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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nightmares

My apartment must have been a quick turn-around. So the old tenants moved out and my boss signed the lease right away. How do I know this? For the first two days of living here Koreans came to see my apartment. And by came to see it I mean they had my door code and just walked in. About five sets of people total came in my apartment or almost came in my apartment.

One evening I was cooking dinner and some people walked in. I yelled "I LIVE HERE," and may have loudly expressed some other choice words at them.

People walking in is the reason I didn't sleep the first two nights I lived here. As I'd try to fall asleep, I'd have a nightmare that Koreans were walking in. The first night, a Korean was standing at the edge of my bed, looking at me. CREEPY. Then the second night my neighbors were being rowdy as I was going to sleep. I remember hearing their door close and then my nightmare started with them coming into my apartment. I tried to yell at them to get out but no sound could come out of my mouth.

Needless to say, the next day my boss came over to show me how to change my door code. Ever since, I've slept like an angel!

Yesterday morning I hear a knock at my door and then the doorbell ring. I thought, "Oh my gosh, if that is another Korean I'm going to lose my...sh-!" Answered the door and there were two ajumas standing there. In my loud, they-don't-understand-English-so-maybe-if-I-speak-louder-and-slower-they-will-understand voice I said "I. LIVE. HERE. ME. HERE. LIVE." (while pointing inside my apartment signaling that I live IN the apartment...) They smile, nod and rattle off some Korean. So I try again. "ME (point to myself). SLEEP (motion head on pillow). HERE (point inside)." In Korean (and I magically understand) they ask if it's only me that lives here. I say yes. Then one ajuma brings a binder out of her purse and opens to a picture and points at it while rattling more Korean.



They're Jahova's Witnesses coming to convert me. In Korean.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Korean Way

Koreans are notorious for... short notice. In America, we plan a lot (most people for the most part...) And if professional plans are made, Americans generally try really hard to keep the appointment (again, for the most part). Well not in Korea. Allow me to explain.

When the decision was made for me to switch jobs, my new director said I will move and start working as soon as he found an apartment for me. Fair enough. Didn't hear anything for a week, then heard that there weren't any places available in the desired area. So the next week (heard this on a Friday) he would start looking in a different are. OK...

Sunday afternoon I get a call that he found an apartment. Can I move today? Ummm NO! I hadn't even started packing... But I'll pack all day and I can move tomorrow. "Tomorrow morning?" He asked. Yes. I heard nothing that day... Didn't hear anything until Wednesday or Thursday and he said he would come Saturday night to move my stuff. Night. Saturday. As in dark outside... Right?

Noon on Saturday (and I prelude that with the fact that I stayed out incredibly too late Friday night and consumed a few too many adult beverages) I get a call. (Woke me up, of course.) He has an evening appointment he forgot about ("I am sorry!") and he will come at 2:00 p.m. so be home. He will call for directions. After the initial shock and the room stopped spinning, I start scrambling to be ready (I'd been living out of suitcases all week and had become unpacked again...)

At 1:30 I get another call (for directions) and then he says "I am here." Ha.

I still don't know officially when I start working. (It's the next Tuesday.) Oh Koreans...

Ode to Kitchen Shears

Koreans use kitchen scissors for everything. They cut meat, veggies, kimchi, fish, octopus and any other food that might require cutting or slicing. Therefore I propose that every place setting in America should now include a pair of kitchen shears. Steak? Why slice it with a steak knife when you can cut it with shears in half the time?

I'll stop now while I sound like I'm on an infomercial...

FOOD

Besides my family, the thing I miss most about home is the food. Not that I can't get food here, but the food I'm used to - my favorite foods - are sometimes hard to come by. Either Korea just doesn't have it or it's super expensive.

When I first came to Korea I HATED the food. Now I like spicy/hot food (Mexican food, buffalo wings, etc...) but Korean spicy is... an entire different category of hot-ness... It's hard to explain but in my opinion, it's an acquired taste. I refused to touch kimchi for at least three months and now I crave it (but not enough to keep it in my refrigerator...I now know why Koreans have separate refrigerators for the stuff...)

