Friday, December 26, 2008

Actual Conversation

Day 96

There is no snow, but a damp cold. Warm floors oh, you warm floors. Temporary PC rejects printer drivers and then decides to reject me. Mystery ports can't find mystery hardware. Windows will not to open.

Day 97

Young Me and I go out for Golbenggi Noodles after work. She needs to tell me something, she says. She's leaving for good in exactly four weeks.
You, Young Me? The only person in the Hagwon who can acutally hold an English conversation?? You're leaving???

Day 98

Christmas Eve is like Valentine's Day in Korea. It is a day for couples. I remain nearly unaware of this fact until the day-end conversation class.

"Ted, how are you today?"

"Oh! Teacher! I am so sad! I am solo."


"Yes, today, I think we are all solo in this class. Maybe those who are not here are with their girlfriends."

"HA! Yes, Raphael, you're probably right. Well, hah, okay, we can call ourselves 'The Lonely Hearts Club'. How's that?"

"Teacher! Oh! That is good, that is funny. But Teacher! I NEVER have a date for Christmas Eve"

"Well, Ted, it's not really the end of the world, right? You will someday."

"Ted maybe will, but Teacher what about you? Do you have a boyfriend?"

"HA! No. I don't. But, that's fine. I don't need a date for Christmas Eve."

"But you must be the loneliest! You have been solo the longest!"

"Raphael, have you ever had a girlfriend?"


"Okay, well, I think it works a little differently in the United States. Let's go to paaaagggge 38!"

Day 99

I reach for some deep thoughts while biking next to the river. Egrets flock the gravel road ends. I turn back to find another route. I drink "Decent Coffee Blood of Southern French Style" at "Hands Coffee". This is Christmas, and I am delighted with my bicycle - a present to myself.

9 pm - Waiting in the train station for a friend.

9:30 pm - Student calls to see if he can join us. I inform him that the "us" is "me" for now and there is no need to hurry. I know his main motivation is actually to meet the korean women I am friends with.

10 pm - He shows up with his cousin, I recieve a "sorry, maybe next time" text from her. "Ted" and his cousin try to hide their disappointment and Ted takes me to his favorite Hof (pub) for a Christmas Beer. A fruit plate is served, we snack in near silence (Ted's cousin speaks next to no English) and dutifully finish a pitcher. We are all ready to go home. It is a good thing Ted is hilarious.

Day 100

Back at the Hagwon, I breeze through the day holding onto the knowledge that I will have all next week off. FREE!!! FREEDOM!!! Now what to do? I start making loose plans, I know what my "plans" are actually like and decide to keep it non-comittal. A couple days in Seoul perhaps, maybe a trip to Daegu, I'd really like to visit Gyeongju, and Pohang has been suggested to view the New Year's Sunrise over the East Sea (Sea of Japan).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Longest Night

Day 91

I think about how I should get up early. I think about it before pulling the covers back over my head to block out sunlight.

Day 92

The season is stuck in November weather.

Day 93

I raised my voice at the students today. It was unexpected, and I felt as shocked as they looked. But at least they stopped screaming. Not many classes are badly behaved, but there are one or two that show next to no respect for me as a teacher. It's not their fault, I think. They can't understand my instructions, they're in classes all day, and the precedent of foreign teachers is to play games and let the kids run wild for a half hour. I've changed that slightly. I try to create a fun learning environment, but I am not a babysitter. That's never been my disposition.

Day 94

Handstands in the kitchen

Roots in my soup.

Over dinner, I learn that Winter Solstice lore includes eating red-bean soup to ward off evil spirits and a superstition that one's eyebrows will turn white if one falls asleep overnight.

Day 95

Today is the shortest day of the year. I use the brief light to venture to Daegu. Walking through the parking lot, I see a student standing outside. We chat and discover that we are headed to the same place. I decide to wait for him, and soon we set out together for the station. With standing room only, we head for the cartoonish cafe car. Multiple shades of green and various saturation levels of hot pink surround us as we discuss whatever comes to mind.

