It’s been a very busy week. I’ve also been holding off on writing a blog as I put together a web site to house them. Sunday, I met SJ outside a large department store. She showed me some stickers that work the same way paper dolls do. You stick clothes on these characters’ bodies. I see my students playing with these all the time. SJ bought a bunch of them for Anastasia. Around 30,000 won worth, which is a lot. We then headed through street after street of outdoor market stalls. She took me even further to the famous Namdaemun Market area. I bought a few items for birthdays I knew were coming up. SJ and I tag teamed on bartering for lower prices. It seemed like everything was sold at the markets. Electronics, toys, t-shirts, designer jeans, bootled DVDs, live squiggly things in bowls. There was a long line at this one food vendor selling something that looked like corndogs. SJ said they were hot dogs made of fish. It also looked like seaweed was wrapped around them before being dunked in a batter and fried. She wanted us to wait in line for one. I insistently turned down the idea. I also saw my first real beondaeggi, boiled silkworm larvae. I’m not going to try them until I get a camera to record the event because by the smell of them, I’m sure that will be the only time I’ll put one in my mouth.
We also witnessed some little performance/parade of Koreans in traditional attire. They carried a closed palanquin and two more behind them, both with children sitting royally. SJ said that the scene was far from historically accurate, since the first one they carried signified it was a prison party, which would make it highly questionable as to why they would be carrying children in the place of “prisoners.” It’s great hanging out with another history fanatic.
SJ and I ate at a small traditional Korean restaurant. She was sniffling from her cold while I hacked a lung from mine. As usual, she ordered something that I wish I had ordered, a steaming bowl of soup filled with dumplings. I had ordered what we would think of as a salad with shellfish in it.
On our way back to the subway, we stopped to listen to a wanna-be Korean pop singer perform the last of his act on the street. He had a serious crowd and a serious group of handlers, so he may have been a bigger act than I originally thought. SJ left on her subway stop, and I went home after a really nice day, and checked out the new stuff I had bought.
The rest of the week has been a blur. I’m getting more used to my schedule and have given up on the idea of it getting easier anytime soon. Some kids are a joy, some kids drive me nuts, some kids just punch me in the nuts. My regular kindergartners that I share with Julie Teacher have become more affectionate to both of us. They regularly come rushing up to me to hug me and latch onto me. There’s one kid in Hera class, Barry, who has gone from being one of my most hated to one of my favorites. His attitude has changed drastically since his first week, and he’s one of the more affectionate ones. I teach his twin sister Sylvia in Vesta class, and she’s one of my best students. Barry comes to school very stylish and sometimes displays a little bling-bling. I thought I suspected a pecking order of girl students based on how close they sat to Barry. Julie confirmed it. The girls are ga-ga over him. And he seems to let the girls who are nicest to him sit closest to him. The smallest and most talkative girl in the class, Crystal, I witnessed getting his crayons for him and other tasks. Dude has it made!
Jeff the Molester (as Brant called him after he went after his nether regions a few times) is still annoying. He never says he ABCs with the rest of the class. He’s a chronic liar. I was correct in detecting that he can’t even read hangeul. And Julie says that even his Korean is so bad, she can’t understand him. During class, one of the girls asked to use the bathroom. As soon as she left, Jeff asked to use the bathroom. When I okay’ed it, he immediately got his trademark devious grin and left. I kept an eye on the bathroom from the classroom. As expected, Jeff was crawling under the stall to take a peek at the girl in there. I quietly sneaked up behind him, grabbed him, and escorted him back to class. He was visibly shaken from being caught.
Report cards for the elementary classes are due this week. My new heavier schedule has never been more evident. I’m filling out more than twice as many report cards than last month. And these are fairly lengthy reports with teachers’ comments at the end. There was one kid I had to hold firm and give straight failing grades and explain that he’s never spoken a word of English in class, even when I told him what to say. Other kids are so good that it’s hard to say something unique this month that was different from last month.