Last week I ate some AMAZING food. AMAZING.

Duck starts my amazing food journey. Not just any duck. Duck kabobs. I'll relive the experience for you... You go in, sit down (on the floor) and the ajuma (older lady) brings you water then all of your side dishes. There was lettuce, pickled sesame leaves, radishes, kimchi, pepper paste, garlic, onions in soy sauce, salad of some sort... (among others... the plethora of side dishes is typical for a Korean restaurant)

Then the ajashi (older man) brought hot coals. The table is made for a special contraption that houses coals in like... sections... Then the kabobs with duck meat are brought out and inserted between the coals and the contraption rotates them. Like a rotisserie at your table! The skin gets nice and crispy. The meat is tender and juicy. Mmmmmm. And you make a little taco with the lettuce and other side dishes that you desire. Wow my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Then the next Wednesday was CRABS!!! Every year a group of teachers goes to the outdoor fish market in town and picks out/feasts on king crab. I had eaten crab maybe once or twice during trips to Florida and I think once at Red Lobster. No crab has anything on the king crab I ate that night.

We all met in front of the market and made our way to the crabs. The first guy wanted 70,000 won per kilo ($70/kilo and the crab he put on the scale was 3.5 kilos. He wanted $170 for one crab!!) After much haggling between vendors, we found our crabs! Then up we went to the restaurant. The vendor gave us "service-uhhh" of fresh oysters. (They were good but HUGE. I like the oysters I can just suck out of the shell without having to chew...)

At last, our king crabs came out. Where's the butter?? Let me just tell you that this crab was so sweet that it didn't need butter. So each of us madly worked to devour our crab (kitchen shears made it so much easier than stupid nut crackers) and we finished. THEN the ajuma colleced the part of the crabs that wasn't eaten. I'm told that what happens then is (this next part will likely sound super gross) they mix the rest of the crab inners and make a fried rice with that and seaweed and some other stuff. And they put an individual portion in the crab shell and served it. AND they make a crab/miscellaneous stew to have with the rice.  The seafood, friends and beer and soju made for a wonderful evening!




Sunday, January 16, 2011

End of the Beginning

Last Friday was my last day at Kid's College. After several discussions and negotiations, it was decided that my boss would write a letter of release and I am starting a new job. I'll still be in Pohang, just at the other end of town. I'm really excited about it. It will be less work, fewer hours and more money. Work less for higher pay:
The American dream!

My last day was bittersweet but still felt like any day. I sure will miss my babies.





My new boss has been looking for an apartment for me (I'll start working once I move) but hadn't found anything. Fine with me, though. I wouldn't mind a week off in between jobs... You know, to pack and stuff... (ie I hadn't started packing. At all.)

Had a relaxing weekend with friends (and no packing) and I'm enjoying my Sunday afternoon when I get a call at 3 p.m. that he found an apartment right behind the school. Can I move today? Haha funny joke... (Wasn't a joke.) I said I could move Monday morning (now). Later in the afternoon my director called me to tell me he'll call me later. He never called. I told him I could move anytime in the morning but still haven't heard from him.

The Korean way: Hurry up and wait. Drives me nuts... I should be used to it by now but I'm not.

But needless to say, I'm packed and ready. Quickly realized I have too many clothes and too much stuff. But I'll be here for another year now so I'm not getting rid of stuff just yet.

It didn't want to close... 

Almost there... 

Ta-da!

Last night during my break from packing, I ate the most delicious dinner ever: Duck kabobs. Skewers of meat were placed in this grill type contraption that rotated them while roasting the meat. Ingenious. And you eat the meat samgyeopsal style (wrapped in lettuce with onions, garlic and other little side dishes). It was my first time trying duck and it was amazing!

Now it's almost noon. We'll see if I move today or not. (I'm secretly hoping not. I'd still like a week off! We'll see...)

So, friends and family... I'll eventually be stateside again, just not until February 2012... I'll pass out my new address as soon as I have it. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hogwans

For those of you who don't know the ins and outs of the Korean school system, I'm devoting this post to inform you. Koreans value education. Bottom line. Parents invest a lot into their children.

