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Friday before last the mothers of all the students in my conversation class observed the class. They were very critical of different things, like I was talking too fast and the kids weren’t talking enough. I took it personally for a while, but everyone told me that these mothers do that to every teacher, and there’s no keeping them happy. I got the news this Friday that one of them has pulled her son out of my class. Oh well. If they end up cancelling the class, I definitely would not miss it. It’s hard to get eleven-year-old native English speakers to speak their minds on issues, much less shy eleven-year-old Koreans. And I’d like to have my Friday evenings back.It’s been one of those weeks when a lot is happening, and nothing cooperates with you. I was finishing writing a big blog about going to a park this past week when the computer crashed and erased the whole thing. I don’t feel like writing about it again, so I’ll say I went to a cool park in Beomgye.

We’re also entering some of the kids in some English speech contest. For the first round, I’ve had to write three speeches for the kids. I thought it would be no problem, but it was a challenge to write something that was age appropriate. Also, I was worried about making them long enough, but all I’ve been doing recently is complying with Soo Teacher’s requests to pare the scripts down more and more.

I took a glance at the school photos when the photographer brought the proofs by. I didn’t know I was so large. I mean, looking at the photo…

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IT’S JOE…

and school.

 

Brant’s and my personal photos came in Friday, too. And Eric spent a good hour with Yu Jeong and the other desk guy trying to figure out how to display us prominently. Finally, I ended up on a wall next to the teachers’ entrance and the front desk with the placard “University of Alabama – Joseph Daniel.”

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Never knew I’d be working a job where graduating from Alabama would be a selling point beyond getting a job at ESPN.

After class on Friday, I made the seven-stop subway trip to Beomgye to meet SJ and one of her friends. Her friend was nervous about meeting me since she didn’t speak English. But we all got along fine. I met them at a hof (pub), where they had a steaming iron bowl of some peppery hot soup. I was starving. And I am coming to the conclusions that Koreans, if anything, are masters of soup. I’ve never looked forward to having soup this much (beyond gumbo and X-mas Eve oyster stew). The women had also ordered Japanese yakatori. For the uninitiated, it’s stuff charbroiled on bamboo skewers. And going with everything else in Asian cuisine, it’s all the parts of the chicken that westerners would normally throw away. Yes, you can cook the stuff that’s in the bag that comes inside your chicken! I don’t think I’ve mentioned before that along with the Asian way to chop a fried chicken, fried chicken necks are usually included in fried chicken orders. And they’re actually really good and very tender! So I’m taking some meat off a skewer, and I ask what it is while I pop it in my mouth. SJ’s friend says something. SJ laughs and tries to figure out how to translate it. Turns out it’s a chicken butt. Yep. Definitely chicken butt. Also had some liver that did not taste a bit like liver. Very sweet and tangy. All the more questionable stuff we were served were so thoroughly marinated and basted that you couldn’t tell what they originally were.

So I had a good time with two wonderful Korean women, drinking, eating, having a nice relaxing evening. SJ’s friend left, and we did some noraebang and called it a night. It was very late, and I think I caught one of the last trains home.

The next day, I went with SJ and her son to Korea’s largest amusement park, Everland. The Lonely Planet guide to Korea scoffs at Everland because it’s created by Samsung as a large corporate promotional vehicle.

Yeah, like Disney is a small mom-and-pop operation.

I had a great time there, even though every time I tried to order anything it turned into an international incident. It started with SJ wanting some coffee. For some reason, she prefers vending machines over ordering from live human beings. After searching in vain for a vending machine, I said that I’d just go to the espresso hut and order some lattes. After I paid my money and got my coffee, I started putting sugar in my cup. The girl behind the counter started making some big fit. I took out my wallet, just in case I had to pay for some extra deposit (you have to pay a small deposit for your cup). She shook her head, fed up with me. “What am I doing wrong?”

She pointed to the lids. Oh, whatever. I’ll get a lid. I got one of the lids she pointed at. It was the wrong lid. So I scrambled for one of the other lids. I didn’t want a frikkin’ lid anyway! It’s not like I’m going to be driving with my latte!

We drank the coffee while waiting for five o’clock to roll around. It was four thirty, and tickets were massively discounted after five. To kill time, we went to Everland’s racetrack, where a race was just finishing. We got there in time for the award ceremony. Too bad we missed the race itself.

We entered Everland, and I wanted to look at every nook and cranny. They’re supposedly trying to do this big international theme, like the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT rolled into one. I’m also looking for those unique things–foods, souvenirs, oddities–that make going places so much more interesting. The first ride we went on was a swinging viking ship ride done in the style of Christopher Columbus. While the ride was going, the DJ pumped out some tunes with lyrics that would not be appropriate for a native English speaking crowd. Only SJ and I seemed to catch on that this song everyone was riding to was all about this woman’s obsession with her boyfriend’s big–um, friend.

