Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving in Seoul

Things I am thankful for:

-Singing the TLC classic "No Scrubs" at the American embassy in Seoul (highlight of the night- the ambassador enthusiastically accepted my offer to bring her a copy of the original)
-Dan and Ben's phenomenal talent and the time we spent 'rehearsing' for Friday
-Excellent (and much-anticipated) turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce at the embassy
-Pirate Bar
-The three Korean college kids who helped me find my way back to the hostel on Friday night (it was a little dicey there for a while - see above re: Pirate Bar)
-Rockin' kimchi jiggae in Hongdae on Saturday night, a couple of hours before returning to our roots at noraebang
-Rain's abs in "Ninja Assassin" ("...Let's go.")
-My brilliant, beautiful, and fabulous friends in Korea -- some of whom I won't see again until January, and all of whom make my life in Korea the unbelievably gift that it is! :)

I'll expound on the above later, with pics and video as soon as I get 'em.

UPDATE: Still don't have the vids from Vinny, but David took a little of "No Scrubs," which you can find here on his blog.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving, Daejeon style.

Last night, rather than our usual weekly tradition of going out to dinner in Daejeon, the Daejeon crew decided to instead have an American Thanksgivingstravaganza. It was delightfully low key - potluck in Kelly's studio apartment, old school and BYO. Since none of us had an oven big enough to roast a turkey, we had a couple rotisserie chickens. Kelly and Yoojin made garlic mashed potatoes, Ashley figured out a brilliant way to make BANANA BREAD in her RICE COOKER (can you tell I'm super-impressed?), and people brought pumpkin pie (God bless the Daejeon Costco!), wine, soda, and other goodies.

As for me, well, I like cooking. While I bake cookies or quick breads or dessert-y things for my family about once a week (yep, I'm bribing them to be OK with me leaving every weekend), it's not too often that I get the opportunity to cook in Korea.


About 100,000 won (~$80) in ingredients and supplies later, over the course of 2 days of baking in my apartment and then cooking at Kelly's, this happened:

(thanks to Ashley for the pictures of all of us at Kelly's!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dear Gift Horse, Say Aaah

Today I came to school, printed handouts, and got to class early to set up the video for today's idiom du jour ("to have butterflies in one's stomach" / "to get butterflies"). But when the bell rang, instead of students, the inscrutable first grade English teacher appeared in the doorway to inform me that he'd heard through the other teachers that my classes had all been canceled.


Boy, it'd sure be nice to know these things before I make the commute to school...

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Dirty 'Po, and a Lucky Break

This weekend, I went to Ben's hometown, Mokpo. Mokpo is a city on the Southwestern coast, and it's a great place to visit because it's big enough to have lots of stuff going on, but unlike sprawling Seoul and Busan, there's a couple of main drags where you can find pretty much everything. I got there around 9:45 on Friday night, and we met up with ETAs and ETA friends (I love meeting the local friends of ETAs all over Korea, we definitely have a great time when the circle expands!) before the exhaustion from a full day of teaching caught up with us.

On Saturday, Ben and Dan and I met at Ben's apartment (which could not be more conveniently located near the middle of town, so, bonus - we got to scope out some of his super cute students) to go through some music that we're going to play at Thanksgiving at the embassy. We're pretty bad at actually working on things, and they may be the only people on the planet as easily distractable as I am.

A List of "Rehearsal" Distractions:

-a rap song Ben recorded in college
-a pop song I wrote in 2002
-the video for TLC's "No Scrubs"
-a shower (that one was just Ben)

After that, we met up with Derek, JJ, and the Davids. We found them outside Dunkin' Donuts, fending off some extra-enthusiastic Jehovah's Witness-ing (in Korean, no less). Once they'd been thoroughly Watchtowered, and before I knew it, we'd decided to climb a mountain.

Mountain Climbing

If you're reading this blog, you probably know me. And if you know me, you know that while I would love to be the sort of outdoorsy, capable feminist icon who enjoys o'erleaping foreign landscapes in a single bound, I really, really hate hiking. My hating it and my being really, really bad at it is sort of a chicken/egg question, but either way, un-ideal.

To be fair, the mountain was pretty small, by Korean standards. And because this is Korea, it actually had stairs. It's pretty much the most friendly mountain you could imagine, and not only did the boys barely break a sweat, JJ, Ben, and David L actually climbed down and then up a different path so they could get to a different peak.

I get the whole different strokes for different folks concept, and I can understand how someone could get passionately invested in mastering the ukulele, or African folk art, or traditional Maori dance. But I seriously do not understand recreational hiking. Whatever the high is that people get from it, or whatever it is that people find enjoyable about it, it just isn't there for me, and never has been. Since, interesting tangent, this guy is my great-great-uncle (did I do the math on that one right, mom?), one might imagine that I'd have it in spades, but whatever the mountain climbing gene is, I ain't got it.

Add to that the fact that I was wearing ballet flats and carrying a dance bag filled with clothes for the weekend (+ hair straightener, makeup, and a book) to get the full effect. After he noticed the pained expression on my face, JJ chivalrously offered to switch bags with me, which definitely did make things easier. However, we were still, like, climbing a fucking mountain.

I tried to keep my whining to a minimum.

I did not succeed.

