Posts Tagged With: Kimchi

Birth of a Snapshot

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Heh heh heh

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From the notebook:

As I look over the stone schoolhouse, Korean flag waving in the light 35 degree wind, I imagine exactly where I’m going to be in one month’s time. . .

Los Angeles, preparing for a festival to blow minds off in record time. Heading with a troupe of characters that will be setting up the kind of amazing spectacle that can only be seen intentionally.

But right now, I have a view, as I’ve had every Thursday and Friday for the last two years, that will remain the same for years to come. Nothing in this image will change. The building in the window has been there for 50 years and will likely be there 50 more. The sky is wide and void of other buildings. The area doesn’t require buildings higher than two or three stories. Why should it? There’s plenty of space. Plenty of time to walk from one to another. So much stillness…

It’s 10:30am and I’ve already had a liter of water. Already sweated through my shirt twice and am tasked with exactly nothing for this afternoon’s activities. After work, I will go home, clean up my apartment, and have a house-sale and dinner with friends as I prepare for my departure.

There are times that I remember with clarity, others are lost. My thoughts are on writing, but not here. Not in this box. I must use a pen.

And so I did…

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The systematic overflow of the population is a residual of the medical and social advancement in the last few generations, but it’s worth wondering if it can peak like any other graph that gets pegged. That being said, I don’t think it’s a bad thing per se, more of an interesting balancing act.
Considering the fluctuation has me thinking about the cities that are so crammed full of people, together with the rural elements, it seems that there will always be a balance.

Right now is simply the product of an extremely prosperous time. I think our greatest void is our self-esteem ~ both micro and macro-scopically ~ in a sense that every day, people couple successes with self-depreciating ideas and comments habitually, ritualistically, and we (as a species) tend to look at foreign cultures as adversaries rather than neighbors on the same path. The cultural prejudices that inspire people to belittle achievements or to accentuate the faults of others (so as to look or seem superior) have got to be checked. The self-depreciating commentary I witness among peers is tantamount to the equivalent of abuse if it were coming from somebody else. Yikes! If we’re headed to Hell in a hand basket, we don’t need to paddle down stream. It would seem to me that we would do well with a little of the opposite. We have come so far. Even if it is not your fault personally, you should feel proud for the achievements that other people outside your family, town, country have done. You should use their successes as inspiration, to prove that anything really can happen. The world certainly has surprised before.

7-12-2013

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7-13-2013

Philo of an Expat:   See, once a body has made it out of the bubble, it’s clear the world has got to be seen, felt, experienced, walked through, smelled, sensationed beyond description, beyond imagination, beyond the expectations, abandoned years ago having noticed their inapplicability to the world at large, along with common sense when it became obvious that such constructs are simply more appropriately termed cultural or regional norms, rather than any inherent human reflex of the wise.

And once that happens, the method of travel, of financial stability while living on the road has got to be figured out. I have chosen English teaching for now. Maybe one day, I could be a buyer for somebody who runs a shop in the states, maybe another profession completely ie: writing for travel mags or something. But the business is rather competitive and I’m not a big fan of being competitive in formats like that most of the time.

Theoretically, once the loans are paid, I can dive into the world with even more reckless abandon. Spending instead on the best possible health insurance plan or diving from place to place. I could see the whole planet and write about it as I pass through.

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Today’s Snapshot:

Woke up late and laden heavily with a properly earned headache from a bit of dehydration created from sleeping in the heat of my room after having a gloriously successful party just last night. I had about a dozen people at my place for gnocchi and a house sale where we visited and hung out, had dinner, picked through some of my old gear and decided to keep on to a norae bang or singing room, afterwards.

So, of course everyone left all the things they wanted from me at my house in little piles for themselves to get later, and we went out to sing. I went to sleep looking at 4am on my telephone’s clock and checked out for the night.

As I woke this morning, the hangover combined with the small mountain of dishes in the sink led to a slow venture into my day. Finally, put the house and my head into order, to where I could leave the house around noon. Got to the station to find that the next train to Seoul was leaving in over an hour!! I had some time to kill.

The train station is very close to one of the schools that I teach at, so I figured it would be a good plan to walk to it to gather some sunshine, keep myself occupied and otherwise bring a smile to the situation.

It’s a beautifully hot and sunny day today, so it was good I had my water, and was pleased to find shade now and then. The school is a couple kilometers away, so I had more than a few nice moments with my camera, and eventually burned about 45 minutes on the walk. I still had 45 minutes to wait, so I figured on a slow stroll through the station to bide my time.

It’s a small place. Only two tracks. One sitting room with two cafes, one restaurant and a convenience store, and in the main walkway there is an area that has pictures of the buildings that are being built in the area as part of a massive infrastructural installation that is featured around the station. So I walked slowly and looked at each one of the artistic representations of what is to come.

