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FRIDAY
After lunch was the Birthday Party. They do this every month for people having birthdays that month. We filed all the kids into the “gym.” Brant emceed wearing a silk olive-colored traditional Chinese shirt with a dragon onit. He introduced four kids who were having birthdays, and the kids were singing “Happy Birthday” so loud that the adults were covering their ears. Brant then got them to say “Happy Birthday” to me. Next Brant did a farewell to the three departing teachers. For each teacher, he’d get the classes they taught to rush up and hug them. When Ross’s class tackled him, they knocked over a quarter of the birthday banquet. Then Brant has a special surprise for the owner, Mrs. Lee. I heard that they jokingly asked Mrs. Lee what she wanted for her birthday, and she mentioned my name. So Brant had me find her and escort her on my arm to the gym, where the kids wished her Happy Birthday. She seemed ecstatic. I’ve somehow ended up with a handphone (cell phone) that’s in the name of a former teacher. I need to figure out how to recharge the minutes.

The first elementary class I teach in the afternoon is my least favorite. The new kid I named Dante is a big cut-up and was mocking my speaking English. I’m putting him out in the hall the next time he does that. The new girl I named Maria is this tiny little sweetheart who honestly tries to impress me. The one shining diamond in a class of brats.

I gave a speech test to the next class. Tally, my Korean partner for that class, asked me to come up with a test on the spot. I drew fifteen pictures on a piece of paper and took each kid out individually to describe the pictures in sentence form. I was stumped on what to draw for the 15th picture, so I drew a bad version of Tally. The kids all laughed when they saw that I made Tally a test question. The correct answer for it was, “Tally Teacher is beautiful,” but others gave her less flattering adjectives. Nonetheless, they all got perfect scores.

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Two kids didn’t show up for the next class, so I had my beloved Betty and the husky spoiled rich kid, Tom. Tom has a nasty habit of grabbing things from people. Will have to work on that. Anyway, I knew a formal lesson was pointless. So I let Tom draw robots in his notebook while Betty and I had an almost mature conversation about English and Korean. I took out the cheat sheet I bring to restaurants and taught her the English names for a lot of food. I think she learned a lot more English in that class than two weeks of formal lessons. I myself learned more Korean.

My Friday night class only had two students too. We flew through the lessons and talked about traveling. When I felt that they had learned enough for one evening, we talked about cartoons. I wanted to know if they knew the same Japanese cartoons I knew. They tended to know more cartoons produced by Cartoon Network in Atlanta, such as “Ed, Edd, and Eddie” and “Powerpuff Girls.” Surprisingly they had not heard of one of my favorite Cartoon Network shows, “Samurai Jack.” So I took them to the computer room and showed them the web site.

River was too jet-lagged to go out, Ross had a commitment with his friends, Ed was with his family, and Mindy left town as soon as her last class was over. So Brant and I went out by ourselves to welcome the new teachers and to bid farewell to the departing ones. We went to a place called Beer Plus, which was a rip-off of American eateries such as TGI Fridays. We ordered the “Polynesian” fried chicken and potato skins. The chicken was good but not spectacular. The potato skins were accompanied by the two exotic sauces of honey mustard and ketchup. We sat in a window booth on the third floor of one of the buildings, looking down on the plaza. It was enjoyable watching other people eat in other restaurants across the street. A lady came in selling something. One of the young males on the staff put his arms around her and tried to politely escort her out of the restaurant. She didn’t go without a struggle, breaking free from his grasp every now and then to solicit another table.

SATURDAY
First rain I’ve seen here in the two weeks I’ve been in the country. And it’s rained non-stop the whole weekend. We had to do orientation for the new students this morning. Two Korean teachers, Brant and myself were supposed to do two sample classes each, which the parents could watch. I only have two weeks’ teaching experience. Now I’m expected to perform for adults. Brant and I hatched a plan for our classes. We’d center them around the letter “C” and do “C is for Cookie.” We’d give cookies out to the classes and get them to eat their cookies in the shape of a C.

I ran into River on the way to school. She hadn’t had a chance to explore our neighborhood yet, so we started walking around. Brant met us, and we walked to a 7-Eleven to get boxes of cookies.

We all arrived at the school. Everyone was dressed up. It was one of the few times when other people outdressed me. Even worse, I noticed a brown stain on my white shirt. Brant let me borrow one of his Tabasco ties to cover it up.

We made name tags for the kids, and Soo Teach-a gave us our class assignments. We went to our classrooms to prepare for our shows. Yet Mr. Chae had removed all the chairs from all the classrooms. We scrambled to find enough chairs for our rooms. I also had to pillage some of the current students’ boxes so we’d have crayons. Believe me, I am ashamed. Heh. We were then herded into the gym so Mr. Min could introduce us. He must be a good speaker because he kept his audience’s attention and made them laugh frequently. We were introduced. We’d listen in a sea of Korean for our names, step forward. When it sounds like the end of the introduction, bow. Everyone applauds.

