Monday, April 4, 2011

March Madness

March literally was the month of madness for me, that is why I waited until now to post anything. I needed time to reflect back on the entire month. I did not want to irrationally post something online, publicly.

March 2: First day of the new school year.

That means:
  • New teachers (co-teacher)
  • New students (faces and personalities)
  • Expect the unexpected (typical)

The Teachers.

As stated above, new teachers have arrived, including my new English co-teacher. So far in our relationship, we're not progressing as far as my relationship I had with my previous co-teacher, but we've come farther than I would have guessed three-weeks ago. This is her first year teaching English, ever. The 12-other-years were spent in Busan as a classroom teacher. Not to mention she's old enough to be my mother, I quote her. (The differences between her and I: Language, Experience, City vs. Rural, Teaching Methods, and Age.)

After graduating, I already expected myself to be working alongside people who are my parents' age or from a different generation than I am, therefore I wasn't going to be bitter about it. I even took a university course on "generation gaps in the workplace", but the information finally sunk in. My cultural courses during my Yonsei days finally sunk in as well. But the bitterness still got to me.

The students.

Between two public elementary schools, I teach to a total of 100 students. That's nothing compared to what other Native English Teachers, they have 300-600 students. I can recognize each individuals' face and their English name. Then, 20 sixth graders graduate and are replaced with 25 first graders. (That doesn't replace the horrible 4th now 5th graders. There's only one girl in that class, if there were at least 4 more, their aggression would settle down, a bit.) In less than a week between the last day of school and the first day of school, I completely forgot how to teach these students, or else they simply became different little people. How the hell did I go through the previous three months of teaching Winter+Spring Camps and Care Classes?? My honeymoon phase in Korea came to a complete halt on the first day of English class.

Here's my theory why there's just so much chaos:

My co-teacher has many resources to utilize in order to teach English (a teacher's textbook, a CD-ROM, and a native English speaker - me) which is overwhelming to her.

The students have too much to focus on in order to learn English (a Korean English teacher, a textbook, a TV screen, and a native English speaker - me) which is distracting to them.

What's going to solve the problem? I'm still searching for a solution.


March = Birthdays
  • 12th - My bratty sister, Vanna, turns 16.
  • 24th - My best friend, Marny, celebrates her 22.
  • 29th - My best friend, Kalia, celebrates her 22.
Just for randomness, March is also:
  • 13th - Daylights Savings Day, SPRING FORWARD, however it is not recognized in South Korea.
  • 14th - White Day, If a guy received chocolates from a girl on Chocolate Day, February 14th (Valentine's Day), he must reciprocate his feelings for her the next month by presenting her with white chocolate or something white. I didn't get anything, but I didn't give anything either.
That is why I am now posting about March. Because it was literally madness.

But, I also danced away in Hongdae.

Silent Disco Party, Hongdae, Seoul

Bare Korean Essentials

Living in Korea would not be the same if I did not have these basic necessities to begin with. My apartment would be a hot mess.

In no special order, The List:

A drying rack: A typical Korean home will not be equipped with a dryer, which usually comes along with a washer. So, better hope the home is equipped with a drying rack.

Those are my clothes.

A bottle of fabric softener: Without it, your clothes will end up smelling like mildew after air-drying.

I did not pack this. I bought it at E-Mart for a reasonable price.

A pair of shower shoes: A typical Korean home does not have a big huge bathtub or shower stall, the bathroom itself is the shower stall. So when you only need to use the toilet, your floor will still be wet from the shower you took an hour ago.

This really is my bathroom floor.

A body scrubber: From the long day work and all you want to do is shower and rest, this thing will literally wipe all the dirt off your shoulders. Sure, you've got a loofah, so? Don't forget to take it with you to the sauna/spa.

Apricot Scrub doesn't compare.

A pair of indoor shoes: A typical Korean home will have a pair for each member and a few extra for guests. I adapted the idea, because I have a pair of indoor shoes at school too, they're knock-off Crocs though.

I enjoy standing out in everywhere I am.

An internet router: My computer is finally detached from it's enormously long LAN wire. I can finally see my floor! Not to mention, I can use my Android on wi-fi to save energy.

Before: LAN

After: Wi-Fi

An American plug adapter and an extended 3-way plug socket: This isn't much of a "Korean" necessity, but if a Korean were to import western electronics, they would need these. But I need them especially.

A pair of noise-cancelling headphones: A Korean city is typically loud from various things: stores blasting K-Pop tunes, saleswomen handing you their newest BB Cream, salesmen offering you the newest "handphone", and ajummas offering you kimchi. Seriously, it's AT you. Unless you enjoy the city's soundtrack, these will come in handy when everything gets overwhelming.

Three things are always with me: headphones, glasses, and keys.

