29 June 2008

DT Theater

Here is a rather shaky look at my new home. Sorry for any problems with quality and the necessary brevity. I think it cuts out before I say bye so sorry. It may not do this on the YouTube feed which is in the "Other Online Resources" section to the left. Enjoy!

School Daze

I still haven't really talked about the school yet. It is pretty gruelling, but the days go by quickly and there really isn't a whole lot to it. I have pretty much 100% control over the methodology and curriculum. The kids have to be tested each month and they cannot be given bad grades (it is against school policy). Basically, from a teaching and learning standpoint, the whole thing is a carefully maintained joke. Still, I have kids in the afternoon who have been attending for three years and they are quite fluent. I guess it all works out in the end simply because it is so intensive. If you spend a few hours every day with an English speaker you will learn English no matter what the methodology or due to the lack thereof. That said, there is still an opportunity to make a big difference here. Especially in the discipline department. I am trying to work on basic issues like a little chant I made up that my morning classes begin with: "Bottom on the seat, feet on the floor." Enforcing this takes about 25% of my time in each class right now, but I think it will eventually pay off. In the afternoon I have older kids (8-11) and some of these kids are absolute nightmares. I have one kid who refused to participate so I stood him in the corner and I didn't take his pencil away and he drew all over the wall. That was the first time I seriously considered resorting to corporal punishment. I have thought several times about how this must be payback for my own academic disruption for disruption's sake. If there is something such as divine retribution, then I am up shitty crick, because I really have it coming. This kid that drew on the wall reminds me so much of myself it isn't even funny. I have a new schedule starting tomorrow. Mondays are the worst. I don't have a single break the entire day, other than lunch. We usually have one or two open periods throughout the day. This gives one a chance to sit down and regroup. I guess I will be pretty ungrouped on Mondays. I think it is good for me, really. I don't have to be there till 9:30, and when we get off at 6:30 the traffic has calmed down and there is still plenty of evening left to do something. All in all it is a pretty good gig. I like the staff, I love the kids (even the rotten ones), they feed us lunch, and I get to pretty much do whatever I want. After Thursday when Perry leaves I will be on my own with all of my classes. We shall see how I feel after a week of that.

Sunday Stuff

Last night Perry and I hopped a bus down to the subway station. I was able to get a transit card from a vending machine. This will allow me to make free transfers from bus to bus and from bus to subway. We went down to Seomyeon which is a huge underground and aboveground shopping complex. We went directly out of the subway up into the Lotte Department Store, a huge upscale shopping center. On the top floor is a movie theater and the one beneath it is full of restaurants. We ate at a Sushi place. The sushi was going by on a conveyor belt and you simply pick the one you want and are charged according to the color of the plate. I thought I was going to die. It was so good. I caused quite a stir when I asked for sugar for my green tea. The entire wait staff went to look for it and came back about ten minutes later with a tiny porcelain bowl with a tiny silver spoon. Inside of it was a small quantity of sugar. I think they sent someone to the coffee shop down the way and got a couple of packets and poured them in the bowl. We walked around in the shopping center for a while, saw 75,000,000 won Rolex watches, and a 59,000,000 won TV. The biggest section by far on the men's floor was the shoe section. This is a country obsessed with footwear. Women wear high heels with any outfit for any occasion. I have seen some showstoppers on the men, too. Patent leather side-zip boots with gen-u-wine imitation zebra fur uppers. Stylin'. After this we went to see a movie. "Wanted" with Angelina Jolie, an action film with a premise that is better not to think about too deeply. Some of the action sequences defied the most willful suspension of disbelief, but that's ok. It is what it is. It doesn't invite or deserve thoughtful criticism. I nearly fell asleep in the show. I forgot my camera (really I just hate carrying it around. I already get stared at openly by nearly everyone). If I had taken it you would be seeing the wonderful street vendors selling all manner of fried and sauteed foods in the streets around there. This morning I went in search of kitty litter and found none. I need to find some quick as the situation around here is critical. I went for a walk today and found some interesting things I am going to tell you about after I go again with my camera. I just ordered a Bulgogi pizza and it came in a box tied up with a red ribbon. In the little bag of goodies that came with it was two packets of hot sauce, two packets of Parmesan cheese, and a little tub of sliced sweet pickles.

Listening to: "I Loves You Porgy" by Gerschwin via Dave Grusin.
Weather: Cloudy. No rain.
Mood: Fair to crappy. Maybe its the music.

28 June 2008

Still Catching Up

Note: I apologize for not keeping up. So much has happened so fast that I haven't been able to get it all down. Also note that I am not apologizing to you, who likely may not care too much about the contents of this blog. I am apologizing to myself, forgiving myself as it were. This blog is by me for me. Therefore I am not responsible for omissions, errors, embellishments, or lewdness. Journals lack the benefit of reflection which marks the better memoirs.

