Monday, February 28, 2011

And that's Monday

What do spring break and July, July, and August have in common? For teachers, they mean time away from the kids to self-medicate relax. Unfortunately, K-land doesn't see it that way.

Here, the school year runs from March to February. The school takes a one-week break to reset and prepare for the new students, but the teachers don't actually get a break. The thing is, we don't actually have to work either. The Korean teachers have it rough; they have to tear down all the decorations and start basically from scratch to make sure the class looks "fresh" for all the new students. Although we can help with some of that, the foreign teachers (for the most part) have absolutely nothing to do.

I could rant for days about how locking us in the school without giving us anything to do is horrendous for employee morale, but let's face it, you don't want to read about that. You want to read about all the exciting things I did today!

When I came into school, it finally occurred to me that I'd be switching classrooms and that I should probably make mine presentable for the new teacher. This meant I needed to take down the "Merry Christmas" window clings my darling principal ordered that I hang up back in December. Yes, I recognize that it's the end of February and I should have taken them down months ago - which I would have done, if they had actually been window clings. Apparently "wall hangings" and "window clings" function very differently. While window clings peel right off into your hand and re-stick to the paper they came on, wall hangings make you want to kill yourself. I spent more than an hour scratching at the letters, peeling chunks of evil plastic off in confetti-sized pieces. Tiffany so kindly came into my room and mocked me as I tore my fingernails apart scraping at each individual letter. I finally gave up and just pulled the shade down. When the new Opal Class teacher tries to let the sun in, she'll be greeted with a cheery "Merry mas" (with two used-to-be-snowflakes-but-are-now-just-blobs).

After I finally gave up on the window, I packed up my belongings (a pack of markers and two choco-pies) and headed to my new classroom. I cleaned the desk and threw away all the old papers the teacher before me had left, sporadically checking my email or playing with blocks. Tiffany wandered in and out of the room, and I chatted with her about absolutely nothing until lunchtime came.

Lunch is always a gamble in Korea. Sometimes you get cold spaghetti and sweet garlic bread, but sometimes you get whatever the chef had left over in the kitchen. Since the kids aren't at school (and we're bored out of our minds), you'd think we'd be allowed to head out for lunch as long as we returned within a reasonable timeframe, but that would interfere with the status of "indentured servant" they're trying so hard to uphold. Tiffany and I got our trays and returned to the classroom to eat.

I realize that I willingly chose to move to Korea and thus have to put up with their cuisine, and I'm usually quite a trooper, but today... today Tiff and I just couldn't take it.

When we got in line for lunch, Tiffany mentioned that we were having eggs today. As we went through the line, she piled her tray with a particular Korean pancake that I knew contained vegetables and seafood, and I couldn't figure out where she was getting the eggs she was so excited about. Today's lunch contained the immense blessing of fresh carrots and cucumbers, but there wasn't much else to whet our appetites.

We sat down in my classroom, and Tiffany took a bite of her Korean pancake thing. She made a terrible face and stared at me before whispering, "it's not eggs." Confused, I took a bite of mine and told her it was a pancake with crab in it. We laughed about her mistake and she took to picking the pancakes apart on her tray. After I had eaten most of my food, she held up a piece of white meat. "This isn't crab; it's a tentacle." My turn to gag.

We decided eating the fresh veggies was the only safe way to make it through lunch; that is, until Tiffany decided the bumps on the cucumbers made them look like alligators, and she refused to eat any more of them. We started reminiscing about American cafeteria food: square pizzas, "chicken" patties, sometimes-green-ish hot dogs... all remembered so fondly you'd think we were discussing the finest French cuisine. After an hour of picking apart our food and listing every cafeteria food we could remember (oh, no-bake cookies...), we took our trays back to the lunch room and tried to forget about the tentacles.

The rest of the afternoon was spent warning the new girls about the crazy parents and moving desks around. I found a box of chocolates one of my kids gave me, so I supplemented my lunch with expensive candies (always a healthy option). At five-thirty, we were free to go, but we still have two more days this week of desk-warming before the kids arrive.

