Monday, November 25, 2013

naked in public

I realize that I've basically dropped off the face of the earth when it comes to blog posts, but since I'm back in Korea for a week, I thought it was only appropriate to come back here to let everyone know how it's going.

I set out this morning with a plan to locate the Worldwide Taekwondo Federation Museum. After three hours of wandering hopelessly around a five-block radius, I finally found signs pointing me to where I wanted to be. In my head, it was going to be full of awesome doboks and interactive exhibits where I could fight black belts. In real life, it looked like this.

That's it. One room of old trophies and pictures of people I've never heard of. Oh, and this gem.

That's precisely how I felt about the whole museum experience.

I left the museum and decided that a cold, rainy day was the perfect day to try out my first Korean sauna. I took the subway a half an hour north and promptly got lost again, taking a full hour to find something that is literally visible from the subway exit. If it ever comes down to it, I could start a very lucrative (although admittedly unreliable) taxi business.

Once inside the jimjilbang, I received my sauna clothes, dropped my shoes in the front locker, and headed upstairs to the "women only" floor. As soon as I stepped out of the elevator, I knew I had made a terrible mistake.

In case you're unfamiliar with the concept of Korean saunas, I should interject here with a little background knowledge. The primary purpose of a jimjilbang is as a public bathhouse. As in, bathing. With the public. Lots of naked, everywhere.

When I stepped out of the elevator, the room was filled with old Asian women in various stages of undressing. I clutched my sauna clothes to my chest and stared at the floor as I walked across the locker room, ignoring the fact that I would soon be joining them in nudity.

I spent a full five minutes debating whether I should just cover my eyes and run away, but I had already spent eleven dollars, dammit, and I was going to make it worth it. Besides, once I finished showering, I could put on the t-shirt and shorts I was given at the door, and all would be right in the world again.

The showers turned out to be an entire floor dedicated to bathing. Giant tubs, spigots, waterfalls, and, of course, a whole lot of naked. I ran straight to the first empty shower head and took the fastest (and least efficient) shower of my life. I didn't even have soap with me; I basically just let the water spray me for a second then scurried back out the door, avoiding eye contact with everyone in the room.

I didn't even wait until I was back up the stairs to put the sauna clothes on. I steered away from the changing room and instead chose to go to the "co-ed" floor where everyone would be fully clothed. I quickly discovered that very few, if any, people go to jimjilbangs alone. Every room I went into had pockets of friends dotting the floors and couples snuggling in the corners. I was just the weird foreign girl who walked in and sat for a while by herself, which is not really who anyone wants to be.

I went into every room that didn't explicitly say "No Women!" on the door before finally deciding I had had about enough fun for the day. I wound my way through the locker room again and changed back into my regular clothes as fast as humanly possible then made my way to the door.

So basically, when you break it down, I spent about 80% of my day wandering around lost and the other 20% surrounded by naked old ladies. For the record, that's about 20% more than I'd like to be surrounded by naked old ladies. I did, however, learn how to do this with my towel:

So it was all worth it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

i'm quite the professional

Despite what the calendar says, California is adamantly opposing the change of seasons. The temperature has dropped to around seventy a handful of times in the last month, if your hand only holds two items at a time. Yesterday, I decided I didn't care. I was tired of wearing flip flops in October, and I made up my mind to wear boots to work.

Since I'm currently the most scattered hobo on the planet with possessions in three separate locations, none of which are the house I signed a lease on last night, I have been a tad bit limited in my attire options as of late. Specifically, I'd run out of clean socks at Lauren's house. This is entirely my own fault as I only brought one pair with me, stuffing the others in a suitcase that ended up... somewhere, not here. I'd gotten completely dressed before I realized my only clean pair of socks had already been worn more times than is technically acceptable. I considered my other shoe options, but ultimately I decided that my wearing of the boots would not be hindered by such a silly thing as a lack of socks. My critical thinking skills are limited at six-something in the morning, and I deduced that putting an insert in the boots would suffice in lieu of clean socks. I stuffed the inserts in the bottom of my boots and headed out the door.

