Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Snow, Rice Pizza, Tim Burton, And So Much More. (Really. A lot of words here. Be careful)

Hello, readers.

Today found me in Seoul, as often happens of late since, as of last week, I live here.

Generally, this is how my routine has shaped up.

I wake between 6:30 and 6:50 a.m. I make some kind of tea called Sulloc Solomon Seal Tea*, which is brown and tasty and presumably not made from actual seals. Then I turn on my laptop, play some music (a lot of Beatles recently), and make breakfast--generally something egg-based since I've run out of oatmeal for the moment. This morning, for example, I made an omelet stuffed with left-overs (tofu, rice, spinach, some anise seeds, green onions...)

Somewhere in here, I take my shower. Usually between making tea and making breakfast. My showers take somewhere between five and ten minutes, which is about the right amount of time for the tea to go from scorching hot to pleasantly toasty.

After breakfast, I slip into some combination of dress shirt, tie, suit, sweater/long-sleeve shirt, and converse all-stars. This is what I'm wearing to work right now. A lot of teachers wear suits, some don't. Very few wear converse. We all wear sandals inside the building, though, so maybe everyone wears converses. It's possible. Converses are popular here.

Eventually, I may stop wearing a suit and tie. I'm not sure. When I teach, I take off the suit, and keep the shirt. So, it's possible, as it warms, I'll leave the suit, and maybe the tie at home. Depends mostly on fate and whim and whether I end up buying a lot of fashionable ties and things at one of the many cheap fashion alleys all around Seoul.

Work is like this: All of the high school teachers have desks in one big room.

To my right, is a man named Ming, who isn't merciless at all, but actually quite kind. He showed me around the school, and, once, when it was snowing more than today, he picked me up in his car and drove me to school.

In front of me, is a woman whose name I often forget, though she told me I could call her Sylvia. I think it might be Mrs. Lim. She is also kind. Today, she showed me where the nearest Imsil Cheese Pizza was. This is a chain of pizza restaurants who make all their dough exclusively with rice flour. Good for the gluten sensitive.

Around me, are many other teachers, who have also done for me acts of kindness, but space and time concerns lead me to sum up as such: my co-workers all want me to feel at home, and, as much as possible, they want to make sure I can find enough to eat.

I've been taught, for example, that most restaurant folks will understand, "No meat," and a good expression for wheat flour is "Milkaru."

I would write "Milkaru" out in hangeul (Korean alphabet) for you, readers, but I'm not sure how to make my keyboard do that.

And then there's teaching, of course, which goes something like this.

The bell rings and I, plus whoever my co-teacher is for that class (technically, us native speakers aren't certified to teach in Korea and so one who is certified must always be present), go to the students' classroom.

That's one of the odd things about Korean schools (at least this one.) The students have a room, which the teachers go to. There's no milling about in the hall for students as they make their way between classes. Milling here is strictly for the sake of milling--and sometimes visiting the teacher's office.

The other odd thing about Korean schools (at least this one) is the way that the students all scream and giggle when I enter the room. Or the way, when they see me in the hall, they sometimes gasp, or sometimes duck their heads, or sometimes manage to say, "Hi."

Sometimes it does feel a bit like being a pop star.

But, mostly, once class starts, teaching here feels like being a teacher anywhere--with the exception that the girls in this school are excessively well-behaved and there being about, oh, 600 or so of them that I see in a week.

I dearly wish I could know all their names, but I'm not sure it's possible. I tend to like doing impossible things, though, so you never know.

Two days a week, I'll teach after school classes to 15 students, so, hopefully, I'll get a chance to know them.

Also, a member of the debate club personally asked me, in fluently fluent English, to come to their meetings, and I plan to, as often as I can.

If, at this point, you're wondering what it is I'm teaching them, then I will tell you. If not skip ahead, or pretend that you were and read on.

Right now I'm teaching them about me, for the most part. About where I'm from (Music City=Taylor Swift) and about what I like (Kimchi, Harry Potter, Comic Books, Time Travel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among other things). I try to mention things they'll recognize. Buffy they never recognize, but the mention of "Vampires!" almost always leads to a lively discussion of Twilight and whether Edward or Jacob is the more handsome.

After the me-ness, we play a game wherein the students write down things that are important to them. This gives me a chance to walk around and learn things about them. It's sneaky, really. But it's how I know that there's an abundance of Spongebob and Simpsons fans, at least one die-hard devotee of Tim Burton, and several girls who would like to grow up to be either a stewardess, diplomat, or counselor.

It's occurred to me that if I can't remember their names, maybe I can just give them nicknames--I often remember things about people more than their names, at least at first. Which means someday I can imagine saying something like this, "And Tim Burton, what are you passionate about?"

That will be a fun day.

I realize readers, at this point, that this post is fairly long and I've yet to cover most of the topics I mentioned in the last post.

Also, Lost has finished downloading.

I will be back, though, as often happens. And I will write more about things.

About eating rice pizza for example, in my kitchen, with the balcony door open, so that I could watch it snow.

Or discovering, with a new friend who's good friends with an old friend, a Vietnamese restaurant whose noodles and spring rolls are all made from rice. Not to mention their having a blackboard with their promise of cooking with love and patience written in English. Le Saigon is the name of this place. You should go if you're ever in the neighborhood.