Back to the classrooms. Fortunately, I had help from two of the new teachers. One mother was in this class, mostly because her boy was shy. I started the class and went through what I planned to do. I drew my Furbil character on the board holding a cookie. The kids laughed. The adult Koreans are always impressed when I draw. I’m a lousy artist, but I have a basic stock of characters, and I draw them quickly. It came time for me to demonstrate how to turn a cookie into a “C.” The cookie crumbled. The next class, I used my back up cookies, chocolate pies.

Hold on.

The Koreans call them chocolate pies. They’re frikkin’ Moonpies, Bubba.

I had more success that time. I was pumped up and having fun. I heard Brant loudly teaching his kids the “C is for Cookie” song. I ran in his room with my C-shaped moonpie, licked it, stuck it on his board, and ran out. The word I’m hearing is that Brant and I were the highlight of orientation, according to the parents.

After the last class let out, we were brought into one of the classrooms for a really good, really Korean staff lunch. River points out how the biggest thing that has impressed and surprised her so far is the communal eating. None of us have plates. We just pick what we want and slurp it up. It’s like all the table manners we were brought up with were thrown out the window.

Brant mentioned to Mr. Min that we didn’t have pins on our lapels. Mr. Min immediately got some pins. These are pins that represent his company, orange, green and gold butterflies. He pinned on on each of us. So now we are officially representatives of his company.

Our day wasn’t over yet. We had some type of thing for a few returning students. I’m not sure what it was. But we were introduced to a new set of parents. All the foreign teachers filed out and sat in the lobby, sipping coffee. Our jobs were done. Brant showed River and me how to use a PC Bang (internet cafe). River stayed behind, and Brant and I walked around a bit. He then returned to the school to help clean up. I wandered and returned to my apartment for a nap.

I woke up with a jolt of realization. Brant and River were supposed to go to immigration this week and surrender their passports for a few days to get/renew their alien registration cards. I’m getting mine back this week. But we need our passports to go to the DMZ. I called Brant to tell him. We worked out a plan to rearrange the immigration schedules. He invited me over to watch TV but said he couldn’t go out that night. He had landed a date with Trisha Teach-a (going back to the school to clean up, indeed).

After he kicked me out of his apartment for his date, I knocked on River’s door. “Brant stood me up tonight.”

She wanted to join us for dinner, but it looked like it was just the two of us. As soon as we headed out the building, it started raining. After some wandering, I decided to eat at the BBQ chicken place under Habana. Again, that’s some good chicken.

We then went to Habana and sat in my favorite booth next to the pool table. It’s such a relaxing bar. The seats are plush sofas with checker patterns. The cute waitress came by, and I ordered a pitcher. I looked more closely at the menu. This bar has been very nice and patient with us foreigners. So I decided to order some anju (pub grub). I was in the mood for ojingeo (dried squid). I studied the hangeul on the menu and made out two ojingeo items. The waitress was surprised and thought I was making a mistake. A foreigner ordering ojingeo? I had trouble figuring out what the difference was between the two items. She tried to explain it to me in Korean, then she slowly read the hangul to me. I was mispronouncing stuff. “Ojingeo Bu-tah-duh.”

Oh! Buttered ojingeo.

“Ojingeo Al-mo-ne-dah.”

Ojingeo Almond!

Brant says that Koreans are so crazy about ojingeo, they even have peanut butter-flavored ojingeo at movie theaters. I ordered the hot buttered squid. It came out, and actually tasted like buttered popcorn. River tried it and liked it. It came with two sauces: the really good hot sauce and… mayonnaise? So yeah, I had hot buttered dried squid with mayonnaise and hot sauce.

As soon as we left the bar, the bottom fell out of the sky. I walked River home and returned to my place.

SUNDAY
Woke up and started laundry. Brant called to ask if I’d told River we were heading into Seoul today. I had forgotten. I’d only told her that we planned to do something around noon. Brant wanted to be on the subway by noon. Since I didn’t have her phone number, I knocked on River’s door twice and got no answer. Turned out later that she was at the PC bang. I barely got my laundry hung up to dry in time to meet Brant. Another person who was going with us cancelled. We were meeting Brant’s good Korean friend, Yeong Jun, at this mall complex in Seoul proper. It’s not until I take a good study at a subway map that I realize that we do live out in the boonies. Sure doesn’t feel like it.

