Wednesday, October 25, 2006

odds and ends

Volleyball today was a total banner day. Somehow I may have magically learned the proper way to play volleyball. The best part was how well the principal and teachers all responded to my new skillz--cheering for me, slapping my hands, and telling me to "cheer up" (random archery dude told them "cheer up" is the translation of a Korean rallying cry--the Korean 加油). It seems that doing well at volleyball can do more for my relationship with the school than anything I accomplish in the's a little depressing, but whatev. I hope I keep improving.

My host mom, in what I believe was an attempt to give me more space, moved Kiyeong and his desk out of my room and the piano in (the piano is not a real piano and is only about four inches wide, so it takes up much less space). While it is nice not to have the side of my rock mat curled up against the desk, the piano is a good deal more disruptive to my evenings than studying Kiyeong (and even not-studying Kiyeong). In addition to her rigorous origami and coloring studies, my host mom practices the piano every night, usually around 11. The best part is that so far she's only ever practiced 2 songs. Sometimes she tries to be considerate and plays with headphones...but even though I can't hear the piano music, the pounding of the keys is really distracting. Worst of all, she always sings or hums along with her playing...I don't know if it's deliberate or not, but I do know that it's awful.

We are currently in the middle of the rice harvest. The rice paddies and fields are now a patchwork of golden ripe plants, stubby brown emptiness, and dark green new growth. On the sidewalks, the sides of the roads, and next to the library the drying rice lies on looong black cloth rectangles, raked out in even ridges like Zen gardens. It's really pretty...I wish my camera lens would come so I could take pictures.

It's nearly 8:30 and we haven't had dinner yet. The boys are complaining of hunger and squirming in their chairs as they "study" but my host mom hasn't acknowledged them yet. She has been on the phone for nearly two hours, animatedly talking about an origami book she is shuffling through. This sort of thing happens sometimes...instead of the usual 3 full dinner-like meals at 5:30, 8, and 10, we just get one meal at nine. I don't understand why there's no middle ground between these two situations, but I guess I should just be grateful that overfeeding is more common than deprivation.

I've started running! It actually feels really, really good. The weather is starting to get cold and everything smells like fall, two things that I love. Mostly it's just nice to be by myself for a little while, doing something simple, familiar, and languageless. It kind of freaks my host family out, since I actually run to and from the track in addition to around it--apparently an exercise innovation in Gongju, I go by myself, I'm gone for a while, and I get (gasp!) sweaty and red-faced. In a few weeks there is going to be a marathon, 10k, 5k extravaganza in Gongju and Lauren and I are going to try to participate (in the 5k obv. At 10 minute pace. I would still rather die than race an actual 5k).

Last night my host dad, Kiyeong, and I successfully put together our family's new vacuum cleaner. This might not read as very exciting, but believe me, the three of us had a great time. Kiyeong's role was mainly pouring water on everything (it's some sort of steam combo vacuum cleaner) and playing in the box it came in, while my host dad and I worked to reconcile the Korean instructions with the English buttons on the actual machine (many appliances here have English buttons, even ones made by Korean companies...I don't know). I don't know why it was funny, but for some reason all three of us were laughing uncontrollably the whole time. This made my host mom really happy (she is a nice lady, I have to keep that more firmly in mind when she's making fun of me) and to celebrate she brought out this berry-flavored jewel-like liquor that tasted like jam and probably had very little alcohol in it, and we drank shots of it and watched baseball together until bed (the boys drank shots of tomato juice. The tomato juice here is very sweet, a phenomenon I find kind of unnerving).