Or, more likely, I will end up writing about different things and mentioning how I've forgotten to write about these things I just mentioned.

Alas. Such is blogging.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, readers.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Here we are again.

Hello, readers.

I'm still alive.

My toes hurt, but that's just from the Taekwondo.

Later will happen soon, and I'll write more about what's been happening, including:

The aformentioned taekwondo
The Korean version of The Phantom of the Opera
The sensibleness of staying out till 5:30 a.m. so one can catch the subway home
The wonders of my first day of teaching (which was today)
The annoyingness of not having a cellphone
And so forth.

Until then, I've made a tumblr thingy, wherein I post pictures.

It's here.


ttfn, readers.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Home is.

Hello, readers.

I promised more later, and later is now.

On Saturday, S.M.O.E. had a closing ceremony wherein speeches were made, food was ate, and goodbyes were said.

Here's what it looked like outside my window that morning.

Here's what it looked like in the hall.

Some people, I think, were a bit annoyed by several parts of the S.M.O.E. orientation. There was the being confined to the Hyundai Training Center for a week. There was the occasionally monotonous food. And, of course, there was not finding out our school placement until just a day or so before being shipped out.

But, S.M.O.E. knows what they're doing. The lectures, for the most part, were lovely. Especially the high school games and activities session in which we were taught how to use a plastic hammer to control the class. The food, if a bit mundane, was sometimes quite wonderful and much enjoyed by some of us. Though, as a new friend pointed out, confinement plus cafeteria eating makes it feel a bit like prison.

And, really, the school placement bit is at the end because it means the only thing for us to focus on during the week is listening to lectures and making friends. Which, really, is the point of the whole thing.

None of us are alone out here.

Knowing this comes in handy on that first night in your new apartment when it occurs to you that no one in your neighborhood speaks your language.

Speaking of my apartment, here are digital representations.

And, here's the views outside my window now.

Yes. That is a Girl Generation poster. It was there when I arrived. It will most likely be there when I leave.

More, as always, later.


p.s. My home is a few stops from central Seoul. It's near several colleges, one of which is a woman's university called Ewha. The road to that particular university is called "Wedding Street," for reasons that will become apparent, perhaps, in a later post.

p.p.s. It feels good to be able to walk around a city again.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Hello, readers.

Go here, read what people have to say about Barry Hannah. Especially, Michael Bible.

Here's a quote:

"He [Barry] wanted us to be better writers, but I think more he wanted us to be better humans, to laugh more, to try for joy. He used that word at lot. I think it was his favorite word. Joy. But he told us how hard joy was to get and keep. That you had to fight for joy and defend it from the haters of our world."

Barry was a tender-hearted mad genius bastard, readers. If you didn't know him, he still loved you.

In other news, it's Thursday night here in Korea. The rain has past. Still a bit wet out, though. I'm sitting in my room, listening to the Rolling Stones and the drifting conversations of the smoking people gathered in the courtyard two stories down. Earlier, roommates and friends and I practiced karaoke with "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

It was a bit of joy.

It's surprisingly like a musical here, really.

For example, today we teachers were split into six groups, and within those groups, we demo-ed lessons as though our fellow teachers were students. We got to play tic-tac-toe and telephone and sometimes speak and repeat dialogue.

"Will you buy a pizza?"

"Yes, I will buy a pizza?"

Maybe this doesn't seem like a musical to you, but you weren't there. We teachers have a lot of rhythm.

Sidenote: It's become apparent to me that teaching English may lower by vocabulary a bit.

A friend has a review up at Bookslut of Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, a poetry collecty by Tony Hoagland.

I think I will learn Taekwando while I'm in Korea. Seems like as good a time as any to become one with the universe.

Here's a picture of Yoda.

I brought him in case of emergency or adventure. He's cool like that.

Happy Thursday, readers.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Not Quite Seoul Adventures and One Very Sad Thing

Hello, readers.

On the third floor of the Hyundai Training Center at the moment. This would be where my room for orientation is. There are mountains outside. Well, big hills with some dramatic haze around them.

The room itself is fairly small. A decent size for two people, though. Alas, there are three of us. Luckily, the roommates are decent chaps from Australia who only occasionally rag on my various British-isms.

Right now we're listening to Jeff Buckley.

The Hyundai center is in Yongin. About an hour south of Seoul. S.M.O.E (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) has ensconced us new batch of public school teachers here to learn about the wonders and hazards of teaching in Seoul. Mostly everyone has been very optimistic and pragmatic. They like teaching here, and they know that sometimes it's miserable and sometimes it's wonderful and sometimes you have to take the cellphones away.

In one class, we learned about different games to play with kids, such as "I have never..." and "Two Lies, One Truth." We played with ourselves and discovered interesting things about each other like who has and has not illegally downloaded music.

Besides lectures and classes, we sometimes have cultural experiences. Such as a trip to E-Mart, and more artistic and historical things like our journey to the Nam June Paik Art Center and the Hwaesong Fortress which surrounds the city of Suwon (located some ten or twenty miles northish of Yongin).

Here are some pictures:

Happy Korea, readers.


p.s. Barry Hannah died today. Here's what he had to say about things.

Don Swain interview.

Paris Review interview.

New York Times interview.

He also said these three things.

"Heaven is pals."

"I live in so many centuries. Everyone is still alive."

"Love your loneliness."

And he was right about all of them.