Listening To: "Life on Mars?" by Bowie.
Weather: Warm Pouring. (Someone told me when it started raining this morning that it will quit in September. Maybe.)
Mood: Elated with random periods of bawling.

At long last we have pictures to peruse at: http://picasaweb.google.com/cyanocitta/KoreaPicsJune282008

My First Day

I woke up early on Thursday morning, my first day here. After a second shower I got suited up and took off walking. My plan was to go find the school (they had made me a map. It is worthwhile to note that there really are no street names in Korea. The largest intersections are marked by signs pointing down the largest streets toward other large intersections, and that is about it. Directions are given by landmark. I was told to walk downhill toward the sea and turn left at the Dunkin Donut. It is also worthy to note that Koreans don’t even agree on directions, landmarks, reference points, or the seemingly even the parameters of physical space…more on this later). I found the school easily. It is located on a high hill surrounded by trees. There is a huge highrise complex on the rest of the hill but the view from the school is spectacular. I have also seen, walking along the small wooded area on the road up, at least three birds I have never before lay eyes on.

I went back down to the main road and walked further down “toward the sea” (which by the way is still miles hence). Long story short, I got lost. When I got to the main junction I noticed a subway entrance. I went down and looked around and came back up a different exit. When I came back up nothing looked the same. I had not really been paying attention to reference points prior to walking down there and now that I was back up I might as well have come up on the moon. I kept telling myself not to panic, but then I went through possible backup plans and realized I didn’t have any. I had no way to ask for directions, no phone number to call to ask an English speaker for directions, and no map. I have always enjoyed being lost I told myself. So I buttoned down my lip and started walking up the six major roads that converged at the junction. The first two were unrecognizeable, but on the third I recognized a small lumberyard. I had found my road.

Remembering that lumberyard, so seemingly out of place in a street full of bimbap shops and hair salons, it makes me think about how rural this huge city feels. Each neighborhood is a self-contained unit. This lumberyard took up the shape and and had the size of one business on the packed storefront street. It had neatly stacked stocks with a small sunny lane down the middle. Off to one side near the street was a tiny office. A yellow dog was contentedly licking something off the asphault of the lane. A folding gate covered the opening. On the road going up the hill I noticed what looked like a small packing crate, roughly 6x8 and maybe six feet tall. When I came back at 9:30 to go to work the front of it was folded open and a man was sitting inside operating a tiny cobbler shop. There was a line. Old women sit cross-legged under small colorful umbrellas on the street corners selling radishes and squash, peaches and green beans. The small markets that operate on nearly every street have huge piles of melons and cabbages. Onions, garlic, and a huge variety of the ubiquitous leaf wraps (everything from grape to oak, sesame to bibb lettuce, all used to make delicious little bundles when eating the staple BBQ beef called galbi). These women usually have an inventory that hardly looks worth the trouble to cart into town, but they do it, pulling huge, bicycle-wheeled carts by hand through the early morning mist. There are street vendors selling all manner of hardware, clothing, housewares, etc. When I left school last night a man was set up across the street with a selection of what looked like vintage sewing machines (the old black foot-pedal kind converted to electric. He was operating a shop out of the back of his small lorry, and had a machine disassembled on a piece of cardboard in the shade. Three old ladies stood around him bent at the waist, handing down what appeared to be either deep reprobation or earnest encouragement. Nearby a blanket was spread out with handmade athletic wear. The sign said 1000 won ($1 USD). There was nobody there to take the money.

Money. This is probably the most astounding thing about the entire operation. Last night I took a cab over to my new apartment. When me and Brian and his girlfriend got into the cab the cabby started the meter at the 1800 won minimum. Ten minutes later, when we got to our destination, it said 2000 won. The same ride in Springfield would have cost at least three times as much. I bought a pack of Dunhill lights here for 2000 won yesterday. Last night I took Brian and his GF out to a really nice pork BBQ for 24000, this including three bottles of soju and two huge courses of meat. Everything here is basically one half to one third of what it would be back home. Exceptions include Budweiser (sold only by the can for 2000 won) and clothing (shoes are especially dear).

[I wrote this post yesterday in the Dinkin Donut aforementioned. I have posted it today due to technical challenges]

It is now the evening of my fourth day here in Korea. I have come to the conclusion that I am not going to be able to write down every last thing that happens. Although I would like to. Do the best I can.

I got a cat today. Her name is Zoulie. The teacher I replaced gave her to me. He is coming back to Korea in a few months but her said that I could have her as long as I want. See pics. I got a scooter. It is a 125 and the speedo goes up to 120. I know for a fast it will do sixty. I am going to have a blast on that thing. Had a wild night last night and another tonight. I am going to tell you about that tomorrow....