Fortunately, post-mountain climb we went to a Korean barbecue place where I could get a big bowl of steaming hot, delicious kimchi jigae (kimchi soup), warm up, and recover my dignity.

After a power nap (me) and a really, really bad movie (everyone else), we anted up and went out for the night. I'd tell you more, but it's probably one of those times where the story is better without the details - suffice it to say that I've received 4 text messages and 7 phone calls from a young man apparently named Jihoon, who I wouldn't know if I fell over him on the street.

Sunday Night in Gongju
On Sunday, Keely made an American thanksgiving meal for her host family in Gongju, and it was pretty great, considering the limitations of living in korea include (1) no turkeys (1) no oven (3) 1 kind of cheese (4) a small selection of familiar produce in smaller towns like Gongju. But mac & cheese? That I can get behind.

Also at the dinner was the revelation of my being Jewish, which came up in a conversation about holidays. Keelys host family speaks zero English, so the whole conversation was a mess anyway, but it was quite something. In Korea, you see, if people have heard of Jews or Judaism, the only thing they know about it is a few general facts about the Holocaust. So after I tried to explain the concept of a winter holiday other than Christmas, Keely's homestay father nodded, pressed his hands together in a small bow of respect, and said "the six hundred. Do you know?" Some translation help from Keely later, and it turns out that he's a little fuzzy on English numbers, but he's asking me whether I know about the Holocaust.
Also a guest at this event was Keely's 12-year-old friend, who, like my homestay sister, is way, way different than any American 12-year-old I know. She and her mother came after we'd finished, but Keely fixed her a plate and we all sat down for a pretty long chat. When they arrived, of course, I was introduced thusly:

Keely (in English): This is my friend Dara, she teaches at Chungnam Science High School.
Host Mom (in Korean): She's a Jew.

Ah, yes.

So last night, I got back to Daejeon around 10. When I asked why homestay dad wasn't home, it turned out that he was in a locked room all-nighter finishing writing the entrance exam for the high school where we teach. So I would have to get up at 6 to walk to the subway, to subway to the bus, and to wait to take the bus to school in time for work. Temperature in Daejeon at 6:30 this morning: 37 F

Even though I was tired from having a less than restful weekend, I couldn't fall asleep. At 1am, when I knew my alarm clock would ring in 5 hours, I turned out the lights, turned off the computer, and brought in the big guns - James Taylor's greatest hits album.
So when my phone woke me at 7am, an hour after my alarm should have woken me up, I was terrified. However, today, the gods have smiled on me. The phone call was from my coteacher, telling me that I didn't have to come in to school today because of the entrance exams.
I can't remember the last time I was so happy to have a day off from school. It was full-on snow day magic, without the snow.

I sunk back into the covers, still warm and waiting, and went back to sleep. The next time I woke up, I found that our puppy Chandi had found her way into my bed and was snuggled up next to my chest, happily cleaning her paws.

Best. Morning. Ever.

Well, now it's nearly 1:30, and one can only stay in one's room for so long. It's time to take this show on the road, go grab some belated brunch at the local kimbap joint, and head over to Maya Coffee (the only place I've found so far in Daejeon with free wifi) and work on grad school stuff.

My life is awesome.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Crap: A Giant Crushed Asian

Thanks to the national craziness that is the Korean college entrance exam (see Adam's post for a great explanation), this week has been extra- wacky -- but mostly for the better!

Today, to my surprise and delight, my homestay father appeared at my desk while I was waiting for the next bus and told me he was leaving early, and would I like a ride home. Yes, please! I really would, since it's see-your-breath cold outside, and I didn't relish the thought of waiting at that not-quite-an-actual bus stop (I'll put up a picture sometime, but it's an unmarked and unremarkable slab of concrete the same height as the curb across from my school) until BusDriver McGrumpypants gave me a ride to the subway stop, waiting for a subway, and walking 15 or 20 minutes home (depending on how much New York speed and attention to right of way is observed) in, again, blow-misty-breath-to-heat-blue-nailbeds cold.


When HSF asked me on the way to the car if I liked "crap," I wasn't entirely sure how to respond. He must have seen my face, because he rushed to clarify. Spreading his arms wide, he repeated "crap, biiig crap. Big, big crushed asian."

Pause. Don't laugh. Don'tlaughdon'tlaughdon'tlaugh, don't even smile,don'tsmile. Okay, smile, but turn it into a knowing smile, not a hysterical terror-of-gotham smile.

"Maybe we will go to the fish market on the way home?"

Aha! Maybe, in all of its Korean glory, can be many things. It can, for instance, signal that perhaps one's homestay father is not suggesting you may enjoy the exceptionally large fecal matter of an Asian to whom force has been applied, but rather that you might like king crab. Ah, maybe, you're too good to me.

So we go to the market, and it's, like, way old school. Fortunately it's indoors, unfortunately that doesn't do a whole lot, heat-wise. But I don't care, I'm there like a kid in a candy store, pokin' around at stuff (but not literally, 'cause, ew). Because while I get totally wigged out around meat, and I hate passing butchers or restaurants with shop windows all filled with heads and ribs haunches and identifiably mammalian, uncomfortably familiar parts, fish markets with their big squid eyes and tiny tiny shrimp and wacky flat catfish? That's pretty awesome. None of the sea critters on display look anything like puppies (or I) do on the inside. So even though we had to wait almost a half hour for them to steam this behemoth crab, I'm still happy as a cl--well, you get the idea.