All seemed to be going according to plan until I started to climb the hill to my classroom. I realized immediately that, without socks, my feet rubbed against the inserts in my boots and made an incredibly loud farting sound. Many of you are not eighth grade teachers, so you will not fully understand how emphatically I must stress this next statement: when you spend your day with twelve-year-olds, under no circumstance may anything on your person ever make a farting sound. Not your chair, not your shoes, not even your stomach rumbling. If a sound can even remotely be considered a distant cousin to a fart, you'll lose control of every single class that walks through your door that day.

When I reached my room, I scanned around for something that could act as a barrier between my now-sweaty feet and the bottoms of the shoes. Unfortunately, I haven't made myself at home enough in my classroom yet to begin storing clothing items in the cabinet, and I came up short. With only a few minutes left before my first class would enter, I spotted the tissues on my desk. That'll work! I told myself. I unzipped my boots, wrapped my feet in tissues, and stuffed my feet back in the shoes. Getting up to test my impromptu solution, I was proud to discover that my shoes were completely silent. Well done, self, I thought, and I began teaching my morning class.

A few hours later, I was called to a 504 meeting to discuss the educational accommodations for a student in my class who has some learning disabilities. As I discussed various plans for helping this student succeed, a thought crept into my mind. There I sat, providing professional input to a team of educators, administers, psychologists, and parents, and the whole time, I had tissues stuffed inside my boots to keep them from farting. Of all the teachers at the school who could have made these important decisions, they chose me.

The girl wearing tissues as socks.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

Imagine you're getting ready for work. You went to bed later than you should have, so you throw on the comfiest work clothes you have in an attempt to convince yourself you're still in pajamas. You fix the pieces of hair that went berserk during the course of the night, smear just enough make-up on your face to cover the dark circles, and load your toothbrush with toothpaste. As you begin to brush your teeth, your half-awake eyes wander to the corners of the mirror, checking out the reflection of the room behind you.

In the left-hand corner of the mirror, you see your window, curtains open, blinds turned just enough to let the first bits of morning sun in. There's a silhouette of a man blocking the light.

That's basically one of my worst nightmares. It was also my Tuesday morning.

I snatch my phone off the counter and back into my closet, toothbrush still dangling from my mouth. I type 911 into the phone, but then it occurs to me that by the time anyone could arrive, this man would be long gone. My not-yet-fully-conscious mind trips over itself trying to decide if this is actually considered a 911-worthy call or if I need to find the police department's non-emergency number. I stood, paralyzed, in my closet for what I'm sure was less than a minute but felt like my whole lifetime, until I saw the man climb back through the bushes and walk away.

Now that time has passed and I've replayed the incident a thousand times in my head, I hate myself for what I didn't do. Why didn't I take a picture on my phone? Why didn't I call the police immediately? Why didn't I hire a trained assassin to protect my apartment? Instead, I gathered everything valuable in my apartment and moved to the kitchen, willing myself to leave for work. What if the man was waiting until I tried to leave, then he planned to grab me outside? I couldn't get myself to walk out the door, but my apartment no longer felt even a little safe. I stared out the peephole, letting my courage build; then I sprinted from my apartment to my car. I made it all the way to work before I started crying.

I went into the office before going to my classroom, and I relayed the story to two of my coworkers. They convinced me I needed to call 911. Before I knew it, there was a sub in my classroom and I was back at my apartment filing a report with the least empathetic police officer in the world. He told me that since I was fully clothed when I noticed the man, it wasn't a big deal. I wanted to punch him.

I can't even begin to explain how thankful I am for my friends, Lauren and Brad. I moved all my valuables (including myself) into their house while I try to figure out what to do. It will cost a crazy amount of money to break my lease, but I think this is a case where I have to cut my losses in favor of not having some creepy man watch me get ready for work. But if I break my lease, that still leaves me with the question of where to go.

I've kind of started to make friends, and there are a few girls that I may be able to share an apartment with. As much as I prefer living alone, I'd flat out feel safer with other people around. I also may be able to switch into another apartment in my complex, but I'm not sure whether moving a few buildings over will be any more comfortable than my current place. Whatever I decide, I'm certain of one thing: sometime in the next few weeks, I'll be moving. For the seventh time in twelve months. Why do I even bother unpacking at this point?

