fortnight

Life is moving faster than I can type! I have already cut my fingernails twice and done two loads of laundry in Korea connoting the fact 2 weeks has passed.  I will do my best to sum up this last chunk of time in a manageable fashion.

After my first hectic day at YBM ECC things did not slow down to “new teacher” learning speed. Every day provides unexpected tasks and duties that I am very much expected to do (create new worksheets, tests, sticker charts “touch tank” ect.) I have always been good at going with the flow and accepting the unexpected. Nevertheless  the craziness that is my employer (fun but a all over the place) might actually be making me into a more organized individual. That must be a teacher thing, organization just comes with the territory? Speaking of, I had a perceptible revelation the other day. For every one of 17 years I had multiple people completely invested in my education. In your K-12 years there is little appreciation for these people, these teachers. They are commonplace, expected and as an adolescent they are forced upon us (that’s the feeling as well as the truth). It was not until I half-jumped half-tripped and fell into this world that I realized all the behind-the-scenes work that is done, all the late evenings. Vague memories kept coming back to me of my surprise when I would find errors in a test of assignment “isn’t this my teacher, shouldn’t they be perfect and error free?”. Or when a teacher would complain of a late night working but maybe didn’t get around to grading those tests “how hard can it be”. I completely understand now and have great admiration for all my teachers over the years. Maybe ill get around to thanking each one of them someday…

Thursday (Korea Day 4)

9:30ish am and Anna Teacher is knocking on my door.  “ready to head to school!” I am awake but un-showered. “uhh, go on without me”. Today is the day of our fire-station visit, yesterday after school I was asked to wear the gear as a demonstration to the students. I rush to get ready and run to school, ignoring the convention of crosswalks and stoplights as old ladies at bus stops stare. I make it to school just in time for our snack period. Its a particularly hot day and I regret having had to run. As usual my kindergartners are slow about getting snack materials together. A fellow teacher tells me we are minutes away from leaving. The rushed morning continues.

Soon the whole school is convoyed between two buses en route to the fire-station. I have my camera along thinking this will be a great opportunity to get some cute photographs to show-off how great my life is to those not fortunate enough to live in Asia. Mistake. We aren’t at our destination longer than a minute before I am taking portraits one-by-one of the students in-front of firetrucks while I crouch in the heat – long pants and dark polo. Everyone student is documented and its on to the presentation. I am busy snapping photos, tuned out to the Korean fire-chiefs dialogue when my fellow teachers motion for me go up in front of the class.  Ah I have to demonstrate how to pull the pin on a fire-extinguisher. Really I can pull the pin? Its something you never get the opportunity to do and therefor does not feel right. Nevertheless I eagerly go to pull the pin. Its tough so I pull and twist with all my might until the pin is a inch or so from being out and the chief tells me to stop. He motions that I am strong.  He then squeezes the handles and pulls the pin with ease. I realize of course the pin was not supposed to come out nor move at all for that matter.  Context is important. After a few more small demos its time to put on the fire-suit. Did I mention it was hot? I take off my shoes and slip my feet into the boots. 3 firefighters work with efficiency to pull up the pants, zip my fly, put on the suspenders, put on the coat, gloves and backpack air tank. Not feeling too bad until the gas mask goes over my face and I realize I cannot breath. After lifting the mask a few times for fresh air I am told that I need to take a deep breath. Some sort of seal is cracked and I can finally breath with vader-like efficiency. Being able to breath never felt so good but man is it hot in that suit and why is the air on my back so heavy? No worries just time for all the students to take photos with me in every combination possible. I must have looked a bit warm because a coworker asked me to take a seat once I was free of the suit and backpack. After a series of photos inside of firetrucks, outside of the ambulance, and shooting water out of the hose it was time to roll out.

The remainder of the school day was considerably less eventful apart from the nagging for me to get my RAW file format photos off my camera and onto the school computer and in a more user friendly format. I have photos from Israel that I have not even looked at yet and you want me to process a hundred something pictures like now? Once all classes were finished for the day, we all drove out into the country for a dinner/ Welcome to Korea Mark Teacher. Authentic Korean BBQ was the name of the game but a restaurant was not the venue. Instead we went to the school countryside garden plot complete with communal grilling cabanas situated along a charming stream. Everyone went to work picking/ washing vegetables  and cleaning cooking and eating surfaces. Soon the thinly sliced meat was sizzling and beverages were flowing. The food was amazing  and the night flew by in a soju induced haze.