Lest you think I'm a mean, hateful person who only complains about my job, here's an adorable picture of Dennis:

I'll endure tentacle pancakes any day of the week if it means I get to hang out with this kid.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Something pretty cool

So I know some of you got to this blog thanks to the link on Relevant's website (if so, WELCOME!), and you're probably wondering why the first post you see is linking you right back to their website. Well, folks, I have to get my family to read the article somehow! Scroll down; you'll find something else fun to read :)

Mom! Dad! I'm PUBLISHED!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Is the cup half full?

I've been panicking a lot lately about my halfway point looming in the future. The way I see it, I can process this milestone in two different ways: I'm halfway finished, but I also have half my stay here in front of me. I'm not sure which one of those is the more optimistic view, but considering the fact that the former causes me to nearly have an anxiety attack, I've tended to cling more to the latter.

I can't even begin to quantify how much I've changed since I got here (well, I suppose I did in my last post), and it's entirely impossible to imagine how I'm going to change in the next six months. I was talking to my friend, Kimi, last night about this; a few years ago, we felt like we knew everything. I remember graduating from high school and thinking, "Now I'm an adult!" Then as I learned about life and the world in college, I graduated thinking, "Now I'm really an adult!" I'm coming up on three years out of college, and I've finally realized I know embarrassingly little about functioning in the world as the kind of adult I want to be. Sure, I can pay my bills and cook my own dinner, but I want my life to mean something, and that's feeling like an increasingly monumental task.


I promised last time that the next post I wrote would be about the things I'll miss about Korea when I leave. Most of my closest friends are packing up to leave the country in the next month or so, and that kind of makes me feel like I'm leaving too. Although I don't have to worry about losing any of the things on this list for another six months, I've compiled it nonetheless. You can come back and read it in August if you want (I know I will).

Things I know I'll miss when I leave Korea

Not being able to understand conversations around me. This one is going to be the hardest when I get back. For the more paranoid people out there, I'm sure not knowing what's going on around you feels more like a constant terrorist threat than peace, but I'm here to tell you that ignorance is most definitely bliss. I'm an incredibly distracted person, and having voices around me to eavesdrop upon keeps me from ever getting anything done. I'm going to sincerely miss being able to focus entirely on the person I'm with at a coffee shop instead of  being distracted by the girl on her cell phone behind us breaking up with her boyfriend.

Ethnic foods. At home, I considered Taco Bell a cultural experience, but here, I have access to nearly everything. Within a ten minute walk in either direction from my apartment, I can find Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, Mexican (crappy Mexican, but Mexican), Italian, and of course, a million Korean restaurants. Although I tend to stick with what's familiar, I'm seriously going to miss being able to pick up omurice at the Food 2900. I've already decided that my offspring will be the "weird kids" whose mom packs them kimbap in their lunches. And by weird, I mean cultural and unique (which translates to just "weird" in elementary school).

My intimate relationship with my iPod. In college, I used my iPod all the time, but when I graduated, I discovered the real world doesn't have constant background music. It was unacceptable to drive with my earbuds in, and I wasn't even allowed to keep myself entertained while I put books on shelves at the library. Here in Korea, however, my iPod and I are one. Basically everyone here has white cords hanging from their ears, and I have so many opportunities throughout the day to turn on tunes. Any time I'm waiting for the subway, riding on a bus, walking down the street, or even sitting at my desk, I've got music playing. Sometimes this is actually really unfortunate; there are a handful of songs that I simply must sing along to, but I get the sneaking suspicion that the rest of Seoul doesn't find Katy Perry as enchanting as I do.

Not paying for things. Korea pays for almost everything I need here. They provide health care (kick ass health care), and the public transportation system is stellar. My school pays for my apartment, and as long as I bring a big enough bag to school (and don't let anyone see me), I can have all the free milk and juice I need. I, um, borrow internet in my apartment, and my utility bills have yet to pass $60 in a single month. My phone is pay-as-you-go, but I only use it for texting, so 20 bucks lasts about two months. Granted, my week in Bali set me back quite bit, but overall, my life is pretty much free. I think this is the first time since high school graduation that my net worth isn't steadily decreasing.