While doing so, I have to say, I was brought to laughter by a simple oversight that the artists/planners showed in their pictures. A few of them had shadows pointing in three different directions! Always within the same 90 degree quadrant, but as much as, wait, no, there was one that could have been 140 degrees off. Seriously, just a funny thing to see on what was surely an expensive and otherwise thoughtful image.

So I had my fun with that and yes, I snapped a few photos, but soon I was done there and had to go sit down.

***A few of those shots***

Consider the shading. Notice where the shadow from the tree in the foreground lays almost at 20 degrees west of north, then the ones from the railing in the left look like they are heading 85 degrees west of north, then with the building, the smaller wing that comes off on the right, the shadow lays coming towards us, as if the sun is now off to the right and the shadow is now coming in at us.

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Now for a few from the walk.

The path from the station from two angles.

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A couple shots of my school during the walk up to it.

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Some locals just below my school.

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Up close.

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Back at the station:

The wooden benches weren’t exactly built for comfort, but nobody seemed to mind. More of a Zombie-limbo-parking-lot-for-the-digitally-inclined vibe than anything else. So I sat, and I waited between the tv seething garble and the friendly texter.

When it came time for the train to come, I went up to the outdoor platform, enjoying the warm air that welcomed me as I stepped up from the climate controlled zone I’d been in. Found yet another flat wooden bench to sit on and copped a squat.

The sun was shining and I put on my shades and just leaned back. Arms behind me just relaxing, when up lumbers a fella who’s obviously drunk and totally interested in my tattoos. Now, I’m kind of used to the attention that they get now and then as a lot of Korean folk don’t get tattoos so they’re a bit of a spectacle but this guy was something else. He leaned in like he couldn’t see’m ‘less he could smell’m. Head about 3-4 inches from my arm, totally bent at the waist to do it. I let him stare like a mentally challenged fella, but then he reaches in for my other arm and I calmly make like I’m gonna pour my water on his shoes to let him understand he is no longer welcome.

He gets it. So he’s traveling with two other fellas who don’t seem as drunk, but they are there, so he wanders over to them then plops down on the bench I’m on. Now, there’s another guy between us, but he gets up on account of the other dude’s smell and the way he just dropped down on the bench. Just read of trouble. So then it’s just him and me. I ignored him until I felt his hand on my arm which I instinctively and quickly swat away ~ telling him “That’s twice” and go back to chillin’. He’s obviously shaken, his friends come in closer, but I continued to enjoy the sunshine. No bugger like that’s takin’ my sun-time away from me. Hah! Good times.

Then it was time for the train we got on at different doors. While walking on the train later to find a coke, I saw him passed out – (at noon mind you!) in his seat. Heh.

The train ride was good. Quick. It got me to Seoul in about one and a half hours.  Seoul is a known variable. I needed to get to Insadong for some gift-shopping, burned a hundred bucks there or so and am now on the subway to the south end of the city to meet a buddy for a pizza before a poi jam.

Damn fine day~ Hmm. 6 more stops. Let me share a little bit of what Insadong is with you.

So, it’s this overly marketing-filled arts district that actually has a bunch of great restaurants, galleries, tea shops and nice things for gifts if all the redundancy of bookmarks and fans don’t get in the way. I bought myself my first watch in many years, a cool leather banded piece, simple, inexpensive, $20, but cool style. For gifts, I bought 3 business card holders that are inlaid with abalone, a pair of fans, some Korean paper to wrap things in, a stash of masks for burners, some more of these crazy-comic all-so-Korea anime socks and a collection of note cards with pressed flowers that will come in handy when the time is right to use them.

My stop is soon and this paper is valuable and almost filled, so I’ll call it for the day’s snapshot. Almost at Maebong to meet Seoul-Hunter on our way to Manshigan Studios.

July 13, 2013.

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12 Weeks left

As I notice the clock on the wall, I notice that the alarm is about to ring.

I’ve spent nearly two years in this small town, and it’s almost time to go.

My time here has been all over the map with how I’ve felt about it. There were times that I would have liked to go home, and times that I could stay forever if I thought hard enough about it. The thing is, I’ve got to let go of this peninsula and all the people on it so that I can get back~ get back to where I once belonged…

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Obviously, I’m seeing good sights around here. But the time is coming, and I’ve got to be off.

The plan is to get back to the states, Check out Burning Man with an angle on the arts, Travel to visit my family and friends, and Get back out into the world again.

Right now, it looks like I’ll be headed to a city in Saudi Arabia that is known for its large sculptures. I’ll see if I can’t get aligned with the artists in the area and we’ll see what we can do about some good sidelining. What a great way to learn the language and the culture, yea?