Monday, September 17, 2012

why i deleted facebook

In an effort to annoy as many of my friends as possible, I deleted my facebook a few months ago. Okay, that's not precisely the truth, but it's about as valid as any other excuse. I suppose I just got tired of it. I got tired of everyone being able to know what I was up to, I got tired of wasting hours stalking my old roommate's brother's friend's cousin's grandmother just because I could. I lamented the fact that people wrote on my wall instead of calling, and I decided I wanted to go "off the grid" for a bit.

I never intended for it to be permanent, but the longer I went without my newsfeed, the freer I felt. Who cares if I look like an idiot at my friend's wedding? I can't be tagged in pictures! Oh, random people from high school got in a silly fight over a guy who wasn't worth it ten years ago? Doesn't matter to me! I don't have to see it! People I needed to talk to had my phone number, and everyone else faded into an obscure memory.

That's not to say I haven't missed my familiar old social network. In fact, it was actually the specific times I missed it that further convinced me that being disconnected was the healthiest choice for me. Nights when I'd come home from work much later than I should have, weekends when I didn't interact with anyone but the girl I accidentally bumped at the Redbox. Those were the times when I wanted to "just check"... just check if he's still dating that girl... just check if my friends had been to a noraebang recently... just check if everyone else's life was, as I suspected, significantly happier than my own. I was afraid of comparing myself, afraid of making myself believe I was inadequate and boring and unwanted. To be fair, I'm still afraid of those things.

But this weekend, I bought a pomegranate. I'd never bought one myself before, and the guy at the grocery store tried to talk me out of it since they require an inexplicable amount of effort to prepare for consumption. When I got it back to Lauren's house, I shook the seeds into a bowl of water, the way Deb used to do it in India. I thought about all those times Deb would bring in bowls of pomegranate seeds and let everyone eat them as though they took no more effort than a banana. Had I been the one to seed them, I'd have punched my friends in the face before I'd have let anyone else eat those precious little pains in the butt. As I sat on Lauren's couch (sharing the seeds, of course), I decided I really wanted to tell Deb how much I appreciated all those times she brought me pomegranate seeds.

There are probably a dozen different times throughout the day that I think of something I want to say to someone. Sure, I could use email or a carrier pigeon, but really the bottom line is that in order to protect myself from potential sadness, I isolated myself from the form of communication that kept me connected with so many people I care about.

So tonight, I logged into facebook for the first time in a few months. Now I'll be able to actually be invited to my own birthday party next weekend, and I can finally catch up on pictures of my nephew. However, I am still keenly aware of how easily "just checking" can turn me into a weepy, lonely mess, and I'm going to be overly cautious for a while. I don't have the app on my phone, and I won't allow myself to check it more than once a day for ten minutes. I'm not going to use the search function to find any exes (or their new girlfriends). I won't be posting status updates because, honestly, I care too much whether anyone finds them entertaining. If I find in a few days that I can't hold myself accountable to these new guidelines, away it goes. The last few months have shown me I need facebook about as much as I need Halloween Oreos. Sure, I like them. But if I start going overboard, I'll just throw them away and get on with my life.

Crap, now I'm going to go eat some Oreos. Stop judging me!

Monday, September 10, 2012

thoughts on being new

As a kid, I never had to change schools. The kids in my kindergarten class walked across the stage with me in high school, and since there weren't many of them, I knew them all. Every once in a while, we'd get a new student, and we'd all become really interested in him or her for a few weeks. Soon enough, however, that new student became just one of us, and we went on with our regular elementary school lives.

When I got to college, I was at the peak of my now draining extroversion, and I made friends immediately. Looking back, my methods were questionable at best; I met two of my best college friends by walking up to them in a huge field full of freshmen and demanding their screen names, and I met another of my college roommates by sharing a bed with her. My dad's never met a stranger, and his approach to meeting new people rubbed off on me tenfold. I guess College Me just always assumed that everyone I met was just as excited to be my friend as I was to be theirs, and for the most part, it worked out pretty well. I'm sure I creeped a few people out, but don't we all sometimes?