I'm thinking of trying to find a language exchange partner at the nearby college. I really want to learn Korean and I REALLY want to meet some Koreans my own age. Problems with this plan include my lack of a printer, free time, and the nerve to try and force someone to be friends with me.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Thursday night, two of my favorite teachers (one fifth grade and one kindergarten) in the school took me out to dinner with their kids (the two first graders I tutor, Park Jin Woo and Jeon Ju Ah and the younger sister of each--so 4 kids total, sorry if that sentence is confusing). We went to Pizza Hut and ate tons of wonderful cheese on pizza and on spaghetti. It was really nice to get to talk to them--the fifth grade teacher speaks English fairly well and she could help the kindergarten teacher and me communicate--and realize that my co-teacher's not-so-great-ness does not extend to the entire school. Even though Sohn Hui Jin (co-teacher) speaks English much better than the two of them, I can't talk to her as easily because she doesn't try all that hard to understand me or make herself understood. If something is difficult to convey, she'll just give up rather than embarrass herself or go to a lot of trouble. With these two teachers, sometimes our attempts at each other's language made us all laugh, but we always ended up understanding one another. They had tons of questions and we talked about me, America, Korea, teaching, current events, their kids, and school gossip--I really felt connected with them, something I'd previously really only felt with my students, non-mom host family members, and non-Koreans.

Even though we had been at Pizza Hut for hours, neither teacher was ready for "ending." Instead, we went to a traditional tea house and drank hot, thick, sludgy sweet tea with pine nuts and shavings of something floating in it. It was mostly good but a little weird. They also ordered me an orange milkshake (try not to be fooled by the term 'milkshake,' as there was definitely no dairy involved) because they were worried I might hate the strange tea. The tea house was a pretty little building made and furnished with fragrant wood, with dim yellow-y lighting from paper lanterns. The doors were sliding screens of painted paper and the whole thing was full of traditional pottery and other tea implements for sale. It was very picturesquely Asian and romantique. Jin Woo was kind of tired by the time we got there and felt left out by the girls (he's the only guy of the 4), so I spent most of the time there playing with him. He's this cute little guy with glasses who looks like the perfect nerdy model student...although in actuality he HATES having to have English tutoring 3 times a week. I discovered that despite his disdain for the alphabet, Jin Woo absolutely loves to make lists of numbers. He wrote number after number in a random notebook someone had left in the tea house, squealing with glee whenever we got to a new decimal place. It made him really happy that I, an adult, was willing to watch him write his numbers and seemed as excited about it as he was...after a few pages he had cuddled up against me and would catch his breath and anxiously look up at me for a reaction before writing each new decimal place, and then giggle and squirm when I obliged. I wonder if this will have any affect on tutoring next week.

Monday, October 23, 2006

this is weird, right?

Sometimes my host mom does my host bro's homework for him. I am not exactly sure how I feel about's not like Kibeom is slacking off or anything, it's just that his mom makes him study so much that he actually, physically does not have time to do his real homework. This evening though, things got a little flipped around...

I got home from school to find Kibeom sitting on the floor (obv) of the living room, drawing a picture of a mouse from a children's book. I asked him if it was his homework, but he responded "no, Mom." Thinking that he couldn't possibly be doing his mom's homework--sure she does more origami than is strictly necessary or desirable, but picture book rodent drawing?--I got pretty confused...but sure enough, my host mom popped out of the bathroom, grabbed my upper thigh with a shove and a big laugh, and told me, "Homework! College-y! Homework!" until I responded with proper enthusiasm. Apparently, she is in another "college" class, totally separate from the origami one(s), with "homework" that involves drawing small animals. Then, Kibeom had to go to taekwondo and I somehow ended up being responsible for the artwork. I drew a mouse and a squirrel, and then my host mom got really excited and cut out all the pictures. Some she colored in (poorly) with thick, waxy, colored pencils--a brown squirrel and a black mouse with an orange tail, and the rest (including my two) she is saving to color in during class tomorrow. Seriously...she is going to COLOR bad rodent pictures--that she didn't even draw!--in her college class tomorrow. What kind of adult does that? And what kind of adult makes her elementary school-aged son and then her foreign exchange guest do most of the actual work for her?

I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

i got 99 problems, but...

Yay birthday! In Korea I am now officially...still 24. According to the Korean system, everyone's age changes together at Lunar New Year, so my birthday doesn't mean all that much. Also, under the Korean system (which technically, I suppose, I should be calling the Chinese or maybe the East Asian system, since the Koreans weren't the ones who came up with it) when you are born you are immediately considered 1. As I was born late in the year, I turned 2 when I was only a few months old...thus my current advanced age (I've been 24 since arriving here in July).