People think I'm interesting. This is the most selfish thing on the list by far, but at least I'm honest. I like the attention I get living overseas. Obviously I don't get any special treatment from my friends here. Almost every person I hang out with regularly is a foreigner; thus, we all at some point in the last few years packed up our entire lives into two suitcases and moved overseas. I have friends from South Africa, Norway, England, Canada, and New Zealand, and I would consider every single one of them infinitely more interesting than I am. However, people back home think I'm some kind of rock star. Face it - you wouldn't be reading this blog if it didn't have Korea in the title, and I'm okay with that. I'm actually not very exciting when it comes down to it, but if you're learning a little about Korean culture/insanity by reading the things I write, then we're all better off in the end!

Having access to Asia. The thing I hate most about Korea is the fact that I have hardly any vacation time. I'm in Asia, for crying out loud, and I really don't have the time to explore it! It's like if you found out that you could win a million dollars if you complete a 5K, but then you realize you have no legs. Okay, so it's nothing like that. But it is incredibly frustrating.

Serviceeee. Korea likes to give you stuff for no reason. The last two boxes of cereal I bought came with a laundry basket and a documentary about woolly mammoths. When I (finally) broke down and bought perfume a few weeks ago, the lady in the shop gave me not one, not two, but three free travel bottles of various fragrances. I've gotten countless bottles of free pop at restaurants, and people have tossed extra snacks in my grocery bags a handful of times. The serviceeee that I enjoy the most, though, is when it's entirely unrelated to the product you're purchasing yet it feels so complete, like the snowman plates taped to my toothbrushes.

I'm discovering that the more I write to this list, the more I want to add. Apparently this place is all kinds of lovely! Here's to another six months, K-land!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I'm different now

Author's Note: I'm fully aware that you'd rather hear about how I chased seagulls on the beach than my sappy life reflections. Unfortunately, as my dear friend Angie once said, this isn't a blog about Korea; it's a blog about me while I live in Korea. I love writing stories, but I don't want to look back and only have stories. I'm changing more than I ever knew I needed to, and I want to remember what all this growing up feels like.

As I close in on the halfway point in my adventure, I find myself reflecting even more than usual. Okay, so I'm more reflective than a well-polished soup spoon on an average day; I'll give you that. I've been keeping lists (upon lists upon lists) in my planner of blog topics to commemorate my six-month anniversary, and tonight I decided I'm going to start writing them out. I like making lists, and the next handful of posts are sure to be chock-full of them. I'll change the formatting on the bullet points to spice things up. Don't worry about thanking me; I know you appreciate it.

Without further ado: The Ways Korea Has Changed Me: For the Better.

I wear makeup now.
I never really wore makeup before I moved to Korea. Well, that's not exactly true; I always had powder on my cheeks and mascara on my eyelashes, but I usually put those on without looking in a mirror, so on a good day they were in their proper locations on my face. One night on the way home from work, Tiffany needed to stop at a cute little cosmetic shop to get eyeliner, and she talked me into buying purple eyeshadow. I bought it and kept it in a bag on my dresser for about a week before I decided to give it a shot; the first day I wore it, I was terrified I had put it on wrong. Much to my surprise, people complimented me! It's almost as if makeup makes me look prettier. Who'd have thought?

I'm more independent.
My parents hate this one because it means I don't think twice about visiting Japan sans a chaperone, but I really can't get enough of being on my own. I thought that navigating a ginormous Asian city would be cripplingly terrifying, and it never ceases to amaze me how much I really can do on my own. Right after college, my parents bought me a GPS because I got lost nearly every time I tried to get to Springfield from anywhere but Springfield despite having lived in Ohio my entire life. With that kind of track record, I can see why they were concerned about the prospect of my trying to find my way around a city that has no street names, but look at me go! I've only gotten "I'm-gonna-die-oh-my-gosh-where-am-I?" lost once in six whole months; in fact, I usually face geographic confusion with a sense of mild amusement. It turns out that panic actually doesn't help you find your way hardly at all, while looking at a map and using common sense are almost guaranteed to assist.