The guys at the market box up the crab for us in a super elaborate Styrofoam box, and while I know it's gotta be big because we've only bought one crab and there's 4 of us (HSM has yet to eat dinner with the family, she's been "on a diet" for 3 months), I haven't actually seen the thing yet. All I know is that the box is huge, and that the crab cost a whopping 109,000 won. And by the time we get back to the 'hood, I have to have HSF drop me off because I'm late for my first piano lesson [More on that, including getting totally schooled at a song from "The Fantasticks" by a 7-year-old, later].

So when I finally get back to the house, I have my second pleasant surprise of the day - homestay family has waited for me to get home to dig into the UberCrab.

So, without further ado, here's dinner. Crap: A Giant Crushed Asian.

NB, alternate titles for this entry included:

What Iz Zees? I 'Ave Missed One!

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Crustacean

Honey, I Have Crab

Not The Claw, The Claw!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What I Read In The Last 10 Minutes, While Waiting for Students to Get Swine Flu Shots

First and foremost, because you wouldn't want your baby to have too much baby fat, or to have sleep in their eyes, you really ought to considerairbrushing babies.

Angelina Jolie for Asprey - appropriately but somewhat unexpectedly balances hot and classy. I'm feelin' the pendant hardcore.

I want this for my wall. I'll put it right between my "Newsies" and season 3 Buffy posters.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Birthday, a B-Boy, and a Blizzard

One of the things I like most about Korea is that after you get over the initial, baseline level of awkwardness that permeates life in a country where you can't speak the language or intuitively navigate the culture, you become desensitized to the next step up of awkward. In other words, if you're never fully comfortable anyway, you may find yourself more willing to step further outside your comfort zone.

Which bring us to how I spent my Saturday evening.

This weekend, several 친구s went to Seoul to celebrate JJ's 22nd birthday. Sole Seoul extendee ETA, bboy extraordinaire, and new friend Francis was nice enough to invite us to a b-boy competition in Hongdae.

I felt like I was a freshman, and the cool senior kids had invited me to sit at their lunch table. Simultaneously awesome and way, way inadequate.


Francis, Norman, JJ (left to right) watching the show:

Realization Crew and badass beatboxer whose name I didn't catch:

I wish I'd gotten video of Francis, but I couldn't get it together quickly enough. It was a mix of amateurs and professionals, but everyone there was lots of fun to watch. I think everyone walked out of the studio with an extra little bounce to their step.

And, okay, maybe the whole "blizzard" thing in the title was hyperbole in the name of alliteration, but it DID snow on Sunday afternoon, for the first time since I got here. I had to do, like, a triple take before I believed JJ that it was in fact snow outside our window on the train ride home. It didn't stick, but it was still snowing when I got into Daejeon. It was the sort of snow that doesn't interfere with your plans, just decorates them. I went home and had a cup of tea, read some Austen, and snuggled the puppy. It was lovely.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pepero Day

Ah, Pepero. The Korean cousin of the Japanese snack Pocky, a food I grew to know very well in elementary school thanks to the flood of Japanese businessmen who moved to my New York 'burb on the wave of the Japanese boom.

Pocky and Pepero side-by-side

Today, November 11, is Pepero Day here in South Korea. I'd heard a bit about this Korean equivalent of a Hallmark holiday, but I'd sort of forgotten that it was coming up. November seemed impossibly far away during orientation. So I was pleasantly surprised when a teacher I've never spoken with handed me a box of the stuff in the parking lot, just as I got out of the car this morning.

Pepero Day - totally commercial modern holiday with little to no emotional resonance? Yeah, probably. Delicious? Fo' sho'. I'm saving that bad boy for after lunch, since you never know when the cafeteria is going to pull out one of their all-meat lunches.

More on Pepero Day at wikipedia.

If You Could Gaze Into The Future, You Might Think Life Would Be a Breeze

Lesson of the Day: a modified version of Ben's "In Five Days" lesson
Video of the Day: unfortunately, N/A. More on that later
Idiom of the Day: N/A
Grammar Point of the Day: distinguishing between the future simple, the future perfect, and the future continuous

Last week, we did two lessons practicing the simple future tense. Wednesday we learned the word "predict" (I threw in some etymology for the advanced kids, which they dug) and predicted the future of Taylor Swift's relationship with that guy in the "You Belong with Me" video, and our own futures with M.A.S.H. Then on Friday, we finished playing M.A.S.H. and added some fortune tellers/cootie catchers into the mix.

So this week, we'll finish up talking about the future. Unless they don't master it, in which case we'll spend some more time on it next week, before moving on to Thanksgiving stuff.

Today's Lesson:
First, as per Ben's lesson, I wrote on the board "might" "will" "won't" and then left a little space, and then "will be ___ing" "won't be ___ing" and then space, and then "will have ____ed" "won't have _____ed"
Then in big letters in the middle I wrote "In 1,000 years, Gongju..." and asked the kids to predict (see? check me out with my scaffolding!) what Gongju will be like in 1000 years. I gave them an example for each category - "In 1,000 years, Gongju will be a desert" "CSHS students will be studying alien languages" "will have hosted the Olympics 26 times." They brainstormed the future until the board was full ("everyone will have moved to other planets" "it will be covered with trash" "it might be a vacation spot for aliens," etc)

Then I passed out a worksheet that included Ben's stuff plus my stuff, and we went over it together. It has kids fill in blanks like "I ____ go to the beach tomorrow, because it will be very hot," or "In 10 years, I ____ _____ finished my university degree."