Friday (Korea Day 5)

Morning came too soon. The early rays hurt my head and my usual granola bar held no appeal. Regardless a 9 hour day lay ahead of me. Morning classes were a struggle. The provided lunch tasted a bit too familiar and in an unpleasant way. I ate little and drank what water I could throughout the day. My middle-schoolers in the afternoon put in their best effort to add to my headache. By some miracle 7:05 pm came around and the work day was finished. Later that night Josh and Kelly Teachers had Anna Teacher and I over for homemade pizza. I came bearing both banana and %1 milk seeing as we had all mutually decided that alcohol in any form had last its allure. I cannot speak enough praise for the gluten, vegetarian, organic homemade personal pizzas. They meal was much appreciated. By the time the night was though I had a new addiction. Banana milk.

Saturday (Korea Day 6) “Summer Seoul-stic”

Anna Teacher took me on my first trip into Seoul. I experienced Lotte World – an overwhelming shopping complex where we found lunch. I learned the inter-workings of the subway as we journeyed to Myeong-dong. In Myeong-dong we found yet more shopping as well as Kelly Teacher. I found myself some new threads at H&M and was pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices. Once everyone was shopped out it was on to the nearest cat cafe. A cat cafe is as it sounds. A place you go to drink beverages and play with cats. I felt right at home with the spunky felines. No two cats shared even the remotest resemblance. I dont know where they found these fine specimens but I was impressed with the diversity. Cat breeds are mostly beyond me but they had naked cats, huge cats, fluffy cats, cats that looked like ocelots, mountain lions, cats the responded to Korea, cats that could stand up like little bears… I am going back. After they dragged me out of the cat cafe we dined at a really neat Indian restaurant. It was dimly lit and rather dreamlike with low chandeliers hung over shallow gazing ponds and surrounded by bead curtains. After dinner we deemed it enough fun for one day and began the long trek back to Namyangu (home).

Sunday (Korea Day 7)

The day started with Lucy Teacher and her son Joshua picking Anna Teacher and I up for church. In the car I was warned that the service would be boring for me as I do not understand any Korean. I wouldn’t say the service  was boring but I sure didn’t understand a thing.  At the end we got more than we bargained for when the pastor asked Anna and I to stand while they gave us roses made of soap and the entire congregation sang.  The pastor was nice enough to have us for refreshments afterwards.Lucy Teacher did the translating. The kindness continued with breakfast. It felt good to have a fresh sense of community.  In the afternoon I did some tiding around home and Anna and I did some exploring on the hiking trails just steps away from our apartment.

Week 2 passed with the same vigor but a few less surprises. I dare not say I am settled into a routine but I am definitely learning my place.

Tuesday (Korea Day 9)

I was relieved of my morning teaching duties with a trip to the hospital. All foreign teachers who are in Korea for a year need to undergo a mandatory medical exam before they are issued a Alien Residency Card (ARC Card).  Mr. Park drove and helped me through the process. While looking for a place to park the van we drove past the front entrance. Everywhere there were patients in blue hospital garb, most were connected to IVs and the majority were smoking. After Mr. Park took my passport and signed me in it  was on to be weighed and measured. Following that checked blood pressure and then eyesight. The nurse doing the exam did not speak English and seemed unsure throughout the process. I got the impression  she wanted to finish the exam as quickly as I did. Afterwards it was on to the blood test. After multiple pokes and uncomfortable minutes I filled my vile. After that I got a chest x-ray (possibly my first ever?) and then nothing was left but to fill my cup.

Thursday (Korea Day 11)

For the lunch period Josh Teacher and I got the opportunity to take our classes out to the countryside farm plot for a picnic. The students had the opportunity to view the vegetables that they had planted earlier in the spring. After picking some lettuce, tomatoes and eggplant (too young for consumption) we headed across the road. We ate on a stand alone elevated dining  deck complete with fans, hammock and views of gardens and green rolling hills. Probably a very peaceful place to be if not in the company of 10 kindergartners. After our meal we walked down the road to a garden/ petting zoo of sorts. The highlight for me was the cutaway view of an active beehive.

