Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I said to him I had loved you.

Hello, readers.

It's raining and I'm in a cafe called Gorilla.

There are sparkly lights and photographs and something like bear skins along one wall which aren't really bear skins at all but tapestries of abstract somethings cut out in the shape of a bear skin.

Not sure what any of this has to do with a Gorilla.

I've been making the round of cafes to write in. One was called Myoll and had several stuffed E.T.s in a wagon parked outside and a full-size VW van parked inside from which coffees were dispensed.

Another was called mk2. So far as I know, there is no mk1.

I think names here are more for decoration than anything else.

Tomorrow, my students begin taking their mid-terms. This means the teachers get to leave at eleven. The students also get to leave at eleven so that they can study for the next day's tests.

The mood in the teacher's room is like that last week of school before summer vacation. The mood outside the room is a bit more of the impending doom variety.

Today, one of my students, practicing have and had and other such time related nouns, wrote the several sentences, "I said to him I went to the park. I said to him I had gone. I said to him I had loved you."

Maybe the rain got to her.

In other, sunnier news, there's a new Best Coast song. And also I discovered the Best Coasty blog which has music on it you might like if you like Best Coast.

There's a picture of a cat with sunglasses on their blog so you know it's awesome.

Happy whatever day it is when and where you're reading this, readers.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Weekend.

Went to see Steve McCurry's photo exhibit at Sejong. This is what was outside.

As was this.


These next pictures are from Yongsan Family Park.

Apparently, this man's t-shirt was deemed by his English co-teachers to not be appropriate work attire. He is still proud of it, though.

This is a giant hand.

This is not a tiger.

Soccer. Possibly futbol. It depends on which of these people you ask. Some are from the U.S., some are from South Africa. One, I think, might be from California.

A girl from California.

This is a banana-kiwi filling for my Sunday morning home-made hotteok. Hotteoks are Korean stuffed pancakes. Usually they are made with wheat and rice flour and stuffed with brown sugar and cinnamon. I make them without wheat and sometimes without the brown sugar or cinnamon. As I did this morning, when it occurred to me to cook and cool down a mixture of banana and kiwi into a thick syrup, which, upon being fried inside the hotteok dough, becomes juicy and sweet and lovely.

After breakfast, it seemed like a good idea to get some work done, so I went in search of a cafe. I read this article for ideas. This is where I ended up.

aA Design Cafe in Hongdae.

A girl, presumably not from California. You never know, though.

Iced Vienna.

Fresh mozzarella and tomato salad.

After working, I spent the rest of the evening buying vegetables and cooking dinner and uploading pictures to this blog. I did not take photos of these activities. You'll have to use your imagination.

ttfn, readers.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Sponge House. Also, aloneness.

Hello, readers.

Last night I went to see Up in the Air, that movie with George Clooney and airplanes. It reminded me of Fight Club for a little while, and then it didn't.

There is a thing in Korea about aloneness. They don't like it. Or rather, to not be so generalizing, it would seem to me that many of the Koreans I have met, have expressed to me, or acted in such a way, as to convey the idea that being alone is especially lonely and heartbreaking to them. My head co-teacher, nicknamed Potato by his students, for example, always accompanies me to lunch, and when I go to the Home Ec room to warm-up my food, he follows me. It does not cross his mind that he could go on to the cafeteria and that I would, eventually, catch up.

It's not just Potato, though, that is this way. It's also Fesbl and my desk-mate Ming the Not All That Merciless But Actually Quite Kind (MNATBAQ, or Jim, for short).

"When we see someone eating or walking alone," Potato told me, "It looks so lonely. America is different. It' s normal. Here, it's not."

Sometimes this level of accompaniment is nice. Sometimes it feels a bit, well, like I'd rather be alone.

Sometimes it feels like coming to Korea was just another way to cultivate aloneness.

Odd how things work out.

Up in the Air was showing in the Joongang Cinema, which is in central Seoul, near the Myeong-Dong fashion strip. Inside the Joongang Cinema, there is a smaller, even more independent cinema, called the Sponge House. Inside the Sponge House, so far as I could discover, is just more Sponge House.