Then I passed out the gem of Ben's lesson, a paper with 6 boxes in it and "In five days, Bruce Willis will go to Seoul, because he wants to advertise a movie" in the first box. (I've got different starting sentences for each class, so I won't get bored - next one is"In 5 days, Jessica will visit CSHS to promote Girls' Generation"). I wrote the instructions on the board: "Write at least 3 sentences. Use at least 1 sentence structure from the worksheet. After 5 minutes to write in the first box, they folded that box over and passed the paper to the next group. 5 groups, 5 boxes, 5 minutes per box - by the end of class, everyone had juuust finished writing on each paper. On Friday, we'll read them.

Also on Friday, I really hope my computer-tv connection gets fixed. It's been out for a few days now, and I definitely use it as a crutch. I'd really like to play them the first few minutes of the Futurama pilot episode, since it's pretty much exactly the beginning of this lesson. Hopefully that'll work out.

Here are some sample stories from my first class:

Story Example 1:
Bruce Willis will meet the bugular (sic) in the Seoul, because he wears a suit. Burgular's name is Horim, Horim is a master of Kungpoo Horin killed Bruce Willis so Horim's world will begin. But Jae-byoung who is rival will rise in revolt.
He'll suddenly meet a heart attack, and the last thing he sees will be a rotten smile man with a God of the death. Then, amazing thing happens. His hole in the heart restores and the silly mask suddenly appears. He realize he has a chun suae cham-wol in his hand.

Suddenly, wild Pikachu will appear in front of Willis. Willis will get Pikachu, because it's level is only 2. Then, Pikachu will go to Lee Su Jae's box, because he has 6 pokemon.

Suddenly, a strange fruit appear, and he will eat it. But it will nt be delicious. It will transform to Pikachu (it is Pikopiko fruit).

Julie is very brave, so she cross Pacific ocean! In the Seoul, Korea hold big festival. First come Bruce Willis, second Tom Cruise, and final person is Julie.

in a few cases, I'm pretty sure my kids peeked at the folded over part of the story before theirs. Also, please note that in the following story, the italicized text preserves the original student formatting.

Story Example 2:
Bruce Willis's car will got crushed by Miss Kaye's car. And, Bruce Willis will get a crush on her. So they will cross the street and go to coffee shop.

Julie will be crushed on James. They fall in love each other. They are best couple. They will marry in 3 years they are very happy. That time Lisa appear. Lisa is James ex.

Horim will be emperor of Universe. And he will revive Bruce Willis in sideok's help.

He'll run by a car. And when he wake up in white room, he can see a line which means a death. He feels something uneasy in his pocket, and there was knife. But he died hardly.

Willis will try to return USA. And he ride an airplane. THen, Missile will come Bruce's airplane. So an airplane will be crushed. But he will live hard.

And oh yes, dear readers, there's plenty more where those came from. Just wait until 1-3 does their thing...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Things I Don't Like So Much About Korea

The flip side of my earlier post on stuff I like, here's a list of stuff that's less appealing about living and working in Korea.

1. Expensive coffee. Like, $5/cup.

2. No decaf. Not even Starbucks has it.

3. Shoving and super-aggressive line jostling. Everyone from little old ladies to schoolboys will body check you to get to the front of anywhere.

4. Rude kids. Seriously. And okay, cultural differences, but little kids will run up and point at you and scream to their mother/teacher "oma! waygookin! pwayo!" (mom, look! a foreigner!). Kids old enough to be taking English will run up, wave in your face, scream "hello, how are you!" and laugh hysterically. Last week, I even had a few middle school-ish aged boys run up to me and scream "FUCK!" in my face and run away. What happened to respecting one's elders? Good grief.

5. Grown-ass men drunkenly devolving into frat boys on weekends. If I don't see some guy old enough to know better throwing up in the middle of the street, it's not Saturday.
6. Working harder, not smarter. I'm expected to stay at my desk until 4:30p, even if I finish teaching and lesson planning at 2:00. Lame.

7. Being watched. All the time. How I dress, what I eat, when I shower - these are all considered acceptable conversation at school, where my host father is also a teacher.

8. School cafeteria. It's not that the food is particularly bad, just that there are no options and I'm a vegetarian. At my high school there was the standard hot lunch, but also a sort of food court, where you could buy pizza, PB&J, cold cuts sandwiches, pre-made salads, fro-yo, and other stuff. Sure we complained, but we knew we had it pretty good. At CSHS, it is what it is - and today, it's mashed potatoes and fried pork au gratin, beef rib soup, beef rib grilled kimchi, spinach, and rice. So even though I pay as much for lunch in the cafeteria as I would to go out, today the only non-meaty components were spinach and rice, not an uncommon occurrence.

