Friday, November 30, 2012

Thanksgiving in Korea

To sum up Thanksgiving in Korea very quickly; I ate apple pie.

I wanted to eat Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday like we would back home with my coworkers so I would not be alone, and still be enjoying a meal with people, even though the prospects for Thanksgiving dinner itself on Thursday in Seoul were pretty slim. Brigitte and I had plans to have Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday with some new friends in Itaewon, but I still  needed to do something on Thursday. One of my coworkers talked to a fairly Americanized chain called Gekos and even though their English was very broken, they said something about a Thanksgiving Special. We thought we'd take our chances and go there to get some sort of Thanksgivingy dinner, and if not, we'd at least have dinner together.

When we got there there, we asked the waitress and she said " pie" and we said "Ok, we'll take the whole pie" even though there were only 2 of us sitting there at the time. She was very very confused and really didn't want to give us the whole pie. Later she came back and said "Only have 3 pie" so we said "Ok, we will take the 3 pieces of pie." We ordered our dinner, had our drinks and apple pie, and I, for one, was just as STUFFED as I would have been on Thanksgiving, even without the turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes.

The even more unfortunate news was news I received at 6 am from Brigitte Saturday morning "I definitely have food poisoning." Well. No Thanksgiving dinner for us. Oh well.

Oh and I got to skype my family on Friday morning (which was actually Thanksgiving day back home) so overall, all was well.

Surprisingly I didn't feel like I missed out too much. As I was just telling Ali today, it often seems like dream, like the holidays aren't really happening. It's kind of like being home is what makes the holiday, and since I'm not there, it doesn't really matter. I see all that as a good thing, too, because it would kinda suck to be sitting around in Korea missing home and not having a good time, ya know?

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Burned Eyeball and Other Stories

Today is the day I got burned in the eyeball. Korean barbecue is delicious, don't get me wrong. However it can splatter sometimes. Today we actually had a fairly unsplattery barbecue, until one flew into my eyeball. It hurt real bad. Fortunately, I'm not blind or anything now, so we can move on with other stories : )

As I've settled more into a routine, I've only done a few touristy things lately. One of those things includes the Seoul Lantern Festival. There is a small river (almost more like a creek) that runs through downtown Seoul. People set up big glowing lanterns on this creek on platforms and tons of people come and wait in a very long line to walk along the river and look at them. When we went, we decided it was in our best interest to not wait in the super long line, but walk almost as close to the lanterns above on the street level and get a sort of birds eye view. It was pretty cool, but I was much less impressed than I was with the one we went to in Jinju. Getting there was quite an adventure. I was told by Ben, my head teacher, that I should take the 8100 bus until after the big tunnel. First I had to find Brigitte in her phonelessness (I assumed she would come near my house because that's where the bus picked us up when really she took my words to mean the subway station which I quickly realized and hurried to meet her there). Then we walked back to my house, waited for the bus, and got on the bus. By the time we were riding the bus, it was dark out. This means I never really knew if we were in a tunnel or not. Our other main Seoul knowledge person, whom we were meeting up with, had a dead phone. Finally we contacted her through her boyfriend and decided to get off the bus after the river, assuming that would mean we were fairly close. We got in a cab and quickly realized that we were not as close as we thought, and SOMEHOW communicated to the taxi driver that we wanted to go to eljio somethin yuk number 1. He understood and took us there, and we eventually found our other friends. Happy day!

My other most recent adventure was to the Suwon Fortress called Hwaseong Fortress. We walked around half of it (it's VERY long) before it got dark after getting kicked out of a cab for sneaking in 5 people instead of only 4 (the cabby didn't even notice until like 15 minutes into the cab drive, then scolded us a LOT for tricking him). The coolest part was the archery lessons they have set up. Every half hour you can pay 2,000 won for 10 arrows and they will teach you how to shoot them.  Naturally we had no idea what he was saying, but it was still fun! Overall the fortress was pretty cool and I'd probably go back again to do the other half.

