Where was I? Oh yeah, the rest of Tuesday.
I have to write these things down as they happen, or I’ll forget things. I know there were a lot of little things to blog about, but it’s all a blur. When I returned from immigration, I observed some more classes.
I’ve quickly become friends with Brant Teacher, who is the only foreigner renewing his contract. The rest have either gotten jobs at home or have found that they can’t cut it in Korea. Brant invited me out to one of his favorite little restaurants for some good cheap Korean food. This was the type of food I could eat on a daily basis. We mostly had mandu (steamed meat-stuffed dumplings) and tuna kimbap, which is like a sushi roll but filled with meat, sweet pickled radishes, rice, and some sauce that I suspect is mayonnaise. Sounds gross, but the kimbap tasted just like tuna salad.
We then strolled a long way, like two subway stops distance, looking at all the buzz and commotion on the streets. Lights, lights, neon, everywhere. I was exhausted when I returned to my apartment.
Wednesday was my first day of classes. Nervous as heck. My first class was in the Venus classroom. All the classrooms are named after Roman and Greek gods. It’s funny because one of them is named after Bacchus, who I think is the god of wine and partying. Everyone told me to not be so stressed out. Just have fun with the kids. I had brought some pictures with me that I planned to have posted around my desk. Some of the teachers were interested in them. Ross, the British teacher, looked at a picture of Mom and asked if she was my ex-wife. HEE! I thought I’d use them to break the ice and use them as teaching tools.
The first class, I took out a picture of Dante, Ana and Zen dressed up for Halloween. Zen was dressed as the Hulk. The Korean kids grabbed the picture, “Hulk-a! Hulk-a!” Here’s what this session generally sounded like:
“Here is a rocket. Who’s standing under the rocket? Dante!
Dante is in front of… what are these? Mountains! Colorado mountains in America. Are there mountains in Korea? There are lots of mountains in Korea.
Here is my grandmother, grandfather, brother, sister, baby sister.
Here is Dante. What is he doing? He’s throwing a snowball.
Here is Dante and Ana. What is Ana wearing? A dress? What color is Ana’s dress? White!
What is Dante holding? Dante’s holding a frog! (Always grossed out the classes. Some of them thought he was eating the frog.)
(Next, picture of me dressed as a Klingon)
Here is Joe Teacher when he gets angry. Don’t get Joe Teacher angry.
Here is Joe Teacher’s mommy and baby Ana.
Who is this? Santa! What color is Ana’s coat? Red!
This is Christmas. What is Dante holding? A hat! How does Dante look? Happy? Yes! How does Ana look? Angry!
Here is Zen. What is Zen eating? Candy! What is Zen’s hair like? It’s curly!
Here is my stepfather. Brian. What is on Brian’s face? (They’re always stumped on this one.) A beard.
Here is Dante. What is he standing in front of? Cows!
And so on…
I have two classes with these three super smart girls that are just adorable. I’d love for them to become pen pals with Ana. They loved pictures of her. I was impressed at how quickly they learned. In forty minutes, I taught them from barely being able to read the clock to being able to tell when it’s 8:53. Also played a game with them where they jumped up and down and counted how many jumps they could do in one minute. Guaranteed way to get rid of some of that energy.
I’ve also been using a big stash of Mardi Gras beads I brought with me as a reward system. They have become a big hit. The thing is, I tried to teach them about Mardi Gras, or at least that you catch beads as they’re thrown off a float. I found out later that it’s considered rude in Korea to throw things to people. That explained why they insisted on me handing them the beads.
The smart girls in Bacchus class go through the lesson so quickly, that I use the extra time to get them to teach me Korean and help me write hangul. They sing this cute Korean song over and over again. And yesterday, their chant while marching in a circle was, “One more neck-a-lace, one more neck-a-lace!”
So after all the classes, Brant took me out Han’s Fast Food for my first try at bipbimbap. It’s rice with vegetables, kimchi, meat, egg, and some soybean paste served sizzling in an iron bowl. You’re supposed to stir it up and eat it with a spoon. It was okay. Not as tasty as mandu and kimbap, IMHO. Again, I had more food than I could eat for less than $3. One of the ladies at the restaurant came by to correct me on my chopstick technique. She said it would raise my IQ. The technique she showed me sounded logical, but it cramped my hand, which was used to doing it my way for the past thirteen years.