Saturday (Korea Day 13)

I joined Anna Teacher yet again for my second journey into Seoul. This time our destination was Gangnam to meet up with a friend of hers (a local whose name is beyond me). We enjoyed lunch followed by my first Patbingsu which is similar to Hawaii shave ice but more elaborate. Google it. After more walking around Gangnam I decided it all didn’t live up to the hype that Psy had created with “Gangnam Style”. Thats not to say I dislike Gangnam, there just wasn’t the glam I expected. Next we took the bus to Jong-Gak. We walked through a very pleasant outdoor mall (I cant for the life of me figure out what the area was called). I stopped in the first store that looked interesting. It was a rather small shop (as most are in Seoul) and we  immediately realized a film crew was shooting the detailed process of making personalized stamps out of stone. To get out of the line of fire we made our way to the back of the shop. It wasn’t long before the film crew was locked on to the foreigners (and only other group in the shop). They pointed us to a photo of Queen Elizabeth in the very same shop and encouraged us to talk while the filmed us staring at her. They then asked for us to examine the stone stamps. It wasn’t long before Anna got roped into interviewing. Assuaged, I got away from the focus of the lens. It was silly for me to think I was free. Soon I was called over and asked to talk. Not good on the spot nor under-pressure I lamely said how cool the stamps were and how I had never seen anything like them. I may have said I was interested in purchasing one in the future as well…  Anna’s friend talked with the crew while we signed our lives away. After leaving the shop she informed us that the film crew were not university students as she had expected but rather professionals and our footage would be aired on national television. I dont expect (nor hope) to ever see that footage and neither should you. We were not out long before we came across a neat acoustic duo. The cool evening air paired with subtle restaurant lights made for a quintessential  summer  mise en scène.

After an authentic dinner it was a race to get to a bar named “Beer Pong” where I was to meet a group of Megan’s (coworker from HI) friends at 9 pm.I found it below a Dunkin Donuts with little trouble to late nonetheless. I was immediately brought into Justin’s (originally of KS but currently in Namyangju)  posse and paired for a beer pong tournament.  It was not long before my partner KJ and I were knocked out of the first round. I was of little help sinking only 2 cups. I learned later that 1 half of the opposing team was made up of the reining pong champ. At least I could sleep easy. Eventually. The remainder of “Beer Pong” entailed mint beer (not so good) a Birthday party with Baskin-Robins ice cream cake (so good) and my 2 game epic pong redemption (think dramatic underdog overtime win- yeah i’m a hero) . Plus I had my first Agwa bomb compliments of Justin and his pong partner Brad. Agwa is a herbal liqueur made with Bolivian coca leaves, pretty tasty. Soon it was 2:30 am and time to taxi it over it Itaewon. After drinking a beer in the street, dancing in a mostly empty club with “Cool Jay” and walking the red light district it was off to find the Han River with a pair of Canadians and Brad – the champion of the night. Hours and who knows how many miles later and we finally came to one of the 27 bridges that crosses the Han River. The bridge was nearly 3/4 of a mile long. The red early morning sun had surprising heat  as it strode up into the horizon. Needless to say once across, I was grateful for a taxi ride to Jamsil. Here I parted ways with my walking crew and caught the second (rather empty) bus back home. I was showered and in bed by 8 am, not rising until 4 pm.

Sunday (Korea Day 14)

After getting up at 4 pm. I did a load of laundry and then joined Anna Teacher for a quick dinner (basically fancy pudgy pies but not cooked over an open fire). The pudgy pie wanna-be’s and green tea latte were much appreciated as they were my first meal since dinner the night before. After dinning by a green gator pool with an overly elaborate fountain we set off on a photo-walk. We ended up following a river to the very edges of Jinjeop (our municipality within Namyangju). The river trail we walked was rather crowded with Sunday night families and couples. The opposite  bank was met be a steep wooded hill. The tall pines vying for sight of the river reminded me of Wisconsin’s aquatic landscape. We met two new friends along the path. One an energetic Korean businessman on a bike who became a recurring visitor (we talked with him on three separate occasions while we walked in only one direction). And the other a Pakistani metalworker here on a 3 year contract. His name is either Tom or Han, he parted ways with an unannounced cell phone photo and shy wave. It was after dark before we turned around and headed home. The new soles of my Chacos really got a run for their money by the time the day was said and done…

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Barb Baumgartner on July 2, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Wow!

    Reply

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