I bought my ticket for the 8:35 p.m. show at around 7:00 p.m. In Korea, when you buy a movie ticket, they assign you a seat. There's no general admission.

I had time to enjoy, so I wandered up the Myeong-Dong fashion avenue, saw many purses and gloves and one Panda Bear. I remembered there was a Bubble Tea place nearby called, Quickly. Quickly is a California franchise. The Korean woman who runs it here speaks English. I had some Thai-flavored bubble tea which tasted like Thai tea but with more tapioca. It was yummy.

I walked back to the theater then, past again, the purses and gloves and Panda Bears. I waited on the second floor of the theater, wondering whether my ticket said Screen 5 or 6, since there were many numbers on the ticket including 2, 81, 8:35, and the aforementioned 5 and 6. At around 8:20, I decided to ask the lady standing in front of screen 6. She looked at my ticket, and looked at her watch, got flustered, and then unroped the entrance. She tore my ticket and waved me inside.

The movie was a quiet bit of wonderful. It did in fact remind me of Fight Club with its snappy cuts, ubiquitous airplanes, and the Tyler Durdanesque speech George Clooney's character makes concerning the freedom of leaving everything behind. Of flying solo, as it were.

But then, as I said, it stopped reminding me of Fight Club, because it became much more a film about a man stumbling into a sense of his own aloneness, and trying to determine whether, in fact, that is entirely what he wanted. Or rather, if maybe, life wasn't better with people to share it with.

There was even an Elliot Smith song tucked inside. There was a lot of good music tucked inside, actually, including a song sung by telephone to the director Jason Reitman by a man who had just lost his job. (Interviews with, presumably real*, people who had lost their jobs in real** life were also tucked inside.)

Clooney's character doesn't exactly decide at the end on the matter of his aloneness, which is good, because movies that end with characters deciding such things for certain are almost always less interesting than movies that end with characters having a sort of awareness in which you get the sense that maybe, possibly, something is different than it was before. That something, however small or large, has changed.

And then there was the song over the credits, "Up in the Air", which was sung, as I said, by a man who had just lost his job.

And while it played, something occurred to me. No one in the theater had moved.

Perhaps you are, or aren't like me, reader, but when I go see a movie, I do not leave until the last possible moment, which is sometimes an usher saying, "Hey, kid, the show's over. Time to go."

Usually, it is only me, and maybe, possibly, though not always, the people I'm with, if I'm with anyone at all, that stays.

Here, though, in the Sponge House, in Joongang Cinema, in Seoul, Korea, I was not alone. Everyone, all two dozen or so people, stayed and watched the credits, and waited until the lights came on and the ushers came in, before getting up and leaving.

One guy, sporting the--here--ubiquitous large round-rimmed glasses, could be seen wiping his eyes.

I took some pictures as I was leaving. You have been seeing them while you read this.

And now, very soon, I will go and look at furniture along the street next to my home. It's called the Furniture Arcade and there are many men who will shout at me in Korean about how wonderful it would be to have this sofa, or that dresser. I will not undersand them, of course, but I'll know what they mean.

After that, I'll go see an exhibition of Steve McCurry photographs with the Australian.

Right now, though, I will sit in my kitchen, alone and, for the moment, content, and finish my tea.


*This is not to say characters in movies are not real people, too, but here I'm using real in it's more common usage, which is to say, things which, so far as I know, were not scripted by a man named Jason Reitman.

**I do not know what real life is, either, readers, but it seemed like the phrase to use.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In the beginning...And then....Finally

Hello, readers.

I have, so far this week, had somewhere around three hundred students introduce themselves to me. This is how we're testing their speaking ability for the mid-term.

There's an empty room on the third floor of our building. I'm using this to meet with the students one by one for two minutes or so. Generally less. They tell me their name, age, hometown, family info, hobbies, passions, and something they want to be in the future. A lot of them want to be teachers. Some of them English, a few math. A handful want to be stewardesses. Two or three want to be diplomats or U.N. ambassadors like Ban Ki-Moon.