Arriving at Daegu, we set out for Kyobo. A Korean textbook and a brief conversation with a Chinese-Canadian who drills me on Korean numbers later, we are back out on the street. It is the Christmas season and shoppers are out in full swing on Dec. 21. A stage holds a passionate singer backed by a dedicated rock band. We stop for Ommuk between the stage and a cell phone store, struggling to lure customers in with pop songs while the rock blasts from across the pedestrian street. He heads for his family's house, and I head for the station. Today's company was a pleasant surprise.

I return home to the question once again: what is a good activity for 12/13 year olds? This time the answer is making Christmas cards, watching a Charlie Brown Christmas, and the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer animation. Oddly enough, I find myself longing for candy canes and tinsel as Charlie Brown's creator tries to remind me of what Christmas is all about.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trot along

Day 89

Monday, Mondaaayyyyy. Gas heaters are in several rooms in the Hagwon. I'm not sure how much more it would cost to use the ondol (floor heating), but I am sure it would be much more pleasant, and much less pungent.

Day 90

Trot fills the air as I write letters and prepare packages to send to the States.
Did I mention the music stand I stopped at in Seoul? Perhaps not.

The search for Insadong...not much of a search. More like the half-hour it took to orient myself after getting out of the subway. Anyway, during the search for Insadong, I noticed a mini-throng of adushis (old men) crowding an umbrella covered table filled with cassettes and cd's in boxes. I joined the masses and took note of what the fellows beside me were picking up. I followed suit and grabbed a couple others with attention grabbing covers. Among the chosen was the image of a couple in Latin Ballroom costume, dancing on a keyboard, with a technoid-grid background.

The style of music is called Trot, and it is a variant of Traditional Korean music. However, the instrumental sections have been transcribed to Casio and the music has been put to a Casio demo beat. It's pretty great.

Work follows the peaceful morning, yoga follows work.

An invitation to chicken and comraderie follows yoga. I accept and spend an hour and a half vaguely understanding the discussion surrounding "saturi" aka "dialects". The fact that I can even vaguely understand what is being said is amazing to me. Thrilling. I know that once I leave the scene, there is little chance that I will remember much of what was said, but that doesn't matter. For the moment, I laugh with the rest as "anneyo" is changed to... changed to.. i forget, but I followed! I could follow along. And it was good.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

one, two, skip a few...

Day 81

The 111 Bus stops in front of my apartment building. The 111 Bus goes to Jikjisa. I put two and two together and wait for the 111 Bus in front of my apartment building. When it stops, I ask..."Jikjisa?" "anneyo (no). haha! anneyo!" Is he serious? Why is he laughing. I don't understand. I just want to go to the damn park! Take a breath. It's not that bad. This has happened before.

In fact, the reason I believe that it is possible to go from my apartment directly to Jikji-sa, is because the ONE time I took the bus, I ended up going halfway out to Jikji-sa before the bus driver stopped and told me to get off. (See Special Edition Post)

I have a plan. I will go get the 111 Bus at a different stop. I don't know what the difference will be, but I will try it. It works. 20 minutes later, I am dropped off at Jikji Park. A short walk past resturaunts and green space filled with weird sculpture, I am in the peaceful temple grounds. The air is cold and fresh, wet snow crunches softly underfoot, the occasional cat crosses my path, and then there's the chainsaw. I'm not sure where, but it is present. A chainsaw.

After a couple hours, I make my way home. I upload photos to flickr. I say goodbye to my computer. I go to bed.

Day 82

What does one do on a day of rest? What is rest?

The battery has finally died on my Mac. I keep trying to plug it in and see if it will charge or if the computer will turn on again. Ever. My trusty Mac. It kind of survived a drop...a screen breaking drop early on in life. And it's been with me since the end of 2002. It's old. It's like an old dog. It was like an old dog. Now it's like a dead dog. A dead dog that contains information.

Angela left a laptop when she left Korea. She had purchased a new one to replace her old DELL Inspiron. The keyboard has a mind of it's own. CAPS LOCK goes on and off at will, generally staying on for numbers and punctuation...which eliminates numbers and proper punctuation. I'm shocked that it's working now, but maybe it has decided to be kind. In any case, I'm thankful to Angela and the keyboard right now. So thankful.

Day 83


Day 84


Day 85

skip a few...