There are two types of schools. Public and private. Private schools are referred to as "hogwans" or academies. There are all types of academies: English, piano, violin, math, science, soccer, art... The list goes on. These are just some of the academies my students go to.

I work at a private English academy, called Kid's College. It is a franchise. So an owner buys the rights to call their school "Franchise Name." They can use the corporate curriculum and material (books, tests, etc.) they want and they can also change things as they see fit. (Other hogwans are corporate and have to follow specific guidelines and curriculum, etc.)

I can't find any statistics (also didn't look very hard) on exactly what percentage of Korean students attend an English academy but I'd bet it's fairly large. There are A LOT of English hogwans. Good for the parents, as they can pick and choose schools. It's a parent's market. Sometimes bad for business owners - especially if the school and/or franchise is newer.

I'll post again in the next few days and announce why I devoted this post to give a little background hogwan info...

Super Snowdays

For some reason the past few winters, wherever I am, have had the winter of all winters... My last two years in college, the town got hit with severe ice storms that closed the university and entire cities. Then this year Pohang, South Korea got hit with the biggest snow in 60 years. (When my Korean supervisor told me this I had to clarify: six-zero, not one-six.)

Monday morning it started snowing in Korea's bellybutton, also know as the Po. And it kept and kept and kept snowing. Until after dark. In my area we got around seven inches. Other areas got as much as a foot. Might not seem like THAT much. But it's a lot for an area where it basically never snows...

Which is why the city was not mildly prepared, but not prepared at all for the inclement winter weather. My school was shut down for two days and I have one student who will not be attending this month "because of the snow and ice."

Let me just inform you that there would not even be ice had the city been at all prepared for snow. Korea clearly has never heard of ice. Or that liquid stuff they spray on the streets at home. Or snow plows for that matter. I saw one snow plow. A friend of mine saw a dump truck and a farm tractor (neither of which were actually doing any good).

Korea: Do you know what happens when snow melts, then it gets really cold at night? It freezes and you have ice instead of snow. Magic, huh? And that, my friends, is why your streets and sidewalks are still very covered in ice.

It was rumored in one area that the Koreans put sand over the snow (good for traction, I'll give them that), then poured water over the sand, making mud, then putting more sand over it. Then it was really cold at night again and froze. So now you have ice, that appears to be mud. Slick mud. When people walk on it, expecting mud, they quickly find out that it's ice when their booties hit the ground.

One more note. Koreans: Just because you have some snow on the ground, doesn't mean you need to get out your tire chains. They were probably necessary and useful on the first day (but when there's a blizzard out, you don't need to be driving anyways) but three days later?

I enjoyed the two extra days of vacation. First day I played in the snow with friends. Then we continued with adult beverages inside. The next day was spent recovering. (I've had quite a few recovery days this winter... Hmmm)

Only downside is that I do have to make up one of those snow days on Saturday (tomorrow). Which is why I'm spending my Friday night catching up on my blogging instead of partaking in adult beverages.

Winter vacation

As a hogwan (private English academy) teacher, I don't get to choose my vacation, but I have national holidays plus two weeks, one in the summer and one during winter. The winter vacation for me started after work Christmas Eve and ran until the first Monday in January.

Want to know how I spent literately my whole vacation? Answer: sick. In bed sick. Ugh. My coworker had been sick the previous week but I like to think of myself as a pretty healthy person and had been lucky not to catch any of the illnesses my students have been carrying and spreading all fall and winter.

My luck ran dry. I decided on Tuesday I would go to the hospital. Let me explain Korea and hospitals.

Doctor/Hospital = same same. You go to the hospital if you have a cold or broken arm. You don't really hear of family doctors here. And actually, it's quite efficient... It took me off guard at first. A student would be absent and I would ask why. The Korean staff would say "hospital." I'd freak out in my mind and wonder, "Oh my gosh, is he/she dying? I didn't even know he/she was sick!" No no... He/she needed a shot or simply had a headache...