27 June 2008

Catching Up

Part. I The Journey.

There were several times I thought, during the 24 hour trip over here, what it must have been like a hundred years ago. I travelled most of the way to Korea at 30,000 feet and 600 miles an hour. I got halfway around the world in about one day. It was utterly exhausting. Trains and steamers, while a slow way to travel, were likely at least a little comfortable.

I spent Monday night in the ER at Memorial. I had a swelling in my tender bits that would not go away. This has happened before. Some of you may remember the ultrasound I had hanging proudly on my refrigerator for several years. I waited til the last minute in the vain hope it would fix itself, but I was in severe discomfort by Monday PM and decided that if I had to get medical attention when I got over here it would be difficult or impossible. (This turned out to be quite wrong.) Long story short, painful exam, painful ultrasound, excruciating shot in the ass, and home at 2:30 AM, two hours before it was time to get up and drive to St. Louis.

When we got to St. Louis I was in no shape for human companionship. My poor mother, who drove me, is a first ballot sainthood candidate already, and her patience and compassion at this point has only reconfirmed the already well established fact. I fall asleep in the boarding lounge after asking a kindly neighbor to make sure that I got onto our flight. The flight there was uneventful. I drew a window seat for the first and third legs, and it was fun to look out at Illinois and Indiana as we flew over.

At Detroit I got to walk down the concourse (about a mile and a half) to my gate, located it, and went to find some grub. There was a Japanese joint a way back and I went there. It was packed. There was one guy in front of me, and as some tables were clearing, I asked him if he wouldn't mind sharing one so I could get in quicker. He said sure. When we got sat down I asked him where he was from/going and he said he was from/going back to Busan. I couldn't believe it. Anyway, I picked his brain for sure. He was in his twenties. He is an assistant in the ESL at Busan International, the most prestigious university in Korea. I got a lot of good info from him and we talked from time to time for the rest of the flight.

We flew with the sun over the Canadian Rockies, over Alaska, and down the Eastern seaboard of the Asian continent. I sat in the middle section. The plane had three seats by each window and a bank of four in the middle. It was possible to get fairly comfortable by reclining your seat and sticking your legs out under the seat in front. I slept a bit, watched a couple of movies. They fed us twice, unremarkable food made remarkable by boredom, like prison food. I spent most of the flight talking with the girl sitting next to me. She was quite a remarkable young lady. She currently resides in South Carolina and attends UNC and is a double major in Economics and Math. She is 17 and graduated from a prestigious math and sciences academy. She was on her way back to Shanghai to visit friends and relatives. She dislikes the US and plans to return to China asap. We talked about a lot of things. She was very curious about Lit Crit, saying that she finds English to be the most difficult academic challenge she has ever faced. We talked a lot about the intersection between the arts and humanities and ended up agreeing that economics is every bit as interdisciplinary as literary studies and that this was one of our favorite things about our respective disciplines.

They had a screen on the plane that showed the plane's prospective route and traced its progress with a little airplane icon. I have never in my life seen anything move so slow. I tried to will myself not to look at it but it was impossible. It also showed altitude, velocity, miles travelled, miles remaining, projected arrival time, and outside temp. At its coldest it got to -80 F. I kept finding myself doing the math in my head and finding fault with the arrival time, but when we got to Japan the captain speaking told us that we were being put in a holding pattern (430 loud groans) and we ended up landing two minutes late.

The airport in Tokyo was amazing. There was the incredibly practical (five dollar shower rooms with hot towels in a warmer and organic shampoo and body wash...I had no choice at this point), to the incredibly weird (flavoured oxygen bar) to the incredibly beautiful (who had the brilliant idea to put the Japanese National Museum of Origami in the airport?). There were a couple of frustrating mix-ups (they had overbooked the flight and kept making increasingly desperate pleas for volunteers to stay the night. My Busanese acquaintance took them up on it, getting a $400 voucher for his next flight in compensation. They also changed the gate several times without telling anyone, making the ticket situation all the more tenuous. I finally gambled on gate 27 and won. Several people at the back of the line got bumped against their will.), but after we finally go into the air it was all good. I was in the last seat of the last row on the plane.

It was at this point that I saw the sun set. I had seen it rise over Illinois at 6:00 AM on the way to the airport. It was now 22 hours later. I had set a record for my longest day.

I will never forget the sight of Busan as we came down through the clouds on our approach. The city, to appreciate its bizarre geography, has to be seen at night. Busan is a huge city that has absorbed about 7 large mountains. Koreans love neon and they never shut it off. Viewing it from the air the black masses of the mountains form stark voids in the sea of lights that back each seem all the more extreme. It was an incredible sight.