It took an hour to arrive. We met Yeong Jun outside and headed in. I like him a lot. Like Brant and myself, he’s a former film student, and he dresses the part. We ate at a cool food court with any style Korean vendor you could think of. Even so, water was a bit of a challenge to come by. I got this plate with a pork cutlet, fish fillet, and a whole large prawn, all breaded in Japanese panko bread crumbs and fried. Yes, they fry the shrimp whole. I had to eat the head to get to the rest of it. Yeong Jun got a cool soup made from pork hocks that he brought to the table boiling in an iron bowl.

We were going to go to the bookstore when Yeong Jun asked if we would mind watching a movie. I had heard that even going to a movie in Korea is a different experience. YYeong Jun wanted to see this Korean movie, “Taegukgi,” about the Korean War, that has been breaking Korean box office records. I had seen ads for it all over the place, so I was curious. The trick was to see if they had a showing with English subtitles.

We went downstairs to a flashy crowded theater lobby. It looked almost like a discotheque. I think a radio station was doing a remote promotion from there. Surrounding the booth were men dressed up as soldiers with fake rifles. We were debating whether to see “Taegukgi” or “Lost in Translation.” Yeong Jun went to the ticket counter and returned. Yes, “Taegukgi” had English subtitles at the 5:45 showing. Brant said that was too late. YJ went back to see if there were earlier showings. He came back with three tickets for the 2:45 showing with subtitles, supposedly the last tickets for that showing. Korean movies have assigned seating. He apologized for getting tickets close to the rear of the theater. I said that seats near the rear were the best.

We only had fifteen minutes before the film started, so we rushed to the entrance. When we neared it, we heard this screaming and were swept up by a mob of teenagers. A star was entering the building. I laughed. Korean teens going wild over some Korean pop star I’d never heard of. Nonetheless, it was exhilarating to be caught up in a Beatles-esque mob for the first time. YJ said it looked like it was one of the stars of “Taegukgi.” We headed to the right of the mob, tickets in hand, to enter the theater. The mob shifted to where we were going. Then I heard who they were going nuts over. It was Jackie Chan. Being a tall white guy in Korea, I used this advantage to peer over the heads of the crowd. Sure enough, it was Jackie Chan. He went inside. The three of us muscled our way through the crowd, showed the ushers our tickets, and got inside. We entered at the front of the theater, where Jackie, and entourage, and a crowd of TV cameras were gathered. We made our way up to our seats. It looked like a ceremony was going on. It turns out that the director of the movie was there, and Jackie was his guest. The emcee said some things, and then Jackie took the mic, speaking English and waiting for a lady to translate to the audience. He talked about how Korean film, TV and pop culture is sweeping Asia and told them to keep up the good work. We applauded and cheered.

The lights dimmed, and the entourage moved off the “stage.” YJ asked, “Do you think he’ll watch it here?”

I said, “More than likely there’s a VIP lounge for private viewings.”

The crowd started cheering again. Jackie Chan and everyone were heading towards the back of the theater, followed by the cameras. We then noticed that the row of seats in front of us were empty. We couldn’t believe our luck. Jackie came right to us and shook our hands in front of the cameras. I also shook the hand of the director. To think we almost watched “Lost in Translation” instead. Jackie sat in front of us, two seats to the right. The trailer to his upcoming movie, “Around the World in 80 Days,” showed to applause. Okay, I’ll admit I started the applause. Then the real movie started. It’s a very good movie, and I recommend everyone see it when it makes its way overseas. It’s a character study of two brothers from Seoul drafted into the Korean War and how it changed them and their relationship. It’s also a very graphic portrayal of the war a la “Saving Private Ryan.” Some people actually refer to it as “Saving Private Kim.”

When the lights came up, Jackie was crying. Made me feel better because my face wasn’t dry either. And the cameras caught both of us. Jackie left to the right of the theater. We exited to the left to avoid the mobs.

We were trying to figure out where to go for drinks. We stopped at the bookstore, where I got myself a map of Seoul. Then to the music store, where Brant bought some CDs. As a birthday gift, he bought me the CD of the female Korean pop star who sings this song that is so bad and cheesy it’s good. Chae Yeon.

TGI Fridays was packed. We went one subway stop over to go to this brew pub Brant likes. It was an admirable recreation of a German biergarten. Brant bought us drinks and food, a plate of wurst and fresh Vietnamese spring rolls. He then philosophized that here we are, two Americans in Korea with a “crazy” Korean, drinking Irish beer and eating German sausages and Vietnamese spring rolls. How international.

We parted ways with YJ after a few subway stops and made the long trip back to Ansan. Cute thing we noticed was a little girl with green pigtails running up and down the car.

Oh yeah, we found out the reason Jackie Chan was in Seoul. He was opening a new Hong Kong-style dim sum restaurant outside the mall.

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