Moving to Cincinnati was hard for me because, for the first time, I was up against people who already had friends, thankyouverymuch, and didn't need an obnoxiously peppy newbie to add to their circles. I went to church by myself for months before it occurred to me that not everyone shows up to church sans a posse. The more I realized I was missing out on socialization, the lonelier I became, until my friend Beth invited me to her small group. Beth's friend group largely consisted of transplants - young adults who had moved to Cincinnati after college and were creating new lives there. Despite the fact that I liked the Jonas Brothers at the time, they welcomed me with open arms. Every time I drive away from Cincinnati now, I cry knowing that I don't get to live life beside those people anymore.

When it comes to making friends, Korea takes the cake on ease of execution. I met my friend Kristen by facebooking her a month before I even moved there, and the day we all met Kelsey, we escorted her all the way back to her apartment. All my friendships were on steroids there; everyone remembered what it was like to be new and did everything they could to help ease the transition.

California's not the same.

I've been here for nearly six weeks, and aside from my coworkers, I haven't made a single friend. It's not for lack of trying; I've been to three different churches and two different young adult groups. I've tried to join six different bible studies and only one has actually given me enough details that I could show up. I thought I had found friends at a singles group I found (don't even get me started on how much I hate the concept of a "singles" group), but whenever I'd ask the other women in the group out for coffee, the resulting expression of confusion and annoyance made me want to get sucked into a hole in the ground.

I've never experienced such resistance trying to make friends. I went to a picnic on Saturday, and I nearly had to pull my car over on the way home because I was crying so hard. I think about those Sunday mornings in Korea that I slept through my alarm, only to be awoken a half dozen times as each of my friends realized I wasn't at church, and it physically hurts. Aside from the people I knew before I got here, not a single person has my phone number. I suppose people could have tried to add me on facebook, but since no one has asked me why I'm not to be found, I'm guessing that's not the case.

I promise this isn't just a post to gain your sympathy (okay, maybe a little). This new kind of loneliness I've been experiencing is really causing me to reflect on the kind of person I am when I'm comfortable in a new place. Once I've been around long enough to recognize the regulars, I want to be the person who always notices a new face. The kind of girl who invites new people to small group or has friends over for dinner. I want my friend circle to never feel closed off; I want to always have enough room in my life to spare an evening at a coffee shop to get to know someone who desperately needs a friend.

Before you panic and contact me on every form of communication available to you (Grandma), it's really not that big of a deal that I don't have a lot of friends right now. I'm still getting used to my job, which means I'm the last car in the parking lot at night and the janitor sometimes has to kick me out because he's leaving. I come home and crash on the couch before I even acknowledge what time it is. I spend eight hours a day listening to my own voice, and the last thing I want to do when I finally get home most nights is talk to another human being. It seems my introversion is skyrocketing these days, leaving me little energy to pursue any conversational exploit more complicated than talking to my television screen. For right now, this is my life. And even when it's lonely, it's so very good.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

my first year

I suppose since my position on the pay scale claims that this is my second year of teaching, I can't actually claim to be a first-year teacher. I did spend an entire calendar year teaching my k-babies how to hold pencils and count, but this is a whole different ballgame. These kids are less likely to pee their pants, and more likely to fail state testing if I turn out to be a fraud. The stakes are higher, the hours are longer, and the paycheck is better (although rent is far from free). This is my first official teaching job, in my opinion, and I want to document everything so I don't forget how I'm feeling right now, in two weeks, at Christmas.

It's shocking to me that we're wrapping up the second week of school. What happened to all those days I spent reading random books from the library or organizing all my plastic bins with my grandma? How is it that I've already lived in California for an entire month? I already have a driver's license and license plates. I have a most-frequented grocery store and favorite farmer's market. I don't need google maps to get me around town anymore.

As each day goes by, I write blog posts in my head about what life is like here. I have one about dating my city, one about why I deleted my facebook, and one about kids who already hate me; however, every night when I get home, I can't muster up the energy to type them out. I leave school around 7, sometimes 8, come straight home, make dinner to the best of my ability, and promptly fall asleep on the couch. Around ten I stumble to my room and try to fall asleep in my bed, but by then my mind is just rested enough to want to consider what types of vocabulary activities would be best the next day. I remember when I got my first job waiting tables, and I used to be up all night rehearsing how to write the orders on the order tickets. Now, I'm up all night trying to figure out why one class seemed to understand pronouns while the other one didn't.