Brant and I headed off in a direction I had not gone yet, to another little busy neighborhood center. When Korean men go out, they have a tendency to show off macho behavior, and the games on the street cater to this. There’s a machine with a soccer ball on it, and you pay it to see how hard you can kick the ball. They whack the heck out of those things so hard, it sounds like gunfire. We also saw a challenge that I hear is pretty new. They take these arched plastic boards that come in two pieces but slide together in the middle. You pay money, I guess, based on how many boards they stack up. When the carnie is done stacking up all these boards, he places a towel on top. The customer then punches down on the boards to see how many he can break. I have to get a video of this.
I also saw my first Dance Dance Revolution video game, where you dance on these pads according to the directions on the screen to this pumped up techno music. I also so personalized noraebang booths, or rather, solo karaoke. Yes, solo karaoke. You sing karaoke to yourself and record it.
The area we were walking in was getting to be known for its recent outspring of foreign restaurants. There was a new Outback Steakhouse there. Turned a corner to see why all these Koreans were lining up. It was a Popeye’s Fried Chicken. I was impressed. So I know where the closest Popeye’s is. And the food is not quite as expensive as it is in the states, even though it’s expensive for a Korean fast food restaurant. Still, “Bu-ta-mil-ka Bi-si-cit-sa” for 50 cents each? What a bargain! Good thing I can read hangul. They also have a shrimp po-boy. Watching Koreans line up for shrimp po-boys and red beans and rice is pretty funny to me.
We only saw two groups of foreigners the whole night. One of the groups spoke German. They passed before I could say anything to them. But the other group greeted us. I’m not the only person to make this observation. The way foreigners greet each other on the street, even if they’re strangers, is similar to how black people tend to notice other brothers and buddy up to them. I mean, hey, we are living in a country that makes no apologies about its racism. One of the teachers declined going out with us the other night because she didn’t want to be in public with that many foreigners. She said that.
I know I talk a lot about food, but that’s the stuff I notice most acutely. Everywhere there are tents selling fried foods, hot dogs on sticks, anything that would be good at a county fair. From what I gather, they’re also very cheap. I saw signs that said “1,000 won.” That’s less than a dollar! I’d like to get comfortable enough to get the courage to try out some of this food. I know what you’re saying. “Joe, just go order something, pay your money, and go.” True. But I can’t really go. It’s considered rude to walk down the street and eat. So if I order something in one of these tents, I have to remain in the tent while I eat. I already have noticed the fearful look the old Koreans in the tent get when they think a foreigner is about to approach them. But I know that eating in these tents will be a regular thing for me to do in the near future.
We rode the subway back, and it wasn’t that hard to use. I just need to be more familiar with the map.
I’m starting to come up with a cool peaceful morning routine. When I wake up in the morning, I pump the heat up really high. The heating system in Korea consists of hot water being run through pipes under the floor like a radiator. I make my coffee, and I sit on a mat on the toasty warm floor getting my thoughts together for the day. The shower is not as hard to get used to. In fact, I think it’s even better than our system. There is no separate shower stall in my apartment. It’s a removable shower head attached to my sink faucet. It’s great because I can shave using a mirror in the shower, and I don’t have to step out into the cold to dry off. The killer thing about it is that cleaning the bathroom is just a matter of hosing it down with the shower head.
Today classes were easier. I was more prepared and relaxed. I took over two of Ross’s classes this morning, since he was helping out on a field trip. One of the boys in there has glasses. His English name is Harry… Harry Pottah. They said Joe Teacher was Voldemort. Heh.
Lunch today was ironically bipbimbap. It looked more like fried rice than what I had last night, and it tasted almost exactly like cajun dirty rice. The kids did something that startled me. They all ate ketchup on their rice.
I came here for some culture shock, and I got electrocuted.
Anyway, Brant’s gonna introduce me to Korean fried chicken tonight. And this time we’re having beer with our dinner, unlike the other two nights.