I'm more independent, part two.
I remember right when I got here, I wrote a post (this one, actually) where I talked about how beautifully content I was sitting in a coffee shop alone, watching thousands of people walk by the window. I said in that post that one day, sitting alone in a coffee shop was likely to make me homesick and unbelievably lonely, and I'm still kind of waiting on that day. I've discovered in the last six months that I really enjoy my own company. I like hanging out at a coffee shop alone, shopping alone, walking down the street with no specific destination in mind alone; I like being alone. I always kind of had the idea that if you're in public by yourself, it's probably because you're too annoying to have friends (which I suppose I shouldn't entirely rule out as an explanation for my solitude). Don't worry; I still really enjoy being around people and it's unlikely that I'm going to turn into a hermit or anything. I've just come to appreciate myself a lot more, and I don't need people around to make me feel like I'm worth something.

I write things more.
This point feels kind of silly considering I've been quite sporadic in my posting in the last month or so, but I honestly have been writing more things. I'm keeping most of them to myself for now, and I'm going to be obnoxiously cryptic for the time being so I don't have to be embarrassed later on if my writing ends up just taking up space on my hard drive. I've written a decent amount in the past (most of which will never be seen), but I've become more intentional with what I write, and I've been using words to explore life as I try to figure it out. I'd like to take this opportunity to be the first to acknowledge that my paragraph about how I'm becoming a more practiced and focused writer is entirely incoherent. A little dose of humility is always good for the spirit.

I join different things.
In Cincinnati, I was really involved in the Children's Ministry at the Vineyard. When I say "really involved", I mean I used to live with the family who ran it. I'd take my shoes off when I got to church, and I'd taken naps just about everywhere I could find something soft enough to be considered a pillow. I belonged in DiscoveryLand, and I liked it that way. In fact, if you're not a member of my family or one of my college roommates, five bucks says I met you while I was stamping kids' hands or giving a puppet a Texan accent. Therefore, when I came to Korea, the easiest thing for me to join would have been the Children's Ministry, but I decided that would be the one place I considered off-limits. I wanted to challenge myself to try something that didn't come as easily as breathing, and I'm so ridiculously glad I did. Thus far, I've been involved in the Christmas play, the homeless ministry, the orphanage ministry, a human trafficking conference, and a prayer team. I know I overload my schedule like a high school senior desperate for community service hours, but I honestly can't see my life any other way. I love all the things I do, and I just feel so crazy-blessed that I have the time and opportunity to do them.

And now... The Ways Korea Has Changed Me: For the Worse.

My eating habits suck.
At home, I was a decent cook. I never made gourmet meals or anything, but I cooked for myself almost every night, and I was really good with a CrockPot and a toaster oven. Here, I've got two gas burners. That's it. No oven, no microwave, no George Forman grill. Two gas burners. In the last six months, I've gotten a little better at making food that looks moderately edible, but my primary diet still consists of American junk food people have mailed to me. Basically I subsist exclusively on Cheetos and Peanut Butter M&M's unless I pick something healthy up on the way home (like Burger King).

I don't clean, like, ever.
I never really thought I was a messy person, but I never lived by myself either. It turns out my propensity to clean up my messes was really only a ploy to get my roommates to like me. Now that I have no one to impress but myself, my apartment looks like crap. I still have Christmas decorations up, my laundry stays on the drying rack until I wear it (folding is for losers), and I must have decided at some point that keeping dishes in the sink is more practical than, you know, washing them. Every purse I own is in a pile on the floor, and I can't even sit at my table because of all the crap covering it. Every single time I walk in the door, I wonder who the heck left such a train wreck of a mess in my apartment before I throw my bag on the ground and dig out a space to sit on my chair. I really should be more embarrassed about my inability to do anything domestic.