The key to not getting burned out while listening is to focus on each person as an individual. Drinking plenty of water helps, too.

It also helps that my Tuesday after school class is full of geniuses from whom I worry not about expecting too much. As such, the class has, for this month, become a sort of mini-course on cinematic storytelling. Last week was how music makes mood in movies. This week it's writing scenes with musical inspiration. We watched two movie trailers--Lost in Translation and Coraline--and mapped out the setting, characters, mood, conflict, and possible story arc of each.

In the beginning, though, we mapped out the story of Titanic, but that was on accident and mostly due to one girl, when I asked what conflict was, shouting: "Titanic! Ice mountain!"

Here's what we came up with for that movie.

Characters: Rose, Jack, Other People.

Setting: A ship.

Mood: Romantic. Sad.

Conflict: Rose wants to be with Jack. Other people, like her mother, do not want this.

Story arc: In the beginning, Jack and Rose board the Titanic. And then, they fall in love. Finally, the ship sinks, Jack dies, and Rose feels sad.

That's all you need to make two billion dollars apparently. Well, last century anyway. Now it would probably need to be in 3-D and possibly set on another planet populated by dozens and dozens of Blue Men groups.

And then, we watched a scene from Up and discussed how a scene has all the elements of an entire movie.

Finally, I formed some groups, passed out a scene worksheet with blanks for the elements we discussed, played some music, and told each group to fill out the worksheet based on how the music moved them. Next week they will write the scene.

Finally, finally, I'm going to sleep.

Happy stories, readers.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Umbrellas and Other Nice Things. Some scary things, too.

Hello, readers.

It's raining in Seoul, but it's warm and so not so bad. Currently, or rather, just before I started typing this, I was eating some banana bread which tasted surprisingly like banana bread considering I cooked it in a broiler oven I'm fairly certain was meant to be used only for fish.

Here's a picture of the button which leads me to the fish conclusion:

The button on the left, I'm assuming, is for cooking moons.

In other news, I've yet to buy an umbrella. Because I didn't pack one, this means when it rains I tend to get wet. Tonight, though, on my way home from teaching an after school class that seemed somehow not one of my best attempts at teaching, a car rolled to a stop beside me, the window rolled down, and there was one of my after-school kids. "Teacher. Umbrella," she said.

And so now I have an umbrella.

Here's other things you should be aware of:

Doctor Who is coming back this month. The AV Club covers the entirety of the show's history here. The article is bigger on the inside.

Marinating tofu in soy sauce, garlic, and green pepper, makes it taste better when you fry it.

I think that last week I may have traumatized my advanced after school class. I discussed movies and soundtracks with them. We listened to some of Amelie, Star Wars, Casablanca, Kill Bill, Love, Actually, and figured on how they affect what we feel.

Then I played the lullaby from Pan's Labyrinth without telling them what movie it was from and asked them to draw a scene, or picture, it brought to mind.

This is what they drew.

1) Romeo and Juliet. Juliet crying on the balcony. Romeo, kicked out of the castle, standing as a shadow in the trees, watching his love weep.

2) A very sad princess who is crying and saying things like, "I am very sad."

3) A small ghost who is a girl and carries a bloody knife.

4) A girl hanging from a tree. Not the good kind of hanging, either.

5) And, last but definitely most imaginative and scary and oddly fitting, a young girl being stabbed in the heart by the tree who loved her. She, you understand, did not love the tree the way the tree loved her. She loved a boy. The boy in this scene is at a safe distance from the tree, looking on at his lost love, playing a pan flute.

At the end of class, I played some more Love, Actually.

It is my Tuesday after school class, what now I will go plan for.

Till the future, readers.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Between the Moon and New York City

Hello, readers.

It's nice to see you again.

Funny how being somewhere else you forget who you are and then remember and also you're toe is slightly maybe broken.

Let me explain.

On Thursday night, during Taekwando, amidst some very unexciting running, I landed on my foot wrong. I felt a warm sort of pain in my left pinky toe, but, being me, I presumed it was just a sprain and so continued on with the hopping and jumping and kicking. Afterwards, in some mildly horrible pain, I asked Master Jin if he had some spray or goop to rub on it.