9. Koreans repeating "facts" about Korea.
*"Did you know Korea is most scientific alphabet in world?"
*"Did you know Korea is most beautiful country in the world, because it has four seasons?"
*"Kimchi, it is most health food in the world."
Okay, it's kind of charming and adorable when kids say this stuff, but it makes it tough to take an adult seriously when he tells me that kimchi saved Korea from SARS (no joke, that happened). Also, Koreans are constantly shocked that I am able to eat spicy food. After years of Indian and Mexican food, I definitely have a higher tolerance for spice than my host family, but teachers in my school are still floored when I eat a pepper.

10. The Korean education system. What a double-edged sword! Yes, these kids outscore American kids by huge margins, but at what price? At my host sister's age, I was taking bike rides to the beach, making up talent show dances with friends, going to the mall after school and the movies on the weekends. My host sister gets home at 3pm and then practices violin and piano, takes a break to hang with her brother when he gets home, has dinner, and then most nights gets tutored until around 9. She's up doing homework until at least 11:00. She's 12 years old, in her last year of elementary school - it's only going to get exponentially worse until college.

11. Perhaps most importantly:
**Squat toilets. Dear Korean National Re-Branding Effort: If you want people to come visit your country and spend loads of tourism money on a luxury vacation, rather than see your country as a budget, roughin' it backpacking destination, get actual toilets. The kind where you can flush toilet paper and it won't explode. Seriously, this squat toilet or unflushable TP thing? Big fail, Korea.

Edit: I import this blog into facebook, and some fellow Fellows had some excellent additions (if you're reading this on facebook, the original is at

12. Sarah: Agreed on the "kimchi saved Korea from SARS" phenomenon. With the new "shin-jong" flu the topic of every conversation (and I know this even when the conversation's in Korean: "blah blah blah shin-jong flu issoyo blah blah blah"), SARS comes up a lot. Then I inevitably hear, "You know, kimchi very good for health. Uhhh...[searches for English word] SARS? Kimchi, very good!" When I laugh at this, the Korean I'm talking to gives me a very concerned look, like, oh you ignorant waygookin. Which is, come to think of it, probably the same look I give them for telling me that kimchi prevents everything, from SARS to AIDS.

13. Rachael: not only is it kimchi, but almost every other korean food i put into my mouth... breakfast, lunch and dinner... tonight at dinner we ate samgimpsam (sp?). host mother: "ginseng so good for health!" for lunch today, i ate seaweed and tuna soup. male math teacher: "this is so good for health. you should eat for 3 months after pregnancy." in the gyomoshil between classes: art teacher: you should have this vitamin drink, good for health! oookay, thank you.

14. Alicia: when a phrase starts with "traditional korean culture..."
(editor's note: if you ever come here, expect that everything will be explained as traditional Korean culture. Some of it is helpful information, much of it is not. Preparing healthy food for your family? Giving up your seat on the subway to a little old lady? Koreans are convinced that only they do this, and will explain to you in detail how it is "traditional Korean culture.")

15. Veronica: i hate the soup! every lunch, the stupid fish soup i never eat, and teachers are always like, you don't eat soup????? i just wanna be like I DON'T LIKE SOUP!

16. Rachael:
or how about the time at lunch when i waiting for everyone else to finish eating, so i started picking apart the fish with my chopsticks. one of the teachers got the idea that i must really really like that fish, so she reached across the table, took two fish off of a male teacher's lunch tray, and put them on mine. "you must like it, eat! eat!" whaaaaaat?!? the poor guy didn't know what happened!

17. Derek: definitely agree with this list. what about the free interchange of "you will..." "you can..." "you should..." and "you must..." to mean anything from potential to imperative? maybe it's just my coteachers but I never know if I'm being ordered or if they're simply stating a fact.

(ed. note: Word. Seriously, Derek's right, and it's crazy-making. At orientation they told us that Koreans are indirect, but that's not quite true - they're just indirect when I expect them to be up front, and brutally direct in ways that would be wildly inappropriate in the US. Asking me if I like another teacher while standing not 3 feet from him? Awkward. Asking me which class is the smartest while my students are within earshot? Lame.
Also, Korean textbooks must define the words "sure" and "maybe" in very strange ways. It took me at least a month to figure out that when I ask my coteacher a yes or no question and she responds "maybe," it almost always means "yes." Almost.)

Also, I want to note that while my lists on stuff I like and stuff I don't like are relatively even, no one has yet commented adding anything to the list of great stuff about Korea. I've been feeling OK, but maybe as a group, we're collectively on the low part of that orientation parabola of happiness...

Things I Like About Korea

Here's a list of things I like about Korea, so far. I'll update as good things happen :)

Objective Things I Like About Korea:
1. Squeezy jam (youtube video demonstration of this ingenious product here)

2. Incredibly cheap taxis (I can get across town for $5)

3. Reservable seats in movie theaters

4. Cheap, fast national train system (suck it, Acela)

5. You can get fresh fruit trays as bar food. For the price of one cocktail at a nice place in NYC, you can usually get a giant platter of fresh fruit, beer, and a thing of soju cocktail to share among friends. Going out in Korea is a whole different thing - I imagine it's tougher to meet people, but I'd MUCH rather go out with good friends for some food and drinks than sit with strangers somewhere with overly loud music. I always thought I didn't like going out, but after spending time in England, Greece, and Korea, it turns out that I just don't like going out in the US.