I watch a lot of TV.
Here's one I actually am embarrassed about. When I worked at the library, I read a few books a week, and I really only kept up with House. However, since coming to Korea, I've gotten addicted to nearly every television show in America. I guess I could blame it on my desperate desire to feel like I'm still a part of American culture, but really I think I'm just lazy and cheap. Reading a book involves strenuous activity, like moving your eyes back and forth and occasionally turning the page, not to mention the seven to eight dollars I'd have to spend purchasing a book to read. It's so much easier to pull up and dramatically collapse onto my bed to watch shows I've never heard of. I am actively trying to fix this one, though, so if you have any books you think I should read, um, mail them to me.

I had about twice as many things on the original list I wrote, but I think if you made it through all that, you deserve a gold star. Next up: things I already know I'm going to miss about Korea.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Some love from K-land

Happy Valentine's Day from Korea... and Justin Bieber.

Love like you mean it, friends. <3

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A lesson in romance

It has recently been brought to my attention that I haven't posted on here in two weeks. Considering the fact that I used to post almost daily, this is quite a crime! I'm going to blame it on the fact that as the days roll on, things feel more normal. I can read Korean pretty fast now, so I'm not confused by much, and I've seen so many weird blue soaps that they (almost) don't make me laugh anymore. I know that sounds kind of depressing, but I promise it's not. I like that I'm comfortable here, and I like that life isn't really all that overwhelming anymore.

On top of that, I went on a really stellar trip last week with my friends Angie and Bonnie. We headed down to the opposite end of the country (a whopping 5 hour train ride away) and explored the far end of the Korean Peninsula. Although there were no sexy Australians requesting my hand in marriage, I did get a boyfriend, and I was followed around an aquarium by some camera-happy creepsters. Okay, so I have some funny stories I could tell. I'll get on that.

Today I'm still at work (obviously earning my paycheck by writing things online), so I'm going to save the Grand Busan Adventure for... next time I'm not super busy? Before I leave. Promise. Anyway, you're getting a short post today, but hopefully it'll make you chuckle. If not, you're dead inside.

I'm not a huge fan of Valentine's Day, but as a kindergarten teacher, I have an obligation to promote the crap out of Hallmark's "make everyone who's single feel even lonelier" day. Yesterday, we read a cutesy little Valentine story and made cards, and today I asked them to write a journal entry about what they would do to make their Valentine feel special. This one was by far my favorite, and I bet you'll be able to guess why.

I think Valentine feel like a girl's day. Valentine day feel special because we have chocolete party. And, we eat the chocolets. Girls feel very special because the boys gave girls a presents. And, the boys can give some money. Then the girls say, "Thank you!"

Did you read that, guys? You have to give girls a presents. And money. You can send it to my PayPal account if that's most convenient for you.

After journal time, I decided to put these "gifted" kids to the test and get them to write romantic poetry. We read a few poems I found online, and I told them to come up with a list of rhyming words to start them out. Then I let them loose. Keep in mind, my kids are about six. When I was six, I probably still ate glue. Take that, American education system.

Here are some of the best and brightest, spelling errors and all:

Japan is like the Papan.

hair is a tair
nice is nikki
it is fun
and it is mikki

I fold a paper.
and it is fun
my favorite
friend is Sun

Angels are beutifull
they have wings
there mission is
get the beutifulest ring

Eat the tomato
In the Toronto
then eat potato
more photos for you.

It is a night
insects are afraid of the bat.
then there is "quik, quik" sound
It was time for dinner for rat

The boy sleeped.
he had a dream and he dreamed about bed.
the knight fought with the bad dragon.
that moment, the children are learning about red.

I don't know about you, but if a guy presented me with any one of these poems, I'd be one smitten kitten.

Little cultural side note: in Korea, Valentine's Day is for girls to give presents to guys. A month later - a full month! - the guys reciprocate on "White Day." Therefore, if guys have any lick of sense, they'll all take their presents (money?) and bolt before March 14th. I've heard there's also a "Black Day" to celebrate desperation and sadness. Korea's all about the fun when it comes to romance.