We then went on Everland’s version of It’s a Small World. It’s interesting to see another country’s take on your country and others you know. All the dolls on the ride were cast from the same one. The only difference was that some had open mouths and others had closed mouths. For the South African section, they just painted them black. Other than that, it was pretty tasteful. I don’t know why they had France twice. And Americans were portrayed as football players. But, you know, it was cute.

Everland is also having this tulip festival. Don’t know the connection between Samsung and tulips, but they had a large, large garden–acres–covered in tulips. The aroma was breathtaking. It was in some section of the part that seemed to have a Greek god Olympus theme. So there were dancing fountains and statues punctuating the tulips. There were large mock windmills, a small train ride, and a long facade of Amsterdam, filled with shops and restaurants. Granted, Amsterdam Original Udong isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Dutch food, but they did try to some authentic western dishes. One grill even boasted having fajitas. And I’ll admit, the facade did make me feel a bit like I was in Amsterdam, minus the smell of urine, beer, and pot.

SJ’s son wanted to go to the safari section of the park for this famous safari ride. But the wait was ninety minutes. So we stood in line for this Amazon ride. I realized after a while in this line that this was a whitewater rafting ride. It was not really the warmest of days to go on a water ride. So I was nervous. I was trying to see how drenched people were returning from the ride. The line didn’t take long. We walked through a mocked up jungle trail with birds in cages. I had to do a double take because Mom’s bird Mango was in one of the cages. And I could swear her other bird Kenny was in another one. After we went through the painstakingly detailed jungle scene, we get to the loading dock where they’re pumping out Korean techno music with the dancing attendants in safari gear. It didn’t take long to get to our boat. These boats were designed differently than other whitewater rafting rides I’ve been on. In other parks, the boats are round solid doughnuts. This one was individual seats attached to each other in a circle, so that each seat did its own rocking and rolling independently from everyone else. Cool concept. The coolest concept was that the seats came with their own plastic blankets to keep the water off of you. Just think of the plastic shields people put up to protect themselves at Gallagher shows. So I didn’t get too wet on this ride, thankfully. One poor rider in sweater and glasses got drenched, though. Lucky for him, the ride has another courtesy: heaters and fans to dry yourself off at the end of the ride.

The sun started going down, and we headed back to Amsterdam for dinner. SJ’s son got a hot dog. SJ wanted some Korean/Japanese food. I wanted something western. I found a grill where all they served was BBQ’ed chicken and sausage. I looked at the menu and read the Korean. It was simple. Chicken and sausage. So I went up to the grill. “Sausage hana hago chicken hana hago juseyo.”

He looked at me like there was no way he could understand what I said. So I pointed at the chicken.

“Hana!”

I pointed at the sausage.

“Hana!”

At least the cashier understood me because she rang up the correct price. The sausage struck me odd because they skewered it with a pork rib. But I was happy that they had real tart yellow mustard at the stand. No sweetened honey mustard. I went to the next booth and ordered some Dutch dark draft beer. That order went without a hitch. I sat down with SJ and her son, and we ate while this great fiddle player performed. On the other side, the park was getting lit up. It’s a sight to see because the park is built on the side of a mountain, and we were at the bottom where we ate.

After dinner, we caught their version of an electric light parade near a Greek god-themed fountain/temple. I noticed that the performers were mainly Russian. The parade was an ocean theme with neon fish on roller skates and more pumping techno music.

After the parade, we headed up to the ferris wheel. I said that the view had to be great at night from there. And it sure was. SJ’s son got a lot of photos from the ferris wheel.

I also noticed that the Everland staff had a unique hand wave. I thought it was a Korean thing, but I was informed it was more of an Everland thing, considering how people were mocking the staff. SJ described it perfectly. The staff looks like they are rattling a tambourine when they wave.

We rode a few more thrill rides. Mexican churros were very popular at the theme park, and I wanted some dessert. So I thought, hmm, churros and hot chocolate. That would be a good Mexican style dessert for us. So I went to a churros stand where all they served were churros, coffee, and cocoa. I was still shaken from my other ordering incidents. The churros were no problem. Then I said, “Cocoa hana juseyo.”

“Coco? Coca Cola?”

“No! Cocoa!”

He looked at his own menu. I pointed to it. I noticed that the hangul pronounced it differently.

“See? There! Cocoa. I mean, Coco-ah!”

geez…

So SJ and her son got introduced to churros and cocoa while watching fireworks over the park.