There’s a flu epidemic going through Korea right now, and it looks like River and I were the first to get it. Now that we’re recovering, everyone else is getting hit. Brant was sick Wednesday, so Julie and I went out by ourselves for dinner. She was also dying for a beer night. So we went to this one place that I had seen and read once about on a message board, Yuppie Bar. We ordered a pitcher of this horrible beer that tasted like vinegar had been poured in it. But the pitcher itself had a light on its bottom that switched between blue and red. We ordered a fruit cocktail, and the owner said he put extra fresh fruit in it because I was the first foreigner to visit the bar since he first opened it. I guess he didn’t notice the foreigner that had mentioned it on the message board. The fruit cocktail was so-so. It did have fresh pineapple. That was good. The conversation made up for it. We discussed a lot about our adventures and our philosophies. Turns out she’s seen more of American than I have, or most anyone I’ve known. She went on the ultimate road trip with three other Asians from Seattle to New York, south to New Orleans and up through San Diego and San Francisco. She loved New Orleans most of all because it was so exotic to her. They had also saved money by bringing and cooking their own food. I chuckled at the thought of Koreans driving across Kansas with a trunk full of kimchi. She said that at a hotel in Wyoming, her friends wanted her to make Korean pancake. She burned one of the pancakes, which alerted the owner. The owner let them off the hook if they’d let her have some Korean food. Turned out it was the first Korean food she ever had.
Thursday I got to spend some time with SJ, which lightened my spirits. I’ve also been making po-boys this week. Oysters are so dirt cheap, 500 g for 1500 won. Basically, what’s $1 here would be $8 in the US. I wanted to come up with a roumelade/tartar sauce for all this seafood. Turned out it was easier to get the ingredients than I thought. One of the Korean companies makes a mayonaise infused with pepper and pickle relish, which saves half my work. All I needed was some lemon juice and a sprinkling of Old Bay seasoning, and it was a New Orleans roumelade. Between Christina and myself, we have at least a year’s supply of Old Bay. Man, I’ve been paying for it, eating well, that is. My stomach problems resurfaced when I started eating fried western food again. Well, at least I know where my stomach issues came from originally.
On top of report cards, we’ve had to do the phone tests this week with the kindergartners. We just call them at certain scheduled times and ask them five simple questions. It doesn’t count towards anything. It’s just so that their mommies can hear them speak English. I have been wary of phones since I worked on the receiving in of an 800 number for Sears. But you know, I’ve spent the previous six months calling politicians, authors and celebrities out of the blue to book them on the radio show. So calling a 5-year-old shouldn’t be that nerve wracking. Julie had also taught me some Korean to deal with the possibility that I surprise someone who picks up the phone and doesn’t understand English. The Koreans all laughed when I called one household and stammered, “Um, hello, um..mm… chonun Brighton School Joe Songsaengnim im–imnida. Um, Cindy pakwa chuseyo?”
“Stop laughing at me, guys. I know my accent sucks.”
“It’s not that. You just sound so cute when you speak Korean.”
After work, Brant and I went to get a haircut for $3 USD!! Inside the “Men’s Beauty Salon” were pictures of Korean men in various hairstyles with names of each hairstyle and a number. I looked for the one that was closest to my usual haircut. When I sat in the chair, the lady looked at me expectantly.
She started pointing at the pictures. She pointed to the one of the guy in the trendy haircut.
“Yes, il, i, sam, sa. Sa.”
The male hairstylist pointed at that picture too.
“Yes, four. Sa. Believe me. That’s how I usually get my hair cut. I’m serious.”
And actually, it turned out to be the best haircut I’ve had in a long time. And did I brag that it was only 5,000 won?
Eric is wanting to meet with the foreigners Friday morning so we can air our grievances. It’s not going to be pretty. Especially since I intend on recording on paper everything mentioned at the meeting that he promises to take care of. We have been warned by more than one party that he’s the typical Korean corporate type who makes promises vocally but never follows through on them. So I’m going to type everything he promises at the meeting into a memo that I’ll distribute to anyone that is affected. That way he can’t weasel out of these things. I mean, I’ve gone through almost 1/6 of my contract, and I still have not gotten my health insurance, some of my furniture, and they’re giving us a runaround regarding opening bank accounts. Since I have to have money wired to the States every month, this is a crucial sticking point with me. Everyone seems to hate this guy, and I have heard the Koreans wondering why I am so nice to him. Just to keep him off his guard, guys.
There’s a staff dinner tomorrow, and I’ll only be able to make a short appearance. Christina and Glen have asked me to go out with them that night. Glen just came by while I was typing this. Scared the crap out of me. After mentioning that I looked like I was losing some weight (thank you), he said he had a rack stereo system in his trunk that he found on the street. Still hasn’t found a lamp. I can’t believe it’s so hard to find a simple lamp in this area. I can’t even find a store with one. But I have a sweet stereo now. More entertainment options. And I still don’t have cable! But I’ve been engrossed in the latest Harry Potter book. It’s great. Before that, I read another great book that I highly recommend, River Town by Peter Hessler. It’s an account of his two years teaching in a backwater town in China in the mid-1990s, and it sounds strikingly similar to my stories in Korea. It’s very entertaining.