As far as an update on my normal, everyday life goes; I took a trip to the Suwon Immigration office and got my ARC stuff rolling which means either this week or next week I'll finally have my ARC which means I can get a bank card and a phone and have a normal life! HOORAY! This trip was pretty intense because you get there at 830, before it's open, and wait in a line of people, then old ladies push you to get their number. The funny thing was, no one was paying attention to the lady who was dinging numbers so she got to 12 and I was ready to be helped! The sad part was she wouldn't take my papers because my health check wasn't in an envelope. Good thing my boss was just a phone call away to save the day. The craziest part of this trip, though, was the old man (Chinese maybe?) who was SO pissed they skipped his number he started going off on this poor worker lady. Everyone in the immigration office went silent as hes stomping his foot and waving his came and screaming and this woman. Finally a male worker came over, pulled him to the side, and took the rest of the beating. That's one of the crazy things about Korean culture (and apparently other Asian cultures) is that you have to take a verbal beating from your elders, you're not allowed to tell them to be quiet or say they're rude or even walk away, even if they're completely out of line. One time Brigitte saw a young man get pretty much beat up by an old man with his umbrella on the subway because he spilled something (which admittedly is a pretty big no-no, but really?). Brigitte also sat through a verbally intense conversation at work where the mom of some kid was going off on another kid for an hour! Must be rough.

In other news, I have a new bed situation. I traveled an hour and a half to Itaewon to get a memory foam mattress pad, comforter, 2 memory foam pillows, sheets and duvet covers for 50,000 won (that's a really good deal!) The journey back was quite intense, however. I spent 2 hours on the subway, carried an extremely heavy mattress pad in the rain, but made a few friends along the way. One was a younger Korean man who was very interested in helping me carry it through two transfers (how nice of him, really) and wanted my name to add me on FB (he can't find me cuz that hasn't happened). The next 2 were older gentlemen that were like "Ummmm, what do you have in there??" keeping in mind it was a 2 foot in diameter, 4 feet wide, HEAVY mattress pad rolled up in a sheet. My response: "Umm, a mattress." The last was a younger Korean man right before I was going to go outside. He carried my mattress pad, and then waited in the taxi line with me with his friend holding it up off the ground because if they set it down it would get wet WHILE holding an umbrella for me and him! What nice nice people we find in Korea. All that to say I finally feel like my apartment is becoming my home. I bought the much needed shelf, decorated it, filled it, rearranged my room, I have a bed I love, a space heater, and finally found something sticky enough to keep pictures on the wall. Since my apartment has changed so much, I'm going to put up a new picture! Yay!
 New view from the door.

Same same but new bed parts! Like the comforter and pillows. Oh and don't forget a space heater.

Aw my decorations are so cute. Today I told my second graders that I built a shelf and decorated my wall and they were like "Melissa Teacha? Why? Do you like it?" and I was like "Yes, it's fun." They were in shock!

Friday, November 2, 2012

New School, New Home

Home update first:

Last Sunday I finally moved into my permanent apartment! Although I'm still living in a small studio apartment, it is a mansion compared to my temporary living, not to mention, I live here alone so its really not like I need a whole lot of space. I live in an area called Cafe Street which is awesome because it is filled with shops, restaurants of many different food genres, bars, and (you guessed it) cafes! This is a great area to live in and I couldn't be more excited about my location. The downside to this apartment is the storage space. There is not much room at all and if you know how many clothes I brought to Korea, not to mention the ones I've gained since being here, you will understand my struggle. See the picture below to get a better idea.