I got off the plane last. I navigated immigration, exchanged a thousand dollars for 1.1 million won (in their largest currency, the 10000 note, which meant I have in my possession a huge stack of bills), and got my luggage (yay, it isn't lost. After they changed the gate the third time in Japan I had pretty much written it off). Jenny, the director for the foreign teachers at my school, met me at the airport. We went to my hotel (my apartment won't be ready til Saturday) and then met the assistant director, for dinner at a BBQ place nearby. It was a beef one. (There are beef or pig BBQ's, never both.) They brought out a bucket of burning charcoal and put it in a recess in the middle of the table and we grilled the tender marinated rib meat and ate it wrapped in sesame leaves with grilled garlic, kim chi, seasoned noodles, red onion, and a variety of sauces. I am forgetting some stuff. I also forgot my camera. Next: my first day at the school.

23 June 2008

"Time for me to Fly" (Or "I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane")

Sorry for the lapse between entries. It has been rather busy around here. Moving, packing saying goodbyes, thesis [non]defence (long story), and all the rest of it has kept me hopping. I talked to Brian (been in Korea for about three weeks) via email and asked if he had any last minute advice. He said that the best thing I could bring with me is an open mind. He said that there would be challenges, but that the Koreans are very non-confrontational and a "subtle approach" to disagreements works best. That is good. Subtle is my middle name. He also said that most things were written in both Korean and English, and that getting around was fairly easy. He is in a much smaller town than I will be in so we will see. He said to pack lots of toiletries as it is difficult to find things like toothpaste. I have got about a six months supply, more if I am careful and only brush on Saturday night.

I spoke to another friend of mine, Troy at the bike shop. He has been around to a lot of places and he said that Korea is one of his favorites. He said it was like the Midwest. Down to earth people, good food, conservative with a redneck party attitude. I will see if this holds true. One thing I have always found interesting is the way a culture's character is reflected in their cuisine. Mexican gassy, British bland, French saucy. Springfield cheesy? These things are certainly oversimplifications but not unuseful. Korean food has been described as raw, spicy and pickled. If this describes the people I will fit right in.

I have made some decisions in packing that I think bear discussion as they might backfire completely. The packing list has undergone several revisions, the latest and most dramatic coming after I encountered the 100 Thing Challenge. This guy has decided to pare down his personal possessions to 100 items. The blog is essentially a list of the things that don't count in the 100 items (books, underwear, toy trains), but it got me thinking. Some of the guidelines he set down for himself I applied to my packing list to try to achieve a safe bare minimum. Hopefully it will be only my minimum which ends up bare as a result. For example: the guy tries to keep essential clothing items to one per type. I looked at my packing list and asked myself: how many pairs of blue jeans do I really need. I had two. I am taking one. Ditto sweaters, PJs, dress shorts, dress shoes (one pair, basic black), dress shirts (one, basic white), ties. He also tried to make a single piece of clothing serve multiple purposes. I found a pair of pants that unzip to become shorts. My biggest challenge was outerwear. I wanted and finally found a Columbia shell with a zip-out fleece that could stand alone on cold days. The shell could stand alone on wet days. Together they will get me through Winter. (Best of all I got it on sale $120 off...shopping for Winter clothes in June: if you can find it they are practically trying to give it away!). I am taking three hats: a stocking cap, my trusty Cardinals cap, and a Boat Tavern floppy hat that I am going to use as a travel gnome.

Electronics: I came very close to purchasing an inexpensive camcorder today but talked myself out of it on the basis that my digi camera takes high def video. A nice person purchased me a universal power adapter (They use the two round-pronger there) and a travel power strip. I have my trusty laptop, world band radio (BBC news might be the only thing that keeps me sane), and mp3 player. I haven't loaded up on tunes the way I wanted, but oh well. I plan to purchase the MLB.tv package when I get over there so I can listen to the games so don't email me the damn scores! I will be watching on tape delay.

In packing I have used Space Bags and this has helped a lot. I have a very limiting weight restriction (50# per bag) so it may end up that there is actually empty space in my suitcases. This will be good if customs decides to open up the space bags and the clothes explode like popcorn. Not good. Last Friday, I purchased a 2200 page Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces to take on the trip, figuring it would buy me a week or so to find a bookstore. I have already read a third of it...oops. There may be more room/weight for books in my smaller case. Another trip to Prairie Archives tomorrow. These books might be like gold when I get over there.

Well. It is the middle of the night and I can't sleep and this is a good thing. It is tomorrow afternoon there now. I may by now have my sleep pattern so jacked up from stress induced insomnia that I won't have any jet lag at all. Onward!