28 May 2008

Trip to the River

The crew (Lisa, Lisa T, Rachael, Tony, John the Welsh, and I) took off for Kampsville today. It was a great trip. On the way back John the Welsh climbed out of the window while I was going down I-72 and caused quite a panic. I don't think Tony will ever forgive him, but I thought it was hilarious and caught hell for saying so. (I recently watched Grindhouse and the Tarantino bit has a similar stunt.)

The food at Louie's was excellent as usual: catfish fritters, fried buffalo, fried veggies, and corn fritters. Some high-proof peppermint schnapps and beers aplenty to wash it all down.

After a second trip on the ferry, some stellar back-road adventures and the aforementioned Welsh stunt we got back in the nick of time and I retired home after one (ok...two) more pints at the old Shamrock (where we all met to begin with). A fine day indeed.

More trip photos and videos.

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26 May 2008

Things I am NOT worried about.

I always try not to worry about anything. There is, in my opinion, not much point. What is going to happen is going to happen and worrying is wasted energy. Prepare for what you can anticipate and leave the rest to fate. Often the things that you were worrying about work themselves out and the things you didn’t even think about whack you upside the head. That said…
Here are some of the things I am "not" worried about as I prepare to go to Korea to work and live for a year. I realize that most of this will be irrelevent and that something far worse will be the actual problem, but just so I can look back and make fun of myself later, here goes:

· Banking: There are apparently limits to the amount of money one can send back home. This, in addition to the exchange of currency and the actual apparatus of wire transfers, has caused me to wonder if I will be able to easily access my money and move around cash.

· Shopping: I wear a size of pants that will likely be very difficult to procure in Korea. Ditto underwear, shirts, socks, and etc. I have been informed that even getting sheets can be difficult. Apparently personal hygiene products, if available (deodorant’s not), tastes horrible (toothpaste). I have heard rumors that there are Walmarts in Korea. I have tried to boycott them as much as possible, but given the choice between supporting the great satan or going commando, well…sorry. They probably don’t even have 38-40 Hanes' Boxer Briefs.

· Transportation: When I originally saw the contract summary provided by the recruiter, it said that my apartment would be five minutes away from the school on foot. The school, when I spoke to them, said that it was actually fifteen minutes away by bus. We have all seen videos of people being literally crammed into public conveyance in Asian countries during rush hour. I no like. She said that most of the teachers had purchased a scooter. There was one in the classified section of pusanweb for 500000 won (about $500), so if this turns out to be the best solution, that isn’t so bad. Then there is the driver’s license (may be hard for me to get) and the driving conditions…

· Food: This worry has two separate components. A) How will I procure it?; and B) What will happen to me guts after I consume it? Language barrier: when I go out I may be able to get by with hand gestures and picture pointing, but they have a thriving home delivery system, and gesticulation and pointy-pointy isn’t going to work on the telephone. Must learn hangul! Second, the spicy. I have had kimchee. I will literally bleed out if I have to live on it. Note to self: procure and pack one year supply of Pepcid AC.

· Teaching: Never taught Kindygarten before. My ESL experience is limited to an Asian woman in an 099 class who, despite being able to speak and understand only a very limited amount of English, excelled at the written form. The contract mentioned again and again the desire on the school's part for innovative methodology. I have been looking at various ESL and linguistic sites to get a grasp of the milieu, but there will likely be a hard landing.

· Packing: My recruiter told me to get the Lonely Planet guide to Korea, in which there is apparently a thorough packing list. I will see when I get it. I have most of the expensive stuff already: new camera, new laptop, world band radio, mp3 player, internal framepack, luggage, guidebooks, phrasebooks. I still need to figure out if there are holes in my wardrobe due to climate differences. Not literal holes (of which there are many), but...oh, you know what I mean.

· Accommodations: This is really the big IF and probably my primary source of anxiety. I have seen quite a few "look at my new apartment" videos from Busan on YouTube, and the qualitative variance is extreme. If I end up in some windowless one room hovel I will literally die.

But, like I said, there is no sense in worrying too much about anything until I get there and find out what is up. I know there will be bumps. Positive attitude maintenance is the key. Starts now I think. I am not going to go into this with a sense of dread. I know it will be a great adventure, no matter what. Adversity is just a little extra wasabi.