So that’s what I’m looking at. And so I thought I’d poke my head into this blog to smile a broad sunshine warped smile because the summer’s come, and that’s what I get to remember.

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//

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Shelter from the Storm

(Today my neighborhood was threatened by nuclear weapons, foreigners directly warned.)

-_-

Shelter from the Storm~

Sure could use some~ Looking around in the April skies the wind is blowing hard.
I offer to play cards, but all they are are words that fall on the deafest of ears busy ignoring more important noise.

Living in the shadow of imminent nuclear destruction is less warm and fuzzy than is sounds…

World leaders are ever so proud, not caring the crowd has to listen to the bellicose sounds they make wondering if we’ll lose the game ~ all for a game…

It’s nothing but a game to the ones who write the embargo pages, these ever-tightening strangle holds on wild beasts that are known to strike out when threatened.

It’s as if they kinda like the feeling of the old-fashioned brinkmanship game, but forget that the opponent is someone new.

Someone unbridled by memory of terrors, emboldened by new guns, old generals and a lack of access to fancy cars.

You think it’s more complicated than that.
It’s not.

I’ve got 4 months left in this country…  I’ve made it 20.  20 months and I’m really wanting to cut out~

Contract requires 60 days notice, and they’ve locked up well over 7,000 usd in holdings they won’t let me have until I leave~ Real nice.

Even if I gave it today, it would only be two months early and I’d lose 2,000 usd more in bonus for the early ditch.

Math is this~ If I leave in two weeks after my next check, I take 2,000 usd.  If I leave in 16 weeks, I receive over 18,000 usd in the closure.

So I’m in for the haul until  the last day possible. Ultimately, I know that there’s more than math to it, but I don’t always make the salad like this, so it’s important to harvest on time and not early.

Applications are now in play~ I am now open to trade as a free-agent~ I just hope that the coliseum doesn’t collapse underneath me.

Life is short enough without the settling possibility of local annihilation.

Cross your fingers for us over here~

It doesn’t look like anyone with actual impact is doing anything to help.

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Bypassing the Obvious~

Truth is, my vacation in Cambodia and Vietnam was so stunning, so mind-blowing, it’s hard to put it into words. I’m not even going to give it a go just yet. This post is about a weekend that lasted four full days, covered three cities and I’m not even sure how many events that absolutely rocked my status~ Yes, it was a 5 train, 4 sauna, 3 meeting, 2 evening show, and 1 achieved primary goal of getting to all people and seeing all things possible~ kind of weekend.
Typically, I’d finish writing in the notebook where I start, but as I’ve put over 12 pages into handwritten format, I’ll start putting it down here so that I can continue from where I left off, here in typographic form.

2April_tnFrom the notes:
February 24th, Sunday, Itaewon Station.

I’m just now heading back from an incredible weekend that began mid-day Thursday from Gimcheon, where I live when I headed south-east to the city of Ulsan where I had plans to meet friends for a bit of an event. Taking the train is my favorite way to travel long distances in Korea, so I went to the station in town to catch one. A fairly uneventful ride in itself, it did offer the views I’ve come to find commonplace, but still enjoy. My train stopped in Dong-Daegu, or East Daegu so that I could transfer to another line as the train I was riding at first wasn’t going to take me all the way… Speaking of trains… I just took one to Samgakji Station where again, I wait for the connection… which is now arriving… That one brought me to my new way-station, Seoul Yuk, or Seoul Station if you like, where I will wait for my next train for the final leg in this epic loop ~ which last had us at a stop-over in Daegu headed East last Thursday. And that’s where I will resume from now.
As I said, my stop at Dong-Daegu was to facilitate a transfer, one from a Mugunghwa level train (regular) to a high-speed KTX line that would take me on to Ulsan. Of course I had a bit of time between the trains so I began walking around the concourse which is a grand installation of pillars, glass and shopping that an engineer somewhere is surely very proud of. As I walked, I not only enjoyed the creative design of the semi-circle shape of the overall environment, how it provided layer upon layer of relaxed spaces for people to sit, shop, congregate or walk, I also considered the shops myself, as I was a little hungry and I did have nearly half an hour to work with.

Eventually, almost all the way to the end of the ring of shops, I found a dumpling shop that was steaming a collection of buns and dumplings that seemed like the perfect answer to my hunger.
I sat down, ordered the variety set and enjoyed the collection of mandu set in front of me until it was time for me to go to my train. When I did, the race was on ~ we glided at over 300kmph on to our destination at the coast where I hopped out and caught a bus into the center of town. My intention was to catch up to an open mic session so that I could perform and record a few bits. It was incredibly fun.