6. Public social affection. Even my high school boys rest their heads on each other or hold hands in class (on the downside - somehow deep-seated homophobia coexists with this uber-homosocial behavior)

7. Kimchi. Yep, I've been converted!

8. Absurdly cheap food. My go-to Korean dish sundubu jigae, a spicy seafood & tofu soup, is rarely more than 4500 won (and no tipping in Korea!). For comparison, after paying for the required stuff (lunch in the school cafeteria, bus/subway fare for my commute, and the cell phone that the State Dept requires us to have), I make about 1.5 million won per month.

9. Actual commitment to recycling. My habits have changed just from being here - my homestay doesn't even have a trashcan, anywhere in the apartment (kitchen, bathroom - nowhere)

10. High speed internet. Not so much yet on wireless, but personal homes and offices all have high speed cable lines.

Personal Things I Like About Korea:
11. The other Fulbright fellows. I pretty much like everybody.

12. My host family, especially my host siblings. My sister's English is fantastic, and we hang out an play madlibs a few times a week. I love helping her with her English homework. My host brother is so, so funny, so enthusiastic, and so bold. He's a riot, and he's happy all the time.

13. My host mom does my laundry. Even after I said I would do it.

14. My students. Classes 1-2, 1-3, and 2-3 make me smile, all the time. They're funny and talented and sweet, and I'm gonna miss 2-3 a lot after most of them leave for university in December. Considering I teach 6 classes, that's a pretty good batting average!

Monday, November 9, 2009

I'm Showing This To My Host Dad ASAP


Interview Prep, and Also, Not.

So my coteacher had been sort of pressuring me to do straight interview prep lessons this week, which is fine. The way she told it, about half of my 2nd grade classes have interviews, and most of those have interviews at KAIST, which are done in English. So okay, sure. I'm here to get these kids into college, and I'm happy to do interview prep stuff. It's kind of a slacker lesson for me to teach, because I can do like a 15 minute lesson and then just have them talk to each other in pairs, and walk around the room making sure they're somewhat on track. Easy peasy.

I planned a lesson and made worksheets and a PowerPoint. I would have my students make a timeline, with their dream job at the end, the university they are interviewing for next to that, and the highlights of their high school career before that to have a visual representation for the lesson. We would work on the questions "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" "What is your dream job?" and "What made you select your major?" developing an answer that can be recycled for any of those questions. Pretty good idea, I thought.

Unless the school happens to last-minute schedule a special daylong interview preparation workshop for the kids applying to KAIST, leaving only the kids who failed the KAIST test and didn't get invited to do an interview, the kids whose grades suck too much and have to wait till next year to apply at all, and the kids who are already in college and now have terminal senioritis.

Yeah. That happened.

So of course, no one's explained this to me. All I know is that about a third of my first period class is MIA, including all the strongest speakers. And while those who are in my classroom may not be able to confidently form grammatical sentences, they're fully capable of telepathically telegraphing the universal language of "I Could Not Give Less of a Shit About Interview Preparation"
Maybe I should have figured it out during that oh-so-painful first class. But hey, I'm a rookie and I'm in a foreign country, so I work with what I've got. My coteacher tells me to do interview preparation, I'ma do it.
Until the next class. I'm in a mutual love affair with 2-3, and even though they were trying their hardest to stay awake and attentive, and even to participate, they just looked so miserable that I stopped the class about 15 minutes in. When I realized what had happened, I halted the lesson. I revealed to them my basic teaching philosophy - (or, at least, the sort of philosophy one develops after 2 months on the job):
1. [Very Fun + Very Useful] is the goal
2. [Not Fun + Very Useful] and [Very Fun + Less Useful] are acceptable in a pinch, but that
3. [Not Fun + Not Useful] really ought to be avoided at all costs.

With that in mind, I asked my students, none of whom have interviews for at least the next 12 months, whether they believed that interview preparation was useful for them. In response, one of my favorite students looked at me very somberly and said "Miss Kaye, we can endure it."

Obviously, that was QUITE enough of that. I allowed them to pow wow in Korean and decide as a class if they'd like to change course (and reassured them that I would not be offended).

Five minutes later, everyone was awake, alert, and happily playing M.A.S.H.

So maybe the lesson of the day was about creative thinking, a classic American game, and practice using the future tense. Or perhaps, the lesson was this -
Sometimes, teaching is about enforcing rules and creating a disciplined space for learning. But every once in a while, teaching is about throwing all the crap about how you can't be friends with your students out the window, and giggling with them over the prospect of marrying Brad Pitt and living in a shack in Indonesia.

Friday, November 6, 2009

In The Future, We Will All Have Cootie Catchers

Lesson of the Day: The future tense (M.A.S.H. and fortune tellers/cootie catchers)
Video of the Day: none, really. Though I did play "My Heart Will Go On" for one class, because I had to run upstairs and make more copies. Playing it cool.
Idiom of the Day: a reminder about "get married to" rather than "get married with"
Lunch Today: bibimbap, miso soup, and tangerines! Not a beef rib or mystery fish parts in sight - I'm a happy girl :)

At lunch today, HSF sat next to me. He asked me when I'm going to Gwangju this weekend, and then said that he wished I would stay home more often. I felt a little guilty, but then of course he said "you should climb mountain with us!"
I'm now entirely confused as to whether he wants me to spend more time with his family because I'm awesome, or because he was back to mocking me about not exercising. Given his track record, I'm guessing the latter.