SJ’s son spent some coins at one of the arcades while we went on one of those traditional county fair throw up rides. We then met him at the arcade, where he and I rode one of those spaceship simulators.

It was a very, very good evening. The ride back was even good. SJ’s son and I found that we both loved playing StarCraft. So we’re all talking about Zerglings and Protoss Phantoms when SJ says that we’re definitely speaking a language she doesn’t understand.

Sunday was another quiet day. I got to actually sleep in Sunday. It wasn’t because I had a free schedule. No. Saturday I took some hooks and a blanket, and I rigged a curtain on my porch window so that the sun wouldn’t wake me up at six in the morning like it had been doing every day the past two weeks. I did my laundry. I was hungry and was trying to think of something to make when I came across a bottle of Thai spring roll sauce in my cabinet. Yeah, I’ll make egg rolls! Found all the ingredients I wanted at my local ajossi mart, but no egg roll wrappers. They only had the small ones for dumplings. Oh well. I’ll make fried dumplings instead. And they turned out great. Stuffed with mushrooms, cabbage, spring onions, pork, an improvised Chinese five spice. It was a good day to veg out in front of the TV and watch StarCraft tournaments.

I got my gas bill in the mail. It’s fairly hefty compared to my other bills. Around 30,000 won. But still cheap compared to what I paid in New York and Georgia. And besides, that’s the bill for my cooking, all my heating and hot water for almost three months.

Monday was mostly blecchhh. Rainy day. I love rainy days, but mostly if I’m home or at a nice restaurant listening to the rain. We had a longer than usual meeting because Eric the Red is still trying to work out when to have monthly workshops. Every time we all agree on a day and time, he makes it more complicated. Also, I had thrown the request to him Friday to see if any of the school supply catalogues he had carried a little geology rock collection set. I wanted to show the kids how to identify rocks. But I wanted it in kit form, with all the stuff you used to test the rocks and the answers to what the rocks actually were. I needed the answers, since, even though I do find geology fascinating, I failed it twice in college. So Monday, Eric shows up with a big pile of rocks he personally collected and washed. I have little idea what kind of rocks they are, but I thanked him nonetheless.

Little Crystal, Korean name Kim Ji A, got sick around lunch time. A little feverish. Julie and I put her on a couch in Mrs. Lee’s office. I tucked her in and turned out the light. Mrs. Lee wasn’t at school. Julie pointed out that she was touched by how I was with Ji A. When I got a break during class (in other words, when everyone was coloring), I checked on Ji A. She wasn’t in the room. I found her out at the front desk looking bad. She was sitting behind the desk with her head lying on the towel. She was watching the closed circuit TVs, which were reactivated today. I sat down next to her, and she cuddled up against me and wouldn’t let go. I had to get back to class, so I gently sat her back down and went back. After another break, I went out and saw her out wandering, trying to find me. I picked her up and took her back to the teacher’s room. Trisha took her off my hands for a while so I could finish class. The next class was the one she belonged to, and she showed up in the classroom again, still looking horrible. So I made the decision to take the class to the playroom. That way I could watch the children and still hold Ji A at the same time. Brant had his class there too. And while I rocked Ji A to sleep, we discussed how disappointed we were that West Side Story tunes weren’t readily available at noraebangs. Yes, we’re both straight too.

I stayed with little Ji A until she got onto her bus to go home. During all this crap I have been going through and the heartbreak of being away from my kids, I do enjoy those moments of being able to play surrogate father to my students.

My elementary classes are getting easier because most all of them are being put on this series of books, “Hip Hip Hooray,” which are a breeze to teach. They come with a tape, and the lessons are structured so that they perfectly fit into a forty-minute class. And the kids actually learn English! All I have to do is basically play a tape and review with them.

I made myself socialize after work. Lately I’ve been going monastic and have been locking myself up in my apartment after work. Julie and I went out for kalbi tang, beef rib stew. Again, great comfort food, especially for a rainy day. It tastes like something from Beba’s kitchen. Also, you know, there are those times where it’s a disadvantage to be a foreigner, like those incidents at Everland. But there are advantages. After dinner, the restaurant treated us to complimentary traditional Korean tea. The tea was iced and seasoned with ginger and cinnamon. It was like gingerbread iced tea. Yummy! Julie did point out that complimentary tea is not normally served. But she had also told the ajumma about how much the foreigner loved the kalbi tang (which I did), so she said that must have had something to do with it.

River is in the process of taking the leap of getting a Korean drivers license. I may follow in her footsteps. It wouldn’t hurt to have one, you know, in case I have to drive a drunk friend home or something.

 

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