All that to say, I've only written one post since the school year started, and I know I'll look back on these few weeks and wonder how I managed to get through them. Teaching is hard. I put in a lot of work, and my reward is thirty kids shooting lasers at me with their eyes because they just don't care about the difference between third person limited and third person omniscient. Sometimes they get so out of control that I'm shaking with fury as I order them as far away from my room as possible. And sometimes they borrow my favorite book and come back the next day having read the whole thing and wanting to know which faction of society I think I'd be placed in if I lived in that particular dystopia. 

It's one of the biggest emotional roller coasters I think I've ever experienced. Yesterday, I locked my door and cried for half an hour. Today, my disaster class was actually pretty controlled while I was being observed, and I felt a small taste of victory. I know today was only day nine of being Ms. Raasch, but so far, I can say with quite a bit of confidence that even with the hangups and train wrecks, I'm still really glad I'm a teacher. Despite the fact that I work quite a bit, I still don't feel like I'm going to work in the mornings. Seeing my biggest problem child successfully identify 50 different words' parts of speech makes being called a racist the day before not so significant.

Sometimes I still feel like I'm playing some kind of teacher game. It blows my mind that I'm the one the parents email when they see their kids are failing or that nearly a hundred a fifty students identify themselves as mine at some point throughout the day. I can't walk from my classroom to the office without being ambushed by "where are you going?" and "do you need me to do anything for you?" and "yo Ms. Raasch, do I gots to come to class?" I met a parent today and got to tell her that her son has had some trouble paying attention, but that today he was phenomenal and did all of his work. And I get paid for that.

Hopefully next week I'll manage to write down more stories so when I look back on my first year of teaching, I'll be able to remember exactly how much I hated and loved it at the same time. But right now, it's 10:30, and that's way past my bedtime.

Monday, August 20, 2012

i wore a sweater vest

My junior and senior years of high school, I had the same English teacher. A lot of students in the school purposely avoided having him (mainly because of the dreaded "senior project"), but he was absolutely, no questions asked, my favorite teacher. In elementary school, I used to say I wanted to be a teacher because I'd never really seen many other professions in action, but I can say with confidence that if I'd never had Mr. Ahlm, my major would likely have stayed resolutely away from the education department.

Every day I saw Mr. Ahlm at school, he had on a different tie and a sweater vest. On the off chance I saw him out in "the real world," it blew my mind to see him in a t-shirt. My English teacher wore sweater vests. End of story.

So today, when I officially became an English teacher in a regular American classroom, I wore a sweater vest.

I don't have enough to continue with the trend; in fact, I went to Kohl's on Saturday night in a panic hoping to buy more vests for my first week. Alas, today will be my only sweater vest day for a while. But that doesn't make me any less of an English teacher.

The past few weeks have been a blur of meetings, curriculum planning, and IKEA runs. As I said in my last post, it's weird knowing that I live here, and that I likely will live here for at least a few years (five years and I qualify for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program; seven years and I qualify to be a hipster). Today, however, all the chaos and stress and late-night planning came together, and I got to introduce myself to 143 kids as their teacher.

It's going to be rough. I can already tell my third block class is going to secure my spot in a mental institution, and my sixth graders feel like slightly taller kindergarteners in their desperate need to please. One of my kids couldn't remember my name today and called me "Mrs. Racial," and another one gave himself papercuts to try to get out of class.

But then...

Then there's the little dude who said he likes to "write his heart out" at home. And the girl who asked if she could borrow books from my library even though she's not in my class. And my fifth block class that cheered when I told them what books we're reading this year. I laughed out loud as a kid tried to convince me that Batman takes place in LosAngelesNewYork instead of Gotham City, and I took a picture on my phone of the questionnaire response that said I might be his new favorite teacher. I let the whole class borrow books from my bookcase, and when I turned around, they were all quietly reading even though I had told them they could talk.

It's going to be hard; there's no question about that. But I've never been more excited to go to work, and that's saying something. Of course, there is the added bonus of securely knowing that I'll be able to pay all my bills every month for the next calendar year, and that I have mediocre health insurance in case I decide to play in traffic after third block one day. I also finally, finally, found a church home this past weekend, so I'll have friends here starting September 9 (stupid small groups being on break for the summer). It seems California really is home for now.