A brief review/explanation of M.A.S.H., followed by an excruciatingly long time where they came up with, erased, and changed the options for each category, finally playing after about 15 minutes. Good grief. I made worksheets with a space for them to fill out their fortunes in paragraph form, with complete sentences, using the future tense. After they were done with that, I handed them an instruction sheet with pictures, markers, scissors, and a blank piece of paper, and explained how to make a fortune teller.
Most people finished crafting their fortune teller by the end of class, but didn't get to tell many fortunes. So we'll finish that up next week.
The downside of this lesson is that it was a little haphazard, and definitely demanded less of my kids than I usually do. The obvious upside is that it was a much better fit for my lower-level kids than some of my other classes have been. And the nature of the activity allowed a fair amount of self-pacing -- some kids were still MASH-ing while others were doing the fortunes or writing them up. In that respect, it was great - I hate the idea of having some kids be lost and some kids be bored all the time. It was really nice to not have to break everyone into the same pace.

Today I had a kid from 1-2, English name Ian (which I will now never forget, since he asked me if I knew it and I didn't...awkward) come to my desk after lunch and ask if I would send him some American music. I asked him if he had any favorite kinds of music, or artists, and he said that he never listened to American music before but he really likes he stuff we play in class, so he wants to know more about American pop, rock, r&b, and anything else. I'm so happy :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fortune Telling, and Taylor Swift: Secret BAMF

Some days, you just don't have a lesson plan.

All day yesterday, I was dragging myself along, so I thought I'd try to pass out early last night, after my dinner with Sarah at that yummy mandu/kimbap place near my house. Spicy vegetarian hot pepper dumplings and noodle soup (만두 + 우동 - perfect for the serious cold spell that's been plaguing Daejeon this week. But I digress. So I had big plans to pass out at 9, but instead, tragically, a hot shower and Lady Grey tea made me more alert instead of sleepy. When I finally realized that perhaps marathoning this season of Dexter was perhaps not the optimal way to spend my evening, considering I was sans lesson plan, it was already darned near 1am.
Man, Dexter's great. Even though I keep expecting Julie Benz to go all apeshit
But then obviously I was all on edge, 'cause I'd just spent the last 4 hours emotionally invested in a show about dueling serial killers, so I had to watch Jon Stewart to calm me down.

Sometime between the monologue and the interview, I fell asleep.

You know how sometimes, you do everything right? You prepare, and get all the materials ready, and then shit just happens and everything falls apart?

Today, that didn't happen.

This was like the opposite of that. I don't want to tempt fate by throwing together a lesson in 10 minutes again any time soon (I'm actually getting 2 lessons out of this), but I'm mighty glad that I lucked out on this thing today.

Here's the deal -

Lesson of the Day: future tense practice (speaking and writing) via M.A.S.H. (the game, not M*A*S*H* the Korean War show, JJ)
Video of the Day: "You Belong with Me" by Taylor Swift

Yep, I played more Taylor Swift today, this time for my first graders (Taylor Swift - seriously talented singer/songwriter, absurdly hot chick, and all around closet BAMF).
In the video, Taylor plays both the hot girlfriend and the nerdy girl next door, so we talked about high school movie stereotypes, and I answered their questions about how well the stereotypes match up with reality. It was awesome. Then again, I might be biased, since I was on the robotics team in high school and I was standing in front of 20 kids at a math and science high school.

After our daily dose of Ms. Swift, I defined the word "prediction" and had them tell me how to form the future tense (they supplied "will" and "going to" pretty promptly) and had them write a couple of sentences about what they thought would happen next in the story from the video. I gave them 2 minutes to write, then told them that they would be reading their predictions out loud, and gave them an extra minute so the slackers could catch up. Then I had everyone stand up, and we went around the room, with everyone reading their prediction and sitting down after they'd read. I wrote their predictions on the board. The most popular predictions were that "Taylor Swift and her boyfriend will go see a movie," "Taylor Swift will get married to him," and "Taylor Swift will get in fight with other ex-girlfriend."

I thought this was a particularly inspired transition into M.A.S.H. -- especially since when I started the lesson, I had pretty much no idea where I was gonna go after we finished talking about the video. Surprise! Future tense.

Since Korean kids don't play this game, I used myself as an example and we played all together on the white board. I went with the classic version I played as a kid (and, uh, occasionally at Smith) - spouse, city, car, job, # of kids, and, of course, Mansion Apartment Shack or House. I changed "shack" to "street" for my kids, though, since I wasn't looking forward to defining "shack."

So, per the clairvoyant abilities of my students, here is what I have to look forward to in my life:

Prediction #1, (Class 1-2, 8:30am): Miss Kaye will marry Rain, live in a mansion in Pyongyang, drive a Kia Sorento, be a professional gambler, and have 11 kids.

Prediction #2 (class 1-1, 1:20pm): TBA - we didn't get to this last part of the lesson in this class, because I had to do a much longer explanation about the future tense, and because it took freakin' forever to get them to supply options for spouse, city, car, etc.