My domestic birthday loot so far: a pair of shiny, fire engine red high heeled shoes from some of the teachers at my school, a little clay bear from my 4th grade posse, a lotion/body wash gift set and a really expensive cake from my host fam, non-thigh high nylons from Mama Susie, yet another charm for my cell phone, a Milk Project eraser and pencil, a cunnin' notebook, a ring, a teddy bear, and lots of candy, snack foods, and pens and pencils from my kids.

To celebrate my birthday, I met up with a pretty big group of ETA friends (James, Mama Susie, Jenn, Steve, David Kim, Jill, Anurag, Eric, Irene) on Friday night to see Jay-Z in Seoul. Yes, you read that correctly. I got to wear my new red shoes and see a ton of foreigners. The concert was really, really great...even though I wouldn't exactly call myself a Jay-Z fan, I think his music is fun and dance-able and concerts are pretty much always g times. Plus, it was a Jay-Z concert in Korea. I mean, come on. Afterwards we went out on the town to eat, dance, and noraebang. We spent the night (or rather, the middle section of the morning) in a bath house, where a nice old Korean lady washed my back for me and I got a massage in a crazy massage chair. Then Susie and I got delicious, delicious burritos (with real cheese and sour cream and guac and oh heaven) for lunch and I popped on a bus back to Gongju to have a little birthday party with my host family.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"ni shi wo de pengyou"

I have a new friend! While walking into school this morning, I saw a teacher-looking lady I didn't recognize, but insa-ed her anyway just to be safe. She looked pretty confused and asked me something in Korean. I gave her my now expert apologetic look of incomprehension, and we were kind of at a stand-off until I figured out that she's a Chinese teacher. We spoke Chinese for a while, and I gave her my phone number and it was all really nice. She is 28, a Chinese woman married to a Korean dude, and she doesn't really know anyone in Korea besides her husband. I told her that I really only know little kids and middle-aged people (I don't count my young co-teacher because I don't think I have much of a chance of becoming her friend), and agreed to make friends with her. She seemed wicked excited to talk to me and wants to take me out to dinner tonight. I think we're going to be besties.

There is a student in one of my third grade classes, a skinny little guy who always jumps out of his seat and screams whatever he wants to tell me, who can't quite get the distinction between "b" and "p." Right now we are working on animals, and today in class he kept pointing at the bear and yelling excitedly, "IT'S A PEAR! IT'S A PEAR!" and I had the hardest time not giggling uncontrollably. Then in one of my 5th grade classes, there is a round little guy with glasses who greets me every single class with a big "Hello everybody! Welcome to Korea!" Teaching is wonderful.

Yesterday I went to HDS (Heavenly Dream School), and had to teach the beginner class instead of the usual intermediate one (Korean-speaking Sara normally teaches the beginners, but she couldn't go yesterday). I didn't find out about this until I had already arrived in Cheonan, so I didn't have any sort of lesson plan or ideas for a lesson. This was kind of bad from a teaching standpoint because the kids don't really know any English, so I couldn't figure out what they had been doing in previous classes or what to do with them. From a non-teaching standpoint, the class was really great, because we just spent most of the time with a map of Korea, with them telling me in Korean/English about where in North Korea they are from and how they got from North Korea to South Korea.

Lately in the mornings when I'm getting dressed, I've been noticing that my shoulders and back are pretty sore. I always wonder why for just a minute and then realize...oh yeah, I sleep on rocks.

Monday, October 16, 2006

mulgogi night

Eating baby octopi whole really makes me miss vegetarianism.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

princess and the pea?

My host mom put some sort of rock-plated mat down on top of my yo for me to sleep reminds me of chain mail, except with flat, sand dollar sized stones (I think they are jade...or possibly fake jade) instead of the chain links. When she did it, she definitely acted like I should be getting excited about it. I've been sitting on it for almost an hour now, and it is definitely NOT COMFORTABLE.

An online search has informed me that my "jade health mattress" has the following qualities:

It can make the five viscera and the six entrails (of gall bladder, stomach, small and large intestines, the paunch, the bladder and the bowels) strong. By pushing out body waste material, having good treatment effect against high blood pressure, diabetes,
circulating system troubles, heat disease, women disease, osteoporosis, women’s disease etc.