Day 86

Attempt to sign up for pottery at Gimcheon Women's Center. Fail. Thwarted by complete rudeness. Am so frustrated, I struggle to hold back tears and one or two escape as I stand at the curb waiting for a taxi. Young Mi makes an attempt to comfort me, but she is also shocked at our reception. It was nearly their lunchtime, I tell myself. They don't want things to be difficult for the teacher, I tell myself. They don't know he knows I want to take the class. These things are true.

Must work now. I try to forget about the morning's setback and build up my energy to match that of 8 year olds. In comes a package! It's from my Grandmother! My heart is warmed. I decide to open it right away...and the gifts inside...even though it's not Christmas. I unwrap a quilted wall hanging made by her, and looking at the stitches, I am overwhelmed. I feel a knot form in my throat and my eyes well up. I frown and try not to cry again, but I can't help it. TWICE!!! Twice in 3 hours! I hate crying. This is ludicrous. I must pull myself together! I can and do so.

10 minutes later I am teaching. During class, the secretary interrupts to ask what she should do with a second, larger package I have received. CHRISTMAS! It is Christmas for me on December 12th.

Day 87

Morning train. Seoul station 11:30. A short wait and I am greeted by Myeong Hee, who happened to be coming to Seoul separately. I get lunch with her then leave to meet the friend of a friend I've exchanged a few texts and a phone call with.

The friend of a friend is great. He has two visitors aside from me and he's decided to be tour guide. Our first destination is not open, so we wander the crowded streets of seemingly endless Namdaemun Market. Knick-knacks, kitchen ware, pants, shoes, sweaters, slippers, ginseng products, candies, food stands, people, coats, repeat. Post Namdaemun, we wander some more and head to 'Seoul Int'l Photography Festival 2008' which is taking place in the former Seoul Station. Wallpaper crumbles, paint peels, concrete and pipes expose themselves next to crystal chandeliers and chamber ceilings with painted motifs. I love this place.

Hongdae follows, bringing a wild bus ride, a graffiti filled park, an atmospheric hookah lounge, and a (delightful) club (of sorts) that resembles a Dr. Seuss village minus all color aside from red and white. Santas on a bar crawl make their way in and add to the bizarre nature of the moment. Wandering, dancing, people watching, more dancing...we wrap up the night in a club that seems more like an 80's movie than real life. I really wouldn't have been that surprised if Emilio Esteves and Judd Nelson had shown up with Molly Ringwald between them.

Day 88

I part ways with my new acquaintances in the early afternoon, and after a day of not quite aimless wandering of the streets of Seoul, I catch a train home. I arrive, make some soup, and sit down to type.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Day 76

Half of postcards #2 go out in the mail. The other half must wait until I can get a new ink cartridge and more stamps.

Synchronicity in action:

One day I look up "blue people" on the internet a.k.a. "Googled it". My hands are turning blue, is it the cold? I find the Blue Fugates. A strange genetic occurrence in the Appalachian Range results in a family line of blue-skinned people. Huh, who knew?

10 days later, I find out who knew. Writers of an English education book series in search of something interesting enough to hold the attention of a 12 year old for an entire hour.

Day 77

New books and new classes provide a new wall for my students and I to climb.

The Dictionary Quandry:
In looking up a word A, one must occasionally look up words B and C to fully understand the definition of word A.
Change "occasionally" to "almost always" and you may know the problems my students face. When a word like "wrap" is defined by the book as "to roll or fold" even I am confused.

Day 78

A new student joins the golfer and I. He happens to live in the same apartments as I do, and so I have company on the walk home. Fortune smiles!
In other arenas, I attempt to organize a book swap, with tentative results.

Day 79

Mental block for numbers and days of the week in Korean. WHY??? Why does it seem so impossible to memorize and retain numbers and weekdays? I need to tell time, I need to know what day it is, this shouldn't be such an insurmountable task. I fight frustration and struggle to remain the kind of person I'd like to be around. This shouldn't be so difficult. I close the book and stop the lesson early.

Myeong Hee and I turn the discussion to what to do for a weekend away.

Day 80

Friday night:
Popcorn, sweet potato, T.V. on the internet.
then I make a drawing and go to bed. It's nice and quiet.