So there's hospital close to my apartment, right? I can walk there. It's not that far... And I know where it is... Easy. It takes all the energy I have to get out of bed, bathe and bundle up. I set out walking, and see a "cross" (universal hospital/medical symbol) in the distance. That's the hospital. I walk towards that tall building.

As I approach, I see a woman pushing a REALLY old man in a wheelchair. And an old woman with a walker. And another old person... Hmmm... You guessed it. I was at a nursing home, not the hospital. I took that as a sign that fresh air was really all I needed, got some orange juice and dry "cheddar cheese soup" and went back to my bed.

After two more days of still not feeling better, I try the hospital thing again. This time I took a taxi - and actually looked up how to say "hospital" in Korean. I totally could have walked there.

In American doctor's offices, the patient goes in a room and the doctor makes rounds to treat the patients. In Korea it's the opposite. The doctor is in one room, the "nurse" (not really a nurse) escorts the patients back and forth from the doctor and the other "stations" they need to go to. In my case I went from the doctor, to the X-ray department (to make sure I didn't have pneumonia), to the blood drawing department (for a blood test) back to the waiting area, then to the doctor again. Then I waited until the pay desk called my name. I paid ($10) and was given my prescription to be filled at the pharmacy conveniently located in the parking lot. The pharmacist filled my script in like two minutes and gave me nice little breakfast-lunch-dinner packets to take for three days. I didn't ask what all the pills were for. Each packet contained 4-5 pills. I've heard rumors that the "party packs" (as I like to call them) can typically include a laxative, anti-diarrhea, steriod, anti-biotic and another laxative. So I really didn't want to know what each pill was for... I just took them. And, magically, I felt better.

By then I was actually well enough to get out a little bit. One of my students invited me to her piano concert and I didn't want to miss that. My piano concerts when I was a kid lasted an hour. Each student played two or three songs, and that was that. Well..... Korean kids start playing the piano when they're like three, first of all. This was a concert for an entire piano academy. So I sat through upwards of 60 students, playing one song each. Only each song was like five minutes because they were three movements of [enter famous composer's name]'s [enter number] opus/aria/contata/etc... The level of musicianship was amazing. Absolutely amazing (a five year old played a more elaborate song that I could have ever play in nine years of lessons). But I sat there for three hours hearing minor ballade after minor ballade... My student's song was actually quite quick. Haha. I met her parents quickly, posed for some photos, and I was out of there. If anymore of my students invite me to their piano concert, I might be busy that night... Does that make me a bad teacher? lol

 Kids playing the ocarina (Google it. I didn't know what it was at first either.) 
My student is second from the left.
 All 60 kids, singing a ridiculously catchy song. I'm still singing it in my head. 
And maybe there weren't 60 but it sure felt like it.
Me and Sophia!

I continued to feel better. Better enough to party it up on New Year's Eve with some amazing friends. Then the next day was, again, spent recovering. And my amazingly wonderful friend Frances surprised me New Year's Day (apparently we talked about it so it shouldn't have been a surprise when she came into my apartment since luckily she still remembered the code - Quick note: Korea doors are amazing and have electronic key pads instead of keys! No more getting locked out). Anyways, she surprised me with McDonalds (she somehow new I wasn't going to make the big brunch I had talked about the night before) and movies! Twas a great day.

Holidays away from Home

Thanksgiving was hard. That's when it really hit me exactly how far I am and how long I've been away from family. In a way I was dreading Christmas. I wasn't in the Christmas spirit. Korea doesn't really pump up for it the way we do in the states. So even though I had Miriah's awful new Holiday album to listen to, my heart wasn't really into the season...

Luckily I have some amazing friends that were in the spirit enough for all of those who weren't (yes, I'm talking about you, Jenn*I have too much Christmas spirit for Pohang*C.)


The Holiday season kicked off with a wonderful girl's day in Dageu. We ate delicious food and did some shopping - most importantly for the upcoming ugly sweater party. Let me just tell you, Korea knows how to do ugly sweaters. We didn't even need to go to Goodwill and get the grandma/kindergarten teacher/filled with sequins and bells sweater. Korea has far better. Mine can be compared to horribly cut shag carpet with upside down reindeer. 