He opted for goop.

While rubbing it in, he said, "Can you walk?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Can you run?" I said, "If I was being chased by something large and hairy."

"You should go to acupuncture," he said.

"Is it broken," I said.

"I don't think so," he said. "I don't know, though."

The next day at school the teachers were all much worried about me. When they asked me what happened, I would say Taekwando, and they would get this look like, "Oh, how exciting," and then I would tell them, "No, not during the exciting parts," and they would say, "Are you okay?"

(Sidenote from the future: That's actually what most people here, teachers and students, have asked, "Are you okay?"--which as far as questions go, is fine, but sometimes I want to say, "Well, no, not entirely. My toe's kind of maybe broken. But thanks for asking.")

One of my co-teachers, we'll call him Fesbl--because he's a Fluent English Speaking Baseball Lover, took me to the acunpuncturist after school. It was just five minutes from our school. The office was brown and polished like a lot of doctor's offices are. I was taken into a room and told to lean back. A heat lamp was pointed at my feet. The doctor attached some electrodes to my leg which proceeded to electrocute me ever so slightly.

It didn't hurt, but it felt odd.

Five minutes or so passed. I chatted with Fesbl about whether being electrocuted was normal. He said it was. He had had it done for various sprains and muscle pulls from playing baseball.

The doctor came back and stabbed me then, with tiny needles. He did this by placing a small blow-dart looking tube against my skin, pressing the end (which presses the needle in), and then reloading the device and going again.

This part hurt. Not the needles themselves, but the squeezing part. You don't want to know about that.

I asked my co-teacher to ask him if he thought it was broken. He said something. My co-teacher translated. "He doesn't think so. But, he doesn't know."

It was at this point we decided maybe I should go to the hospital, which, in Korea, is pretty much where you go for everything. Hospital here means doctor's office/orthopaedics/surgery/emergencies.

The hospital we went to was surprisingly unbusy. The waiting room had one or two people. My co-teacher filled out the forms. We sat. After a couple minutes, we saw the orthopaedic fellow.

He looked at my toe. I asked if he thought it was broken. You know what he said. And then he sent me to get x-rays.

At some hospitals in the U.S., this means walking across the street. Here, it meant walking a few doors down the hall.

Shortly after this, we were all back in the doctor's office. He had the x-rays up on the x-ray viewy thing. He sighed. He turned on a bright lamp beside the x-ray viewy thing and held up the x-rays. He sighed again. He waved Fesbl to come, and he said things. He then drew pictures which I looked at with some interest.

"What's he saying," I said.

"He says your toe might be broken," Fesbl said. "But he's not sure. He doesn' t know."

I very nearly laughed at this, readers. In fact, I probably did.

"He says," said Fesbl, "that it may be a kind of line fracture."

"You mean a hairline fracture," I said.

"A line fracture," Fesbl said.

"Okay," I said, not seeing the point in arguing the point.

Fesbl then took me to get some pain pills and drove me back home.

He's actually much cooler than his name would suggest. Someone should have named him better. Ah, well.

In other news, here are some pictures of the Kimchibilly concert from a bit ago.

And one from one of the more amazing rooftops I've ever had the pleasure of drinking on.

I won't lie readers, the toe thing is annoying. Of all the things I like, being slowed from my usual spectacular amount of running around is not one of them.

As the subject suggests though, readers, the best thing you can do is fall in love.

So that's what I'll continue to do.

Moments like the one below help.

ttfn, readers.

p.s. NPR's All Songs Considered always has full albums streaming. But, at the moment, they have a plethora of goodies, including Go by Jonsi (the lead singer of Sigur Ross), Volume Two by She and Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward), and the collaboration of David Byrne, Fatboy Slim, and many, many others, called, Here Lies Love.

p.p.s. These also help.

p.p.p.s As does the fact that, in one of my classes, a girl asked for help spelling the name, "Zooey Deschanel." It's her favorite actress. She asked me to call her, "Summer."