Prediction #3 (class 1-3, 2:20pm): I will marry a Korean actor I've never heard of, live in a mansion in Seoul, drive a tractor, be a doctor, and have 74 kids.

Next class, I'll have them make their predictions into a paragraph, and add a comment to each piece (eg I will marry Rain, and we're going to be very happy together. I'll live in a mansion, and it will be beautiful. I'll live in Pyongyang, and it might be cold there. I'm going to drive a Kia Sorento, and I intend to take good care of it, &c). Then I'll bribe them to memorize them - they've got a week until I see them again, so it should be enough time to memorize a brief paragraph. I'll offer a prize to anyone who can memorize and deliver his or her prediction.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

One Work of Shakespeare - Abridged!

Lesson of the Day: Romeo & Juliet, charades (here the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together)
Video of the Day: Taylor Swift's "Love Story"
Idiom(s) of the Day: "outskirts of town," "on the nose," "flashback"

The lesson:
I passed back their work from yesterday, and we went over some common errors. Then I prefaced the video with some info on Taylor Swift, and passed out a sheet with the lyrics on it. We watched the video, and I asked them to compare the story from the video with the story of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (the song includes the lyrics "you were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter / And my daddy said "stay away from Juliet"). I asked them to think about other examples of tv shows, books, or movies that use the story of a young couple whose parents try to stop them from being together, and they came up with a few. That was pretty much it for my transition into charades - it was rough, but it worked in class.

I explained how to play charades, and for my second and third classes, I wrote on the board
1. What Kind?
2. How Many Words?
3. "Sounds Like" or "Whole Idea"?

since some kids from my first class actually just stood there for a full minute and a half.

I let the kids from whichever team wasn't acting/guessing at the moment use my iPod to time the opposing team. They took turns, and almost everyone cradled it in two hands, with complete reverence, as though I'd told them to guard a baby bird with a broken wing. It was super cute.

Some kids were absolute machines. One kid got his team to guess 6 things in a minute and a half, which is NOT EASY to do with foreign media. One thing I didn't expect was when the kids would convey video games not by acting out the title or what the title sounds like, but by mimicking what game play looks like. The best example of this was Starcraft, which I gleaned from the kids motions is played with one hand on a mouse and the other on the keyboard. My other favorite was when a really shy kid crouched down on the floor and walked jerkily sideways, then mimed eating something, and grew - and the previously restrained class of 20 fairly screamed "SUPERMARIO!"

At the end of each class, I asked them if they'd like to play again. All of the classes, even 2-1, which seemed to be fuzzy on gameplay for most of the class time, answered with an enthusiastic yes. So sometime after interviews, maybe in December, I'll probably incorporate some variation of Charades.

Overall? Not my best lesson, but not a bad lesson. Success, but not of the fist-pumping variety.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Girls Can Be A Hero

Lesson of the Day: "Hush" part 2, and writing/editing response exercise
Video of the Day: Part 2 of "Hush" (I own the whole series, and showed it to my kids with English subtitles, but you can watch an un-subtitled copy here)
Idiom of the Day: "small talk"
Lunch: spicy seafood soup, steamed rice, tofu with black sesame, kimchi. Yay vegetarian food!
Highlight Thusfar: one girl's response to question #4, "Describe this episode to a friend who has never seen it" --
"Superman, Spiderman, and Batman were all man. But Buffy is girl hero. In this episode we can know the way to communication. And girls can be a hero."
Rock on, sister.

Today we watched the second half (...ish. My genius class had already gotten through about 3/4 of the show last week) of "Hush," and students considered the show through verbal discussion and written responses. I told them they could be honest about whether they liked the show or not, so long as their grammar was solid.
Here are the questions I asked:
1. What was your favorite part? Why?
2. How did this episode discuss communication? [ed note: we talked about this at length for two classes]
3. Would you like to watch another episode of "Buffy"? Why?
4. Summarize (describe, explain) this episode to a friend who has never seen "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Do you recommend that they watch the show?

Best answers to #1:
-The gentle men stole voice. and there were many situation.

Best answers to #3, "would you like to watch another episode of Buffy? Why or why not?":
-"I want to watch another episode. It is a little [funny is crossed out] stupid, but very fun."

-Yes, because that is so strange. This movie is some bizzare. (sic)

-I'd like to watch more about "Buffy". The reason is that though story is a little weird, heroine Buffy was pretty.

-I don't like to. It is not real. There is no gentlemans, no witches all over the world. I don't like great wizard story. [ed note: this is the only kid who said "no" in his class]

Best answers to #4:

-[from the "it is not real" kid] "This is story of superhero whose name is Buffy. Buffy is a girl. She is strong, clever, and fast. Also her friends are great. But I don't like it. It's a lie."
- This is a little bit stupid show about Superhero whose name is Buffy. Buffy fight against the gentleman who stole people's voice. I don't know exactly but this show try to discuss communication. (ed. note: this kid answered #3 "yes, I'd really like to watch another about Buffy!")

OK, I'll edit this post later. I'm gonna head out on the next bus, and correct some of these fabulous responses at Maya, my new favorite coffee place in Daejeon - three cheers for free internet!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Gwangju Kimchi Festival & Halloween

Dave's blog entry talks about our Halloween weekend as well as I could.

Extra pictures: