moved on, walking among the crowds, until we made it to the car. Near the parking lot entrance, one of the traffic directors built a fire in a barrel, and we moved over to it while he was directing traffic. We overstayed our welcome by his fire, because he soon shooed us away (we were kind of in the way of cars, as well), and we walked away from the warmth. By now, the sun had gone down and it was still raining. Leanne suggested we call my MT in 5 minutes if she didn't call us. When the 5th minute struck, I reached for my phone and it began to ring. About 10 minutes later, my MT arrived at the car and we sat inside, waiting for the men to show up. Maybe 20 minutes later, they showed up, and we headed back to Wonju. Overall, it was a long day.

Another stop at a rest stop to eat dinner, and we finally arrived in Wonju. Another 40 minute bus ride, and three of us arrived at the Jecheon bus terminal. The trip had taken all day. It was a good, but tiring trip.

'Til next time,

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

...What now?

This month's weekend schedule is filling up fast. There's a wedding, a birthday, a cultural trip, and a seminar to think about attending. There's a Perfume concert in Seoul that I'm wishing I knew about earlier (I don't think I'll make it). I've got to finish an essay for TaLK. ...Why are the kids in punishment position near my desk? Honestly, I'm trapped behind their wall. On the bright side, it looks like I have a cubicle now! Anyways....

I should be writing things down when I think, Oh, I should look into that when I get to school tomorrow.  When I sit in front of my computer at school, my brain promptly goes blank and I forget important (and non-important) things I meant to find the answers to. Perhaps, I should just visit a PC bang. Nah...

I'm worried about some upcoming stress. I'm trying hard to come at the situation in a practical way. Levelheaded, and open-minded.  The issue: What to do after TaLK. The problem: What's the best solution; what's my favorite solution; what's the most probable solution? I don't like this kind of uncertainty, but I'm trying hard to just do what I can and leave the rest to God and time. It's times like these when I need someone to talk to. Sometimes I need many people to talk to. It often happens that when you let out all your thoughts, all that's left in your head is the right answer. I need that right now.

Well, I really don't have anything too important to say. On the bright side, this will be a short and sweet post. :D

'Til next time

Thursday, November 1, 2012

TaLK Day

Note: I've decided to explain TaLK Day by recycling. Below are bits of all the conversations and posts I've made since I found out I'd have to help host this year. Hope it's not too confusing.
Noooooo~! I have to do TaLK Day! Both my mentor teacher and I are crying. *big sigh* ... 화이팅! T_T
My class is going to have a Skype session Oct. 30 at 2PM. Is anyone available at this time? I need someone who will absolutely do it (not forget), because this is for TaLK Day. Officials will be present during the class. o_O

If it's someone from Texas, it'll be around midnight between Monday and Tuesday your time. If you can do it, I'll give you more info.
My school is hosting an open class where teachers from other cities will be invited to view a 40 minute ESL class. My topic will be self-introduction (meeting someone new). The class will be a mix of 3rd and 4th graders. Their English skills ranging widely. Some students are also shy about speaking.
The Skype session will 15 minutes long. During that time, students and the guest (you) will take turns asking and answering questions. The teacher will guide the conversation.
I'll make a short list of questions to pass to the students. I'll also send this list to the guest. Questions may include, "What is your name," or "How many sisters do you have?" You can ask the same questions multiple times. Assuming all things go well (internet connection, video streaming smoothness, sound, etc.), the whole thing should be really easy and fun for both the students and the guest. I just want to give the students a chance to talk to another native-English speaker. They can practice describing themselves to you. Hopefully each student will be able to ask (or answer) at least one question. ...Oh, I'm not sure yet, but I might have around 12 students.
The Skype session is scheduled for 2:18 PM (Korean time) in the lesson plan, but I'll want to connect with the guest early to save time. Also, I'll need to do a test run sometime before October 30 to make sure things will run smoothly.

If you're still willing and able to do this with my class, I'd really appreciate it! Thanks!
Here is the info. Please let me know if you're still able to do it after reading. If more than one person is able, I'll pick the person at random.  
I flipped a coin and you won. I'm going to ask the other person if they'll be on standby.

Shall we schedule a day where we can do a test run? I think Tuesdays/Thursdays are best if we do the test run at the same time that the class will be held. However, I'd like to hear what works best for you.