What are your recommendations?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lonely Nights

What do I do when I'm at home? I get home usually by 5PM from school. Other than surf the internet for hours until my shoulders stiffen.
  • Clean my apartment. I don't know where all the dust comes from, but it exists.
  • Bathroom duties. Nature calls.
  • Prepare dinner. It could take up to an hour, if I don't have my ingredients pre-made.
  • Prepare for the following day's classes. I review the lessons for the next day or create PowerPoint from pre-made lessons.
  • Wash my laundry. Usually by the end of the week I do it.
  • Wash the dishes. I like to save money on the water bill.
  • Organize my finances. I scribble in all my daily expenses in my money planner, to remind me how much I am spending.
  • Write. I like to reflect on my time being spent or how I will spend it.
  • Read. I have a collection of free e-books I got from bloggers to unpublished authors.
  • Visit Icheon's E-Mart. I've vacated that place too many times in the past 3-weeks. The commute is 45-minutes both ways, that doesn't even include the wait time.
Here's what I did while waiting for the ground-pork to defrost and rice to soak:

I made my own pre-made chopped garlic. I bought a bag of garlic bulbs for 1200 won and they were going to become rotten by next week if I didn't use them, so I decided to chop them. Luckily I just finished a jar of grape jam so I reused it. Thankfully, I don't reek of garlic. (Tip: Wash your hands with a silver spoon and it will rid the garlicky smell.)

As I said earlier, preparing dinner could take up to an hour, that is if I don't have my vegetables already pre-cut and frozen.

[Sliced green onion, shredded cabbage, and diced carrots with a few bulbs of garlic.]

Tonight's menu: Ground-pork with cabbage, carrots, and green onion. (Seasoned with garlic, sprinkled with ginger powder, dashed of salt and pepper, and kicked with oyster sauce. Over cooked it, but it was good.)


Would you like some more?

Happy (early) Lunar New Year!

It seems like the only thing I have been celebrating are the numerous New Years. The Hmong New Year, the Solar New Year, and now the Lunar New Year.

For those of you who don't know: Yes, Hmong people celebrate their own New Year, there's no designated date. It's usually held between October through December, depending on the clan or head family member. It is universally recognized as "Hmong New Year" in English or "Lwn Qaib Noj Peb Cauj" in Hmong (literally, "The Thirty-First" or "Swinging Chicken" or "Eat-the-swinging-chicken-on-the-31st" [I made that up]. Click on the link to get the full scoop on the Swinging-Chicken event from Ze Moua.)

The Principal of my school asked me when the New Year in Laos was held, I assumed he meant the Hmong people, so I told him in November. He, along with the Vice Principal and other teachers, quickly spoke in Korean puzzled. Honestly, I was too, but it's what II'm familiar with. I would have done a quick Google-search for him, but with no wi-fi or 3G available for my convenience. I wasn't confused by the date or from ignorance, it was because I haven't learned the Korean words for "harvest season".

I was able to attend the Minnesota Hmong New Year held at the River Centre and wear my traditional Hmong clothes.

[With my cousin, Padra Lee, at the 2011 MN River Center Hmong New Year.]

At the time, I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't attend the Hmong New Year held at the Metrodome, until I saw this:

[December 2010, Metrodome ceiling collapsed due to heavy snow.]

And then this occurred:

[General Vang Pao passed away on January 6, 2011, from pneumonia.]

I spent the Solar New Year with my college friend family. Her name is Shin, and I met her in class on accident. I had been practicing my Korean during class, she noticed the Hangul I wrote and told me I spelled, "teacher" wrong. We've been friends since. Her parents and sister drove early in the morning to pick me up from my town and we spent the day together. I ate a lot! They had asked me where I wanted to go, I had no idea. So we took a trip to E-Mart and stocked my pantry. Every now and then, Shin's Mom and I will text each other in complete Korean. I don't know how I do it or what I'm saying or how I'm saying it, but it's helping a lot with my Korean language ability. We have a good laugh when she calls, because I am definitely worse at speaking.

[Shin Hyong and I on my 21st birthday in Minneapolis.]

Lunar New Year, also known as "Seol or Gujeong"(click to read askakorean's point of view) in Korea is a three-day national holiday, which it also falls right before the weekend this year, so it's a 5-day weekend for (almost) everyone or a 9-day vacation if people request Monday and Tuesday off and leave the weekend before to paradise. Bus drivers, sales associates, movie theater workers, coffee baristas, and non-government workers are most likely working. Lunar New Year is equivalent to Christmas time in the states. Seriously. I haven't been in such panic or worry about what to do with the holidays since 2009's Christmas. Christmas in Korea is equivalent to Valentine's day, it sucks.