I'm very happy to no longer have to live in fear of hysteria, and even happier to know I will soon have a strong paunch.

*update: last night my host mom brought a large box covered in dials into my room. This she attached to both my jade mattress and the electrical outlet so that I got to sleep on rocks that were emanating heat instead of just plain old rocks like the night before.

trip [within] the land of morning calm

For our first Fulbright conference, 63 brand new ETAs, 10 mid-grant year elementary ETAs, 7 extendees, and the Fulbright office gathered in the city of Gyeongju. Over three days, we had large group presentations on homestays, teaching strategies, and school relationships, a lecture from the State Department's Something-Something Language Fellow, a lecture from the embassy, and lots of small group discussions on various topics (lesson planning, classroom management, coteacher relationships, etc). I got some really good ideas that I'm excited to try out on my kids and really liked listening to other ETAs talk about their experiences. We are all in such different situations, and everyone is full of crazy and interesting stories. Gyeongju was the capital of Korea's Silla dynasty, and overflows with famous sites, so we also did some very hectic sightseeing, packing 7 or 8 of Gyeongju's most famous sites into one day. This was exhausting but we got to see some really beautiful and impressive stuff. My favorites were Bulguksa, a Buddhist temple (obvi), and a traditional Silla dynasty pottery demonstration.

It was so exciting and wonderful to be with all the ETAs again and to get to speak English freely that we all just chattered endlessly to one another, staying up really late every night of the conference even though we had to get up early in the mornings.

We also ate lots of brownies and triscuits and cheese.

Friday, October 13, 2006

trip to the motherland

Before I write about my trip to China, I have to write about my plane ride over there. Even though it was just under 2 hours long, it was like a vacation all on its own. I had been planning on sleeping the whole time, since I had spent the night in the airport and hadn't really gotten any sleep at all. However, when I went to board the plane, the lady who took my boarding pass crossed out my seating assignment and told me "seat change." I was disappointed, since my old seating assignment had been a window seat...I didn't realize until I got on the plane that my new assignment of 1J meant I had been bumped up to FIRST CLASS (and I still had a window seat)! Ever since my family's first trip to Florida when I was in elementary or middle school I have dreamed of flying first class (I saw a flight attendants bringing the first class passengers some kind of chocolate mousse or pudding dessert thing). This flight definitely lived up to my expectations. I sat in a ridiculously comfortable chair that could lie all the way down and ate a four course meal on really pretty china and a silklike tablecloth that I ordered from a menu. In the seat behind me was a Korean dude wearing huge Olsen twin sunglasses and a ruffly black trenchcoat who all the flight attendants came fluttering up to for autographs, and next to me was a very serious government man in a suit who spent the whole flight reading 50 newspapers. It was so exciting...I didn't want to sleep at all and miss any of it, despite the comfort of my bed-chair.
The trip to China itself was so wonderful. Unfortunately, we didn't take very many pictures...although the Chinese kids on the right got plenty of shots of us. We did, however, eat really well...indulging, of course, in American favorites like TGI Friday's, lots of cheese, and delicious, delicious pizza and good beer from the [Hidden] Tree (they changed the name from the Hidden Tree to the Tree since 2004, but I am choosing not to acknowledge the switch since the Hidden Tree is a way cooler name). We also made the old Wesleyan classic of pasta, basil, grape tomatoes, and feta and went to a really nice Malaysian restaurant with pretty wood and lighting and amazing food. My two favorite things there were an appetizer of mango rolls and this cactus-like vegetable (they called it four-sided bean) in a cashew sauce. Sooooo good. One afternoon, we got nostalgic with old, cheap Chinese favorites that formed the basis of our study abroad diet (before the advent of Hangzhou and the hanguo fanguanr) like scrambled-eggs-and-tomato, gongpao chicken, and dumplings. On one of the first nights, Will and I went out to dinner with his old language partners. It was so nice to see them and to get to have whole conversations in Chinese and realize that I could actually keep up and participate (thanks to Korean, my Chinese has gotten a lot worse...Will is finally better at it than I am--a fact that he delighted in rubbing in at every possible opportunity). They are so cute and patient, and since I learned a lot of my Chinese from them, their Chinese always seems perfectly clear and easier to understand than that of anyone else. We ate old Beijing noodles, or zhajiangmian, which any ETAs reading this will recognize as the omnipresent noodles with black sauce that, along with fried dumplings and sweet and sour pork, epitomizes Chinese cuisine here in Korea. I had kind of forgotten what the non-Koreanized, non-fast-foody version tasted like, and it made a nice connection for me between my life in Korea and my visit to China.
There were also highlights of the trip unrelated to food. We rode bicycles (I got to ride a Flying Pigeon, which made me happy) all over the city, which, although extremely dangerous, was wicked fun. I loved getting to see the city--since it was the Mid-autumn Festival, all the streets and sidewalks were awash with bright red paper lanterns, big and little--and all the people moving around, especially in the twisty hutong (neighborhoods of narrow alleyways formed by traditional courtyard houses that Beijing is famous for), and I loved getting to see/meet things and people I've been hearing in stories from Will, like the Chinese flower-delivering clown Kate is dating and the prostitutes they live next to. Most of all it was just really great to hang out, talk, and relax for a little while.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Every day I have to dress like a grown-up for school. I have a number of sweet little schoolteacher outfits and a few more formal suitlike things for fancy Big Teacher Events, and I kind of love getting to play dress up every morning. The only downside to this is the dang nylons I have to wear every day. I hate them...they are hot and uncomfortable, and it seems like every time I move I somehow create a giant run. The worst thing about them is that it turns out that in Korea, or at least in Gongju, they only sell the thigh high kind. Thigh highs! They are so disgusting and awful. Also, thigh highs mean that all day long I have to find furtive ways to curtail their relentless slide down to my ankles without anyone witnessing the American teacher hiking up her nylons (my legs are not at all built to Korean specifications). Some days (like today) one leg will randomly decide to roll up on itself. It always waits until after I've walked all the way to school and past the point of no return, and then suddenly the nylon rolls itself to just under my knee like lightning. Once it has done this, there is nothing I can do to modify its behavior, it will instantly roll again the moment I've managed to hitch it back up. Haaate.

