23 July 2008

Rambling Man

Here's a little bit about my day. I usually get up between 6 and 8:45 AM. If I get up in time I put some water on for tea (I brought a small box of PG Tips with me, and this is a must for any care packages, hint hint) and hop in the shower. If not, I put on my pants and limp out the door. Why is it that the times you don't have time for a shower and a cup of tea are the times you need them the most? But usually I shower, check my email, sip tea, feed and play the cat, and out the door I go.

Speaking briefly of the cat. She plays fetch. I have never had a cat like this before. I won a Hello Kitty mini-pillow from a balloon pop stand at Haeundae Beach and she claimed it as her own immediately. She started bringing it back when I threw it. I am actually not sure who taught who to play fetch now that I think about it. She is really a character. Her preferred place to sleep is on or near my loins. She is so cute.

9:00. I catch a bus outside across the street. Now, I have three choices. I can walk about 300 meters one way or 500 meters the other and cross at the signalled pedestrian crossings or I can take my life in my hands and cross the six lanes of angry traffic and go in a more direct fashion to the bus stop. I have done all three. The drivers here, justifiably, feel that if they have to stop regularly in between intersections to let pedestrians cross then if anyone attempts to cross elsewhere they are fair game. In other words, they try to run you down. And even if they are too far away to run you down, they display their rage at not being able to run you down by standing on their horns for the twenty or so seconds it takes them to come abreast of you.

The bus service here is ridiculous. The buses that are an option for my morning commute (57, 86, 87, 49-1, and a few others) come at about two minute intervals. Sometimes they are packed, but that just makes it more fun. In the morning. In the evening, when I and everyone else smells like a goat fart, not so much. I like to have a box of fried chicken on hand to dispel the stench at that point. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I get off the bus about half way up the mountain to my school if I take 86 or 87. The others drop me at the bottom. I have learned to bear this in mind at the bus stop. Better a packed 86 than an empty 57. I get out and start my way up the hill. Most mornings, by the time I get to school, I am soaked with sweat. On the days that I walk all the way it is worse. I have walked a few times, and I like it, but it really kills me. It is uphill the whole way. (I live down by the river, at nearly sea level.) I get to school, remove my shoes, walk up three flights of stairs and sit at my desk for a bit trying to cool off and relax amid the screaming of 100 or so children.

9:30. After I cool off and make my coffee (everyone here drinks a powdered "milk coffee" that comes in huge bags of individual serving packets at the super. I make mine double strength and this gets me to nap time), I make the trip back downstairs to the kitchen to get one of the two huge pots of rice that feed our floor. I huff the rice upstairs and put it in one of the huge rice cookers and start it off and it is done at lunch time.

9:55. After another breather I get ready to start my morning classes. The kids in the morning are preschoolers or kindergarten. They don't start elementary school till they are eight. I have three different classes and I meet with each of them once or twice depending on the day. These are my favorite classes and my most challenging. I have been driven to tears by some of these kids, and I love some of them more than I knew I was capable of loving someone, and some of those are the same people. There is really no way to describe it. I have four classes in before lunch and one after.

12:15. Lunch. If I get out of class in time and have anything physically left I go downstairs and help tote up some of the lunch. I have kind of adopted the soup can. All of the children have partitioned stainless steel lunch trays that they take home and bring back clean everyday. I go around to my rooms first and dip out a small dipper of soup into one of the two large compartments in their trays. The other is already full of rice (they stand in line for rice and then sit down and wait for everything else). Meanwhile the girls are doling out the other items. They get about a cup of rice, a half a cup of soup, and about an eighth of a cup of three other items, two veggie and one meat or tofu. They bring their own drink. I am constantly accused of a) giving my classes the best chunks at the bottom of the soup bucket, and b) giving everyone too much soup. Everyone then meets back at the lunch counter and we dole out what is left to all of us teachers. I put the soup in the soup bowls (stainless) and help pass out the chopsticks and spoons (also stainless. Korea is unique in using all stainless bowls and utensils and there is a myth that it comes from an ancient king who was saved by the silver bowl he was using tarnishing in the presence of poison but I don't think that is the whole story. It is strange though, and nearly a universal custom). We have had: squid stew, tofu pancakes, beef bulgogi, marinated pork, or bean bake for our protein. Veggies almost always include some form of cabbage, radish, seaweed, and hot peppers. Today we had eggplant. Blucky. I have been trying to eat at school more for budgetary and camaraderie reasons but if I depended on it for survival I would be in trouble. My mother has a friend who almost starved to death teaching in China.

11:45. After eating I usually have about half an hour to kill so I go upstairs to my afternoon classroom, which I don't share, and take a nap. It has really helped me stay alert during the afternoon if I do this. I put on my headphones (Kind of Blue is best), turn the fan directly onto myself, prop my head up on a water bottle, lock the door, and I am out. I haven't overslept yet, but today I woke up four minutes before my next class.

1:25. I then teach my last "morning" class and have a twenty minute break before I start my afternoon classes. The first two are beginners, the second two are intermediate, and the last two are advanced. I meet with the first beginners Monday through Friday and they other four Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday the second two classes are advanced and then I get to go home at 5:00 PM. The other three days I am there till 6:30.

6:30 I catch the bus back home. I sometimes pick up some takeout chicken (OMG it's good!) to take with me. Sometimes I go home and regroup and go to one of the little places on the side streets near my house. I have become acquainted now with the folks at two restaurants in particular and they know that I don't speak Korean and are patient with me as I try to order using my phrasebook. I have stopped looking at the menu and trying to match what I have in my book to something they have on there. I just order what I want out of my book and if they don't have it they tell me. I like sae-u pukkumbap (shrimp fried rice) and manduguk (stuffed dumpling soup), among other things. All Korean meals come with soup (unless the entree is soup then you get rice) and a selections of side dishes (panch'an). A lot of times, these constitute the majority of the meal. Kimchee is always present, as are some form of pickled radish. Also common is a kind of chopped cabbage salad topped with a creamy garlic dressing or thousand island. Sliced garlic, a variety of sauces, dried fish or squid, kimbap (like a California roll with vegetables and either crab meat or spam filling), seaweed salad, pickled vegetables, spicy eggplant (in season now, unfortunately), fresh fruit (usually melon), acorn jelly (think dirt jello, not bad if you don't think about it or chew). Every place has their own specialties and at my regular place there is always something different. Some of these things are delicious in their simplicity. Sliced cucumbers and peppers in a rice wine vinaigrette with cold clear noodles. A red potato salad with chopped spinach, red onion and anchovy paste. Cold vegetable omelette topped with black bean sauce and chopped peanuts. All of it is wonderful.

At home for the evening I have been having trouble occupying myself at times. I have been strongly discouraged from doing what I am want to do. I have found several positive alternatives. I have already described the walks that I enjoy so much. I have also recently subscribed to MLB.com so I can listen to archived games. I am listening to last night's Cubs/Arizona game as we speak. (I have to listen to them about 12 hours after they end so don't send me an email telling me what happened. I will be very angry.) My other wholesome entertainment involves a small cat and a Hello Kitty pillow.

Well, I didn't really have a plan for this post but I am glad I got a little description of my typical day out there. I have been meaning to do that for some time. I hope you enjoyed. I still have a lot of other things to tell you about. And still planning out a bit of a trip for this coming week. More on that later. Bye.

Oh, I almost forgot. Today was the monthly birthday party for the July birthdays. Here are some cute kid pictures. The video was a command performance and priceless.