I might as well have been licked clean by a team of nymphs, I felt so good with a microphone and a pair of guitarists who were completely into it. We simply rocked the night. I realize I shouldn’t equate musical performance with surreal pleasure so decadent, but honestly it is just heaven when it works ~  If only because it happens so rarely ~ or maybe it just feels as right as rain on a spring’s breeze. I performed at first with a friend who traveled with me in Vietnam and had already heard me sing, and I knew his guitar work, so we both went into the improvisation with a bit of knowledge for the other’s style, but ultimately it was improv and we had never played together before, so we had fun feeling it out as it went down.

I sat with a circle of friends who didn’t know me but we all had friends in common. As we had been sitting together before the performance, when I was finished I went back to visiting with’em. They were a fun bunch of folks, and I’m sure if I go back, we’ll enjoy each other again. The second guitarist for my second set was also really good. He and I hadn’t played together before, but what the hell, we had a good time. Now that I think about it, I remember jumping stage on him because he was floundering on stage, starting and stopping and obviously having a hard time figuring out what to play. But he was playing some really cool licks. Just chords really ~ and they needed to be hit like I did, so I did. We built about 6 songs there. Unfortunately I didn’t record our set.  Too bad, one of the songs was a cherry. Oh well. It was a fine night. The bar owner bought me a tall glass of old scotch when it was over. That’s always a nice thing. So I ride with my buddy to his place on his scooter after the show and crashed out after a minute of thinking about it. Woke up recalling a dream in which I had magical children ~ it was pretty cool.
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~ Right now, I’m in Seoul Station and I have to go down to the next train on the list of transportation used this weekend…
As I sit, I think back with a few moments to spare. This ride will last for the next three hours when I will step off to go home, taking a taxi to my apartment from the station so I can rest a bit from this trek. Tomorrow morning I will get up to go to work, but I don’t actually have any work to do there. I will be “desk warming” as it’s called, for the entire day since the students are on vacation and we’re getting new books next year, but they’re not in yet so I can’t even lesson plan. So I’ll work on graphics and create an environment for myself that is productive while sitting at my desk in my own way for the day.
But back to the story…
I set off for Seoul to meet with the folks that I’d arranged to meet and do the things I’d planned to do…
For Friday, my pre-built plan was a late afternoon meeting with a traveler from the US, a meeting at ten PM to discuss the Korea Burn and a jjimjill bang for the evening.  Then on Saturday a lunch, an evening beer, and another meeting. Well, I met them all, and added even more.
Let us review.
Beginning with the travel, I’m already having an adventure. At 8:30 AM, I left my friend’s apartment in Ulsan for a local bus that could take me to a station nearby since the ride to the KTX train station would be an hour from there and the regular train would have been a fine way to travel at the time. However, when I got there, the ticket master told me that I would have to wait 2 hours before leaving, burn a transfer-stop half-way and the cost was only 3 dollars less than the high-speed train ~ ugh! I left. Went outside to the buses and found one that would take me to the KTX. An hour of reading Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols and I was there. Walked up and was told I still had to wait ~ The next three trains were nearly full with the first only having one first-class seat, the second completely sold out and the third with six seats left. So I decided I’d rather sit and wait for the 3rd train instead of taking the first-class (read: expensive) one figuring I had more time than money to burn at the time. So I sat down at a cafe and designed a poster for an event a friend is putting on soon.
(*Bam! Solid Graphix studies~~)
Ultimately, there was a time I got back onto a train to head north-west across the nation to find myself in Seoul. That time was mostly spent reading the Jung text I have. My writing from that trip reflected on creating a sense of ritual in my life and an interesting happenstance where an old friend asked for pictures of my tattoos so that she can design more for me. Now that’s a happy thing. I rather like the idea of her staring at my skin, considering her impact in the past, considering the future in a very real way.
My arrival in Seoul was early enough that I still had many hours until my first meeting so I imagined where a playground would be and decided on Hongdae ~ a neighborhood around a college which has a lot of interesting places. So I sat down in a cafe and worked on some graphics. I figured out how to have a smooth image manipulation of a complex gradient inside a clipping mask. Very happy about that.
Soon enough, I heard from the traveler and we met at the metro. He’s a US govt. analyst for the Dept. of Energy who is also a Burner and got in touch with me via the Burn Community.
We had good conversations on a number of topics and shared a few beers over a hamburger at a little boutique hamburger shop before he was off to meet another friend and I headed off in another direction. I then settled into a cafe for some tea as my mind was a little abuzz for the cap of a Jagger shot he shared as we parted ways. ~ A little peppermint tea was a perfect assuagement for my time in the next sitting. I found a cafe near the college and just parked for the next two hours, giving myself an hour for travel from where I was in the western reaches of the city to the area I was headed in the south east, near the omnipresent, internationally-known Gangnam neighborhood. I needed that time too. I eventually arrived 20 minutes late after initially arriving on time, but decided to wait at the station for a friend who was also coming to the meeting who was just a bit behind me, but would need to be guided from the station and so I waited. In that 20 minutes, I learned about Kobuki, the Japanese theater style that she’d mentioned in a text, via the Google access in my telephone. Great theater style! Must read more about it.
Today’s train ride inspired a nap.
As such I will put this down for a moment and begin again soon as my stop is approaching.
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^And that was that for entry-one of the weekend…
Now typing from the computer~ Eumo Myeon, Gimcheon, February 27th.
We left off walking into a meeting~ This meeting is the first of what will surely be many meetings regarding the Korea Burn that will happen later this year. The meeting consisted of five individuals, all interested parties. The content of that meeting has been related in a format for another venue, and is not for this particular public venue, but suffice to say, it was a good meeting that covered many topics and was both useful and productive. From the meeting Shin (the most active Burner in the Korean Community) and I went back to Hongdae where I was looking for a place to crash and he was going to a show. As we walked past the show, which I didn’t know to be where he was heading, I mentioned it would be cool if we were headed there instead. He said that was where he was going and I was sold.
The front of the venue was like an old Catholic church with the stone carvings etc. and the music coming out was thick rolling beats of drum and bass that spelled good dancing on any night. We went in. He knew everyone in the VIP section and introduced me~ I was decked out in Buddhaful wear and the new cap by Hologram Raja, so one look at me and they were all impressed by this foreigner in their midst~ not to mention my shining smile~ We got drinks and spun around a bit. It was plenty packed~ ladies were dancing cool, fellas were there to cool the later hours when it was fade-out time. A few of the fellas invited me out for food and drinks about 4am, and so we went around the corner for spiced noodles and beers. Cool blokes yo~ Tattoo artist one, rock band manager another~ the other was just high for it being his birthday. We had a good time. My Korean’s good enough, their English, the same. It was a good time.  Seriously, that night was fantastic~
Eventually it was time to head out, so I spun to the nearest sauna, which was ultimately full~ which sucked, so I hopped in a cab and went to one up the road. Jumped in the tubs, and at first sign of falling asleep, hopped out, went upstairs to sleep and noticed the time on the wall said 7:30am.  Heh~ Okay~ unfortunately at 10am somebody came in and woke everyone up, so my day began then.  Went down, tubbed again and met my friend in Itaewon for a lovely breakfast and chat.
She’s headed to Vietnam and it would be the last time I could see her, so we decided a while ago we’d have this lunch both to visit and so I could share my experience there with her to help out a bit. It was really nice. She brought me to a sweet little spot on the side of a hill that I got what amounted to a tip chilli with kick-ass bread and a cup of coffee. Well, she was meeting friends for an afternoon tubbing and board-game experience so she invited me along. Sounded good to me. Who doesn’t like going to a sauna three times in 24 hours? It was funny, one of those board-games that has monsters and points.
Afterward it was time for me to be headed somewhere with an invitation, so she joined me on to a ridiculously awesome micro-brew tasting event that had something like 25 beers, all free, in a basement that was basically showing off the location of a new spot that would be a new venue for drinking and food, starting after their cleanup from this event. It was a good time. I haven’t had well-crafted beers in a really long time. Going there was also me meeting up with a friend that I haven’t seen in years, so that was nice. She’s an artist I used to hang out with back when I was living in Gwangju. She’s been living up in Seoul for the last couple years now. From the beer-tasting, we stepped out to a poutine restaurant that offered me my first. It was good~ I liked it with pulled pork too. We put blueberry makkoli with it and called it a win.
My breakfast-date had to break off near 8pm and I went on with my artist friend to the next bar where another friend, one from the show in Ulsan, was planning on meeting up with us.
Needless to say~ we had a brilliant time~ ended up crashing in a jjimjil bang in Itaewon and eventually called it a trip the next morning.
Zam~~ and people wonder  just why I laugh at my time here.
12 hours on trains or in train stations, half a dozen events, great people, saunas, all in one amazing weekend… Now do you understand why it’s hard for me to write regularly here?
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Life just gets weirder

 

My life just seems to add layer upon layer of weird to it.

Not a complaint, actually, today is quite a nice one.  What do your school lunches have?  Mine was sliced duck with white rice, sides of cucumber, freshly picked hot pepper, pickled cabbage (kimchi), seaweed soup, and fishcakes. The sauce that went with the duck was a lightly spicy but robust thick reddish sauce that really worked well with the pepper and duck.  After finishing, I entered the teachers’ lounge where I was invited to join everyone in a batch of giant, plump, fresh and local deep-purple grapes that were sweet as a body could hope. After enjoying my fill, I stood, realizing that there was no hope for conversation with these nice people, said may thanks and bowed out of the lounge.
So here I sit at my desk, listening to an animated conversation under the window between two teachers. One a man, the other a lady. They are clearly talking about costs of something and weights thereof, but I can’t get any further into the conversation about what they are talking about.

Today was a special day~ I guess…  We all received an annual gift from our principal. It’s the run-up week to Chuseok, so gifts are being given as if it were Christmas in the states.  Only, Chuseok is a different kind of holiday. Sometimes called Korean Thanksgiving~ it isn’t that at all. It is actually the annual remembrance of ancestors. People visit graves and tend them, mowing the waist-high grasses that have grown on the hillside mounds and visit with the elders of the living family where they have elaborate meals that are created by intense labor by the women and enjoyed in lazy repose by the men. And in tribute to this time of harvest, this festival of ancestors and food, I have been given (exactly the same gift as last year!) a giant box of two bottles of shampoo, two bottles of conditioner and four tubes of toothpaste. Long live the harvest festival! Um… yea…

So here I sit at my desk with some time on my hands. So far, I’ve taught two 45 minute classes and I have one more to go. Granted, my first two class periods before them were in fact used for lesson planning, I’m pretty much done for the week after that effort.   So as it stands, I can sit and reflect a bit.

Recently I’ve been more busy than normal with working on the project of the Korea Burn as we called our Burning Man-like event that happened a couple weeks ago.   Just last night I sent in my final AfterBurn Report and spent the weekend up in Seoul in order to have a series of meetings that helped get some plans on the table.

Being in Seoul is always interesting. I was able to do some gift shopping and visit with friends, and most importantly, enjoy pancakes.

As far as I can recollect, it’s the first plate of pancakes I’ve had since a midnight stop with a dozen friends in the summer of 2010 right by Boeing.  That’s over two years since pancakes.  I’m not sure that’s legal.  So I took care of that.  They were twice the price I’ve ever paid, but what the hell, I was on the roof-top patio of a restaurant in Seoul, South Korea on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning with great company and I couldn’t deny the pull of a brilliant plate of the steaming wondrous goodness that is pancakes with cinnamon apple topping with half a liter of syrup on the side with bacon together with a bottomless cup of drip coffee (for those who don’t know, drip coffee is actually extremely rare in Korea. Even at the boutique cafes that are everywhere, you will always get an americano as opposed to drip  coffee. To me, pancakes require the latter.)  Really, that was nice.

On the other side of the coin, we had a major flood recently that totally washed out tons of stuff. check these two photos out to appreciate how much water was in the river that day.

The one on the left is full of water, and the one on the right is the next day after it all went away.  Look at the post in the background to get how high it was. In the foreground of the photo on the right, what you see are two roads that were totally covered the day before. Under the grasses in the pile was the remnant of a reflective mirror, the kind that stand like signposts so that people can see around sharp curves. It was totally bent over and gathered the debris in the flood.  It was a lot of water.

Of course, because “as Koreans, we work hard” even though there was an historic storm overhead and children were kept from school for their safety, we as teachers were still required to come in during the typhoon. At lunchtime they were evacuating the building because the surrounding roads were becoming flooded and getting home would have been impossible. ~ They actually wanted me to fill out forms to use a vacation day in the process of leaving.  I laughed and explained that just wasn’t going to happen.  We all left the building together. Some of the roads that we made it through at noon would have been completely impassible later in the afternoon. Good thing we left. I gotta wonder about that request though. Humans are a weird bunch.

Cute though.

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What the teaching is really like

I would like to write about the experience of teaching in the four schools that I am in the employ of. I don’t think that that is something that I have quite done here in this forum yet.

There are four. One is my primary place, the other three are secondary. That is to say, that at the one, they take care of my paperwork etc. as well as having me in their halls two days of the week as opposed to the others which only get one. Their names are Eumo, Nongnam, Gaeryoung, and Gammun. They are all middle schools, so I teach the three grades of what the American system would call seventh, eighth and ninth grades, but are called first, second, and third here. In each school, may it be elementary level, middle or high, each level gets a new numbering. It’s just how it’s done.

I am writing this recollection during the winter break. As such, we are about to begin, not just a new term, but a new year. The calendar year from the lunar cycle is what the school’s calender is created from. So, come March second, the new year will begin. I tell you this, so that you not only understand the cycle, but also, because I will be making reference to numbers of students in certain grades, and my schedule from one day to the next, and I would have it understood they refer to the year that has just passed, not the one that will begin in about a week’s time.

With that, I would like to begin sketching for you what my days are like at these schools. Every Monday, I go to Eumo. As with the other schools, I am given a ride by my co-teacher. It is a courtesy they extend to me, that I understand to be so, as other teachers in the district have not reported similarly. So I meet my co-teacher at an agreed location nearby, and we set off to the school. The ride takes about 20 minutes, and is really a beautiful one. I live in a fairly rural area. The town is surrounded by farmland. Grapes, mushrooms and pears are the strongest crops beyond the ever-present rice paddies that stretch into the distances. But there is also industry. Right now, there is a large, sprawling complex that is being expanded upon that will give rise to an extension of the chemical company that claims credit for the construction on the walls that border the project. It is truly a giant campus, and must employ thousands of people. But the ride, the ride to school only sees this tumor of man for an instant as we speed past it into the hills where the school is located.

Eumo is a fairly small school compared to my experience, but it is the largest of the four at which I teach. It has only 62 students and close to 15 staff including all the teachers, admin. And the man who takes care of things otherwise. He’s more the handyman than a janitor. In fact, in Korea, it is the students who clean the schools. Every day they will pull out the brooms, pull out the mops, and go to it for about half an hour. Every day. Every student.

So Eumo begins at 9:00. We arrive at about 8:00 so that we can get our things together, and start into thinking about our days. I will often not need all the time for preparation, so I often have a book or something else to keep busy with. More on “desk-warming” soon. And as 9:00 rolls around, well, I keep sitting there, because I don’t have a class until fourth period. Yea, between the hours of 9:00 and 11:45, there is absolutely nothing required of me other than my kind patience. So here is where desk-warming comes in. Desk warming is the term that is given to this situation where I as a foreign teacher am asked to simply sit still, and watch the clock turn until the class that they have set for me arrives, and the right tone is struck in the chimes.

So I am able to do many things with this time. For example, this is the time that I can study the language of Korean, or work on my graphics design studies, or read a book that has been waiting on a shelf for too long. The time spent at my desk is also often spent researching class methodology as well. From one end of the internet to the other, I have gazed into styles and systems that other ESL teachers have been using, and am able to grow from that time to some measure. But it is a lot of time spent in front of a screen, and it does seem quite comic sometimes. Though I must say, it does suit me for now. I have been able to stride forward with my studies in graphic design, the Korean language and becoming a better teacher due to these hours spent there. I have been able to use this desk warming time to quite some efficiency. And I’m quite pleased with it

So that is my first three and three quarter hours – then I teach. For one 45 minute session I will share what the sound of the English language really sounds like to these children who have been set in front of me. Sometimes I teach out of the book, sometimes I’ll have an activity. It depends on how far they have come, or what they need. So 45 minutes, and then lunch.
Lunch is served in the cafeteria. Teachers are given line cutting privileges, and so I’ll grab a tray and go on in. The first scoop is always rice, one big pile on the left, and then the side dishes. I never know what I’m going to get before hand, and sometimes after I get it, I still don’t know what I got. Usually I can grok it. Maybe it’s hash browns, or fish, maybe it’s deep fried squid or spam. Bus sometimes, I just don’t know that plant, or maybe the meat is just too peculiarly prepared to pick out. These things happen. There are always vegetables, sometimes steamed, sometimes steeped in a traditional sauce similar to soy sauce or even kimchi. Then there is a soup or a topping for the rice. The soups vary from one day to the next, and can be quite good at times. And of course, there is always kimchi to be had. I have become quite accustomed to it, and rather like it for the most part. Though as with anything, sometimes it ain’t so good, but those days I blame the chef not the recipe.

Smorked, yes, smorked.

With lunch over, I find yet more free time. I will not teach another class of students until 7th period which begins about 3:15. I might however teach other teachers at this time.

One of the things I get to do here is teach other adults. Teachers and admin alike are able to study with me at this time. I will usually gather my lessons from texts or from the internet. There are so many resources available, it’s amazing. I often teach about sayings. Because they’ve had so much training in the language that has been formal and distinctly literal, I bring euphemisms so that they understand things like “quit pulling my leg.” Seriously, think about it.

So that’s good use of my time as well. Sometimes they are too busy to study with me, so I’ll get back into whatever studies or reading I was doing, and whittle my time away with it. Then comes 7th period, I will again step up in front of a classroom of children, demonstrate my stunning ability to speak a language not French, have them mimic as many times as can be done while still keeping their attention, and call it good 45 minutes later. At that point, I’ll go back down to my desk in the office, burn the last moments of the day doing more of the same desk-warming things that I was doing, and wait until 4:30 or 5:00, whenever the co-teacher is ready, to go.

That has been my Monday.

I can only hope that my bosses see fit to retain me for such service, while at the same time, recognizing that it is not actually that easy to do on another level completely. What I doubt they understand is the mental stretch it takes to be so far from the people that I love and miss. Being here must be a mission for me, or it would not work. If I didn’t have the time to grow personally, such that my return will be that much smoother, I could not stay doing what I’m doing. I would not want to teach at a hagwon (a private school which schedules full days of teaching) again. Without a time structure that allows me to do the things that I’m doing, I would leave this country as fast as I came. I’m glad they enjoy me. I’m glad to be here. They are nice people, and my service does help their children, so it is a good trade off. Taxing on both ends, rewarding on both as well.

Getting into the other schools, I should say that my expectations are largely similar, as are the lunches with the exception of Gaeryoung, they always get fruit with their lunches. Hmm.

Tuesday is though, another thing completely, while it is much more of the same to be sure. Tuesdays are spent at Gammun. I teach three 45 minute classes in the day here. Gammun is an interesting school, very old looking buildings. It has about 43 students, I think, and the largest English library of them all. It actually has two whole rooms in the building set aside for teaching English, one a classroom, one a library. They both have large, touchscreen, interactive boards that can be used for presentations, and the library is made more interactive by the seating. There are four couches with tables between pairs, and three large tables, each with six seats around them. Additionally, there is a series of short colorful soft stools that line the walls. That being said, we could seat every single student of the school in that library, and teach them all at once. But we never did during regular classes. I was able to use it during the week-long winter course, and the kids really enjoyed it. I’m glad to’ve had that time there.

This school was staffed by one of the most uninteresting teachers I’ve ever met. He was an older man and really had no interest in teaching these kids English. His language ability was so poor that when talking with me, I often didn’t understand what he was trying to say. Oh sure, it was better than most of the students, but not actually good. Teaching with him was such that he asked me to teach directly from the book, and nothing else, then he would go sit in the back of the room and look out the window, so distracted, that if I were to ask him a question, he would normally be unaware that I was speaking to him. And the library wasn’t to be used at all. He just kept it locked and let it get dusty. I shared as much with the principal of my lead school, and now he’s gone. Later dude. Some of us really enjoy teaching. And I do, I just don’t see students all that much because of the scheduling. Well that’s all right. As is stands, a new teacher will be there, with something of a mandate to become more involved with the teaching process. Should be interesting.

Wendesday- Gaeryoung. Fun school, again, about 43 students there. The teachers are primarily women, mostly young, and among them are three very capable English speakers, so their company is quite enjoyed. I have very few friends around here, so it’s nice to be able to chat about random things with people. This is also the only school that uses a different text, so the teacher has given me a pass on preparation and just asks that I interact with the students. That works fine for me. My co-teacher uses the time to instigate  small talk – which is actually a great use of a foreigner in the classroom. Other times, we will read from the text, and do some speaking from it, and the kids will reply, and we’ll mix it up. They’re good kids, and a lot of them really enjoy learning. So it makes it worth the time.

On Thursdays, I go to Nongnam. My co-teacher was at first rather distant, but I’ll chalk that up to not really knowing what to do with this foreigner she’d been handed. The students at this school are a bit surlier, but decent in class. This school has a bit of a problem with boys smoking in the bathroom, and lack of attention in class, but the kids are still okay. They do not show malice, and they are willing to participate, even the ones that clearly have no love for it.

This school has a rather odd collection of wall-art. I am forced to look at seriously bad translations on a wall every day. Maybe next year, with the new teacher, I’ll be able to fix them. We just got a big printer, so it might just happen. It looks like what happened was that someone took something from the internet, descriptions of famous places that pictures affixed represent, and then scanned those descriptions into a computer program that saw letters as images, and occasionally mixed them up with similar letters. The letter ‘c’ could become an ‘o’, and letter ‘h’ could become a ‘b’, things like that. But these are descriptions of places like Harvard University, Oxford, The Statue of Liberty, and other big things that really smart people have made, it’s supposed to be inspirational, you know? So then we have about 35 serious editing mistakes. I almost want to make it a contest with the students, to see who can find the most errors. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to sully the reputation of the school to the students for having had such errors for so much time. You can give them a pass, as they are clearly making great strides when viewed from a distance. So when does it get fixed? Do they get fixed? I’ll try again next year. Heh, good times.

Fridays, I’m back at Eumo, and actually have a busy time. This day I’ll teach five sessions, and they will consist of three student classes and two teacher sessions. One for a group of interested adults, the other, a private class for my co-teacher. Her English is quite good, so I’ve been using some prepared lessons from Breaking News English for her lessons. They use current events as material, and discuss them with well built lesson plans, from which I pick and choose parts to use. Still though, five out of eight classes, leaves me three to use in my own ways, may it be professional development for my current job, or my future one, or just reading a good book.

Teaching with the public school system is an interesting time. I’m glad to have it. But I’ll be more glad when I return home.

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