Thanks for volunteering!
What times are you available???
The classroom I use is shared with my mentor teacher, so I can't come in and do test runs whenever I please. I WILL, however, see if I can hook my laptop up to some internet cord in another room if possible. (That way I won't need to worry about interrupting her).
The following are some questions I'll give them. They may come up with their own questions during class (so you've been warned). To answer them, you can repeat the question. Ex. What's your favorite food? "My favorite food is ___." Or you can just answer : Meatloaf. Then I'll have to explain what meatloaf
[insert loud scream]
Why am I freaking out? TaLK Day is tomorrow!!!!!!!! Only 30 mins tomorrow to practice/talk to/ retunite with kids I haven't taught since last semester. Let us work together and be comrades, kids! Even if just for one day... please? T_T *deeeep breath*
[minutes before the mock class]
S: see you soon! >~<
T: Correct
S: my students are eager to see you ^^
T: Oh god, lol
T: Who calls whom?

[a few hours after the mock class]
S: Thomas, first of all let me say thank you very very very much for participating with my class. Sorry but something went wrong with the camera and it wouldnt connect, so i just disconnected. i wasn't able to stop the class and tell you about it so that's why i said the quick goodbye. my class was really happy to meet you! i'll talk to you again later. sorry again for the weird ending!

[the next day]
T: It was no problem for me. I had fun, and the kids were kinda adorable.
S: kinda adorable... lolol
T: Like that one girl who looked at me as ran back to her seat
S: lol oh yes. the one girl who asked you if you liked ice cream. she was too shy to get out of her seat, but when you asked her to repeat the question, she shouted it from her seat. so everyone started laughing and you still couldn't hear her. but it was funniest cuz she shouted "DO. YOU. LI.KU. I.SU.CU.REEM."
T: Well there was times when the sound just went quiet
S: oh really?? hmm. I'm still wondering what happened w/ the camera. cuz my MT was holding it, but she kept waving it around when students were walking up. maybe there was a sound and motion overload
T: Which is why I kept asking you to repeat
S: yeah, well that was fine. everything worked out pretty well considering. it could've been worse, for example.
T: it could have. i thought it went fantastically
S: yaaay~ XD thanks again, seriously.
T: it was no problem. I just felt bad for the lost of connection at the end. plus the parents got a kick out of my doing ganganm style when they brought it up  
Below is part of an email to my mom about TaLK Day:

Yesterday (around midnight Monday, your time) was TaLK Day. As I told you before, I had to teach in front of supervisors from the Education office, as well as other TaLK scholars, their mentor and co-teachers. They said I did well.

I did a Skype chat with my friend Thomas from UTSA (whom you've met before during one of the many dinner gatherings at our house haha). We were able to get through many questions, before some technical difficulty with the camera happened, and we had to quit the conversation short. There was about 15 mins of class left so I had to fill time with a role-play game. I'd only thought of it the night before, but hadn't planned a game in any detail so much of it was very last-minute.

I recieved a lot of praise, as well as constructive criticism. I'm really glad it's over and that I was able to do it. I'm glad my students were able to participate (many of them were really shy once they tried to speak to Thomas).

What did I do to avoid nervousness? The night before, I listened to a song from Kiki's Delivery Service to calm my nerves. hahaha Then, the day of, I decided to ignore all the visitors during the mock class. I tuned them out and just focused on the students. So, after the students were dismissed, all the nervousness and adrenaline just rushed out and I was nervous and shaking a little and looked tired (people were telling me i looked nervous and tired).

Well, this has been a super long post! 'Til next time,


Last Saturday, I spent most of the afternoon and evening at the phone shop. Between helping customers, counting money in Korean, taking turns drawing in my sketchbook, and lots of other mini random conversations, one of the guys asked me which movie inspired me. Later that night, I wrote this short passage in my sketchbook:

They asked me what movie moved me the most. I knew the answer instantly, but tried to think of another, and hide my original thought. Eventually, I cam clean. I couldn't think of anything else, anyway. Not too quickly. The answer? Kiki's Delivery Service.
They got the answer (part of it) in a roundabout way. It's a cartoon, I told them. By Studio Ghibli. From Hayao Miyazaki. I explained to them that the particular movie has been more inspiring to me than it will probably be to anyone I show it to. It was moving when I first watched it (around 7 or 8 years old) and, to this day, the same inspiration can be found. I only have to watch a small scene or hear part of a song, and my soul knows.
...So then I came across the ending theme song hidden on my e-reader. (A gift to myself? I was/am so happy)! I started thinking about the movie, and I realized something profound. I remembered that Kiki was on a year-long trip away from home in order to complete her training (to become a witch). So, then I asked myself: Am I on Kiki's trip, following her path? Is this my trip away from home, my year of training? At the end of the year, will I have "become a witch"? Will I have earned my title... whatever it is? What's my skill?
Right now, that last question seems like the most important one. What skill will I take home with me?
I want to write Miyazaki a letter asking what happens to Kiki after her year. Maybe it's cheating, but I'm curious about what he might answer. 
I should mention: My friend (who asked me this question first) told me the movie that moved him was Braveheart.

'Til next time,