The aforementioned party was a delight. We had a gift exchange/white elephant and some of us ended up with great gifts (cash, mini massager, children's toys, etc). Others, well one person, got dried squid. Still fun.






My amazing coworker and me (sporting my shag carpet tacky sweater)



Group shot


Then the next week was Christmas. I had to work on Christmas Eve but it was a really fun day, beginning with my babies opening their long awaited stockings. And I got to have a party (slash make "pizzas") with all of my elementary classes. A good day all around. And what better way to end the Eve of baby Jesus' birth but with yummy Italian food and wine. 


Family, if you're reading this, I want to let you know that I love you soooooo much and I'm soooooo sad (enter mild sarcasm) I missed grandma's chili dog Christmas dinner, BUT my Christmas this year was so relaxing and enjoyable. 


Started with waking up at 1 p.m. Usually on Christmas day I'm up before 7 a.m. either going to church or cooking and getting ready to start the rush. From this house to this house, but can't stay long because I have to go here and there... blah blah blah. I mean divorced parents = double presents but double the planning and Christmas dinners you have to eat. And since I've gotten older and been of age to consume alcohol, that also means I can't partake too much because I have one more place to go and/or have to drive home. 


This year was much much different.


Like I said, I slept in. Then I went over to a good friends' (in my pajamas!) for coffee (with Baileys!) and soon another good friend joined us. Yummy brunch sandwiches followed, along with wine and ginger-bread-house-building. Once our buzz was on and our house intact (for the most part), it was time to set out for dinner. Had a wonderful Christmas dinner complete with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, mac n cheese, green beans and rolls, AND real egg nog. Mmmmm. 




Drinking festivities continued into early morning hours. 


The next day was spent recovering, but I also had a week off of work! 

Quick yoga update

I've developed a fondness for my new meditative/exercise practice... And my girlfriends and I made it out regular Thursday night girl's night get-together, so it became a regular routine in my life. Due to sickness and the holidays, I didn't go for a few weeks. This past Thursday I decided it's time to get back into the routine called life. So at the normal time, we (there are two new teachers at my school so Lia came with me) set out for hot yoga.

Now I know there are other forms of "hot" classes, such as walking (some hot yoga + walking cardio) and dumbbell (hot yoga  + weight training) but I go at the normal time for the regular hot yoga. Or so I thought...

Lia and I get changed and go in the room a little early and just stretch and chat... normal. The leader comes in, greets everyone (again, normal). Everyone stands up and gets ready (still normal). Then the leader says something, the whole room looks at us (the only two waygookins, foreigners, in the room). Leader says some more then one of the hard core women I've seen before in classes comes over to us to translate.

Super Yogic: "This is flow yoga. Much more harder than hot yoga." Hmmm... ok...
[Our eyes get big]
[All the Koreans laugh at us]
Leader: "It's ok. Try it."
Waygookins (us): "Ok"

I'm not sure if you'll really be able to wrap your mind around what this class really was. And keep in mind, some people can't handle regular hot yoga. This class was a SIMULTANEOUS cardio, ab, floor/leg, arm workout all combined (hence the SIMULTANEOUS in all caps...). Understand? No? Let me just try to explain it... If you understand the extreme-ness of what I've just explained, skip the next paragraph.

Every sequence begins with a basic touch-your-toes stretch. Keep stretching and lift your head up. Back down. Then it moves into a plank (for those of you who don't know what a plan is, you basically hold the push-up position - but be sure to keep your back and butt flat. Try it. I dare you.) Hold. Down on the floor and into cobra (whole body laying face down on the floor and flex your arms and bring your upper body up) Flex your feet. Then enter yoga body contortions or other challenging stretches. Then back to plank. Down on the floor/cobra/flex feet. Then swoop up into a pike (hands and feet on the ground, butt up, making your body form a triangular shape, like the top of a mountain), and finally, jump your feet forward for more touch-your-toes stretches.

And this goes on for a solid hour. In a room that is precisely 105 degrees with 40% humidity.

I look forward to dying in Flow class again next week.