I have been in "worry-mode" since the weekend, because I don't know what to do with myself over the next 5-day holiday break. I've learned the term, 심심 (shim-shim), from everyone asking in Korean if I'll be bored or lonely during Seol. Yes, I will be 심심, however I am determined to not stay home. Because I'm gaining weight from sitting around my laptop and cooking random dishes. I need a new hobby. (I stepped on the scale and it said I've gained 10kg. That's fucking 20-pounds! 3 weeks of winter camp, 1 week of sickness, and 3 weeks of carpooling can make a 5-foot tall girl gain 20-pounds. Unbelievable!) My worries have gone down since the weekend. I'm living day-by-day. I have a list of things to do and see in Seoul. I don't expect to be spending a lot of money, since a lot of the things I will do are free, except for meals.

(In Jeonju, during a hanok stay in February 2009 with the CIEE Program.)

새해복 많이 받으세요! Nyob Zoo Xyoo Tshiab! Happy New Year, Everyone!

*Update: Turns out the scale in my apartment was broke by 10kgs, so I didn't gain any weight. ^^

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mental Low

Waking up this morning, I sure as hell was not feeling like P.Diddy, maybe more like Ke$ha (a hot mess). My nose was (and still is) congested with snot and my throat was dry and itchy. I have diagnosed myself as literally, "worried sick". Thank God there weren't any classes being held today, just a field trip to the hot springs. Great timing.

Kate and I on our way to Termeden in Icheon, Gyeonggi-do

There were about 32 students and 6 adults in total. I was told to bring a swimsuit, t-shirt, and shorts. I made the assumption that it wasn't a bath house (찜질방) so I didn't need to worry about nudity. As soon as I entered the women's locker room, my female students were stripping naked in front of me. I kept looking around for the co-teachers to follow their lead, but they were no where to be found. Let me just make note, I have been to a bath house before, however with friends (which I thought was awkward), but this time it's with my students. Talk about building relationships, just throw me in a bath house locker room with them! It makes it all easier. So I waited by pacing throughout the locker room (walking the opposite direction every time a naked Korean stood before me). Then I realized, the faster I put on my swimsuit the less nudity I would see. (Durr...)

Termeden Hot Springs is a wonder. This was the first hot springs I have ever visited and I must say it made a huge impression on me. My co-teachers later mentioned that Caribbean Bay is much larger. (WTF?-STFU!-moment.) There is an indoor pool with outdoor facilities, too. I was awed by the outdoor hot spring and heated-pool area, I later discovered an outdoor-sauna-hut. (Saunas = Love!) It was freezing cold outside, but it didn't matter, I was soaking like ramen-noodles in Lemon Tea. (Can your insides cook if you stay in the hot water for too long? I felt like mine were.) My male students enjoyed their time torturing me with water splashing at my face. It wasn't until after lunch, when two co-teachers and I escaped from the students. I was able to breathe for most of the day and forget my worries and my sickness, until we departed. The silent-mofo returned.

I'm asked every day if the students are good, behavior-wise. I wonder every time, "Were they ever bad?" Other than splashing water in the hot spring today, I wouldn't even fine them for that offense. Honestly, I would chaperon 32 Korean students than supervise 5 kids at Oxford Swimming Pool, only because 5/5 would most likely drown from diving or crossing into the 6-feet end, which I sure as hell wouldn't even cross into. It's funny, too, that the school would have me chaperon at a swimming pool (or put in charge of the first-grader), because I can't even swim. Which I later found out that the water at Termeden is only 3-feet deep and life jackets for kids are free.

Now Playing: BoA - "I See Me"

What's been worrying me?

- Time to find in order to wire money home.
- Broken glass frames.
- Lesson plans gone bad.

My solutions:

- The money will be there and bills will be paid, even if they're late.
- I am not blind.
- The lesson never went wrong, just not the way I had planned.

Let there be bread (or rice, in my case).

Monday, January 17, 2011

My Grandpa's 72....

...actually I've been telling that to everyone for about 10 years. He turns 83 years young this January 20th. I can't believe he still carries my rice-sack (50-lbs) cousins on his back.

2011 Adventures

My D-Day app says, "IPO DAY 34".

Rather than counting down my days here, in South Korea, I'm counting them. What have I done since I've landed? Well, not blogging, that's for sure. But I have been posting videos on Facebook and YouTube. Here's a recap for readers and not viewers, starting with the earliest to the latest.

Day 1 - Went to Hell and back in a day.

Day 3 - Tour of the English classroom and the first day I officially met the entire town.

Day 5 - In the 'Hood

(I still don't know how to take out the trash.)

Day 11: Christmas with K.will (Korean solo artist)

Week 4: Ipo's English Winter Camp

A month has gone by and I have accomplished a lot more since my first day here, more than I would have imagined or anyone would have after viewing my first video. I'm actually really happy that I did record it, because my family and friends, even people I don't know, have motivated and encouraged me to be strong. I'm just thankful to have running water, a blanket, and toilet paper. Yes, the mold is still here in my apartment. No I didn't throw out the random condiments in my refrigerator out (I even drank all the instant coffee mixes leftover). And I still have recycling piling before my eyes, because I haven't gotten around to asking some body how to do it. But I have met many people within the past month that has made me more comfortable living in Korea.