At school, we have upped our weekly volleyball extravaganzas to twice weekly. This means that in addition to the 3 hours of volleyball I play on Wednesdays, I have 2-3 more every Tuesday in addition to 6 classes. According to my coteacher, the reason for the added session is that "the weather it's so fine." Since we play volleyball indoors with the windows shut, I'm not exactly sure what the weather has to with anything, but whatever. Volleyball is pretty hilarious and mainly fun...I just wish it was still once a week.

I have a cold, thanks to Kiyeong and communal eating. It makes me grumpy and more easily irritated by my host mom (she spent an hour this evening photographing one of her origami masterpieces in the living room, and for some reason I had to come and stand next to her to be grabbed onto and laughed at).

Also, I am now certain that my host mom is using my towel.

Monday, October 09, 2006

not dead yet

I'm very sorry for the lack of posts...this past week I was at a Fulbright conference (Saturday-Tuesday) in a city called Gyeongju and then on a visit to China (Wednesday-Sunday). Both trips were amazing and much-needed breaks from my life here in Gongju. The reason I could do all this travelling is because last week included the Korean holiday Chuseok (a bit like Thanksgiving) and Foundation Day.

So far I have received some awesome Chuseok gifts. When I got to school this morning, there was a box on my desk that said "케라" (my name phonetically), "Do is fo you" crossed out, the word "NO" in caps, and "this is for you. love..." with a heart instead of the period. There was no name anywhere on the box. Inside was a bright pink hand towel from Jeju Island, so I'm reasonably sure it's from a sixth grader (they just took a class trip there). Since the sixth graders are the class I feel I have the least connection with and the only one I worry is too cool for my lessons, it made me really happy to know that one of them loves me.
Other presents include a (pictured) giant gift set of toothpaste, toothbrushes, and soap from my vice principal (hopefully not a hint that I have an odor problem) and a bra and underwear set with green and blue stripes, yellow lace, and huge, padded C cups.