23 May 2008

How did this happen to me?

I have been putting this off for some time now, relating the crazy tale of how I ended up going to South Korea to teach English, but a conversation with Brian (who you will meet in a moment) yesterday kind of got me thinking about the way that thing led to thing in an almost imperceptible and, in retrospect, unstoppable chain of events leading up to my imminent departure.

I think it all started with an email from CareerBuilder.com. "Teach in Asia" or some such drivel. As I read it I remember thinking: "Wow. That would be cool. I bet they have good sushi." I looked at a few sites, filled out a couple of "online applications," was contacted by a few recruiters, sent out a resume, got accepted to the recruitment queue, and waited around for a job offer. In the meantime, I got a passport.

This was back in November, and at this point very few people knew what was in the works. I kept in under wraps because at this point even I didn't seriously believe that I was going to actually pick up and move to the other side of the planet. Eventually word got out a little, and people started asking me: "Do you seriously believe that you are going to pick up and move to the other side of the planet?" And when asked this question, the answer was invariably, confidently, yes.

Thus began the second phase. Don't dare me to do something: I will likely do it. Especially if it is foolhardy, reckless, socially unacceptable, or involves drinking, eating or nudity. I became trapped in my own false confidence. This actually turned out to be a good thing. I still wasn't convinced that going was a good idea, that I even wanted to go, but I kept giving myself positive reinforcement by being forced to basically lie about my confidence level in regard to the whole adventure.

This couldn't have happened at a better time. Around this time, in late Spring, I got a contract offer from a school in Busan. I tentatively accepted and began the long process of producing the documentation that they needed to proceed with my VISA application on their end. This included a background check from the Illinois State Police (which, to my amusement and surprise came back spotless) which had to be Apostilled by the Illinois Secretary of State after being notarized. This document alone, when produced, stamped and double-stamped cost a pretty penny. When I had accumulated the requisite documents (including my original college diploma) I sent them off to Korea via Fedex, who subsequently raped me as well. (10 Pieces of paper=$51 postage?)

This was also the period when I discovered "The Horror Stories." There are ex-pat forums for people teaching in Korea, and it seems that the most prolific entrants are also the most profoundly bitter about their time in Korea. Some, like those who got over there only to find that their school had gone broke and closed (a not altogether infrequent occurrence, from what I gathered), leaving them stranded and penniless, had legitimate complaints. Others seemed to be bitchy, nitpicky whiners who were unable to see that things were a little different in this culture and that compromise was necessary. If I had read some of these things in the early stages of this process I would have likely abandoned it, but...

At this point more people knew, more bold statements had been made, more money had been invested, more bridges were burning or at least doused with gasoline, and I was beginning to turn the corner and arriving at phase 3 (where I remain) which is...

Get me out of here! I can't wait to go. I have concerns, I know it won't be easy, but I am ready to go.

Which brings me back to my newfound friend Brian. We met while getting Passport/VISA stuff done ($45) at the Korean Consulate in Chicago. He has a friend who has been teaching in Korea for seven years. She went over there to teach for one year and never came back.

Brian is from St. Charles, MO, at teaches eighth-grade English at an inner-city school in St. Louis. He related a story of disillusionment with his current job and a former wife, and a desire, like my own, to do something different. He, too, felt that the project had at some point taken on a life of its own, and that he was into what I call phase 3 now. (He had better be, since he leaves in ten days.) But anyway, it was nice to talk to someone else who was going through the same things I was and had the same fears and concerns and hopes. We agreed to stay in touch. He should be a valuable resource once I arrive. He seems to have a much better handle on things due to his detailed research and his talks with his very experienced friend.

That is it in a nutshell, as they say.

I received my travel itinerary from the ticket service this morning. June 24 10:10 AM: NW1680 Lambert to Detroit then NW0025 Detroit to Tokyo Narita then NW0005 Tokyo Narita to Pusan Kinhae. 7466 miles. 16.75 hours. 14 timezones.

Hopefully I will get my passport back from the Korean Consulate and I will be on my way.