I am currently in the process of making this studio into my home, a place I want to come home to. And if you know me at all, you know this starts with my bed! The beds in Korea are uncomfortably firm. My first purchase was a comforter to put UNDER my fitted sheet to act as some sort of buffer between me and my very very firm mattress. After searching craigslist and a trip on Sunday that will take approximately 3 hours total on the subway, I will have acquired a mattress topper, pillow, comforter, and sheets from a kind couple for only 50,000 W (please imagine me carrying all of these things back on the subway). I'm so excited to have a bed that I truly adore because that is one of the most important things to me. You might be thinking to yourself that 50,000 won is kind of a lot for those things, right? If I have learned anything in my recent search for bedtime comfort, it is that a set of sheets alone in this country go for about 60,000. And if you want to find some cheap plastic drawers that you could get at Target for 10-15 dollars, it's not possible. Try 30 ish dollars in Korea. INSANE. Hence the reason I have yet to buy the plastic drawers to put in my little closet. It's probably cheaper to buy a real dresser and keep it outside of my closet. On that note, I'm also trying to figure out how to arrange my room. My friends gave me a few suggestions but I think my biggest issue is with this little round pink table that currently holds my computer and internet box and nothing more. I need a bigger square table and then I will feel at ease with the space it takes up as opposed to this round table that seemingly takes up a lot of space, yet does not hold much.

As far as decorating is concerned, I'm having serious issues with sticking my pictures on my wall. Round one was scotch tape versus wall paper. Wall paper won as almost all of my 30-or-so pictures fell off the wall in the middle of the night. Round two was double sided thick stick foamish stuff versus wallpaper. We're gunna call that one a tie because during the night, only 6 pictures fell off and while I was gone at school, only 3 more fell off. However this is not going to cut it, I need more strength in my wall stick ons. As for cleaning my apartment, I was introduced to a cool sponge thing but it did not suit my cleaning needs like a few Clorox wipes would do.

All of these new-found Korean quirks aside, I was very blessed to have been left with many things in my apartment, saving me much strife. These things included 2 comforters, 3 pillow cases, 1 pillow, a fitted sheet, some frozen meat, jam, spaghetti, ramen, dishes, a pot, a pan, a water filter, a table, a couple garbage cans, some wine glasses, kleenex, toilet paper, shampoo (even though I already have 3 large bottles), salt, pepper, olive oil, sugar, a cutting board, many cooking utensils, dish soap, laundry detergent and fabric softener! Feelin pretty good.

The bed and unpacked bag. The view from my door.

My bathroom. Love the toilet seat that doesn't fit. 

A big shower though!

Small room with a washer.

This picture doesn't do the Cafe Street justice. 

This is all the closet space I have. Hmmm...I see a problem. 

School Update:

My coworkers are fantastic. We're currently working on getting ourselves to the Phillipines for Christmas vacation. The goals were as follows: 1) be warm. 2) very few to no children around. 3) beach. 4) cocktails. I think our goals have been accomplished although a few of us are still in the tedious process of making our flight reservations (this is very difficult when you don't have your ARC or a bank card and their website makes it near impossible to book online).

The school itself is fantastic as well as the kids. They are adorable and do the craziest things that mostly make me laugh but sometimes make me wanna say "really bro?" or "come at me bro!" or "seriously???" or "do that again, I dare you" or "get off the ground, he barely touched you, I saw it!" I often have to remind myself that they're 7. This is how they act. That being said, there are still some things that they would NEVER get away with in the states and it drives me a liiiiiitle crazy, but what can I do, really? The thing is, those few kids that drive me absolutely insane for 50 minutes straight will come up to me while I'm not their teacher and give me a big hug and say in their adorable little voices "Helloooo Melissa Teachaaa!" And I'm like "HA! You don't hate me, you just like to make my life difficult while I'm supposed to be teaching you important things!" and give them a nice squeeze right back.

Today and tomorrow (yes I'm working on Saturday) is Mother's Day at the school. This means that half of the kids came in today with their moms and the other half come in tomorrow with their moms. The mom gets to sit and be apart of the kids class, which also means our boss has been stressed to the max for us to make a good impression on the moms (they do fund their child's education, after all). Talk about needing to have high energy! It was very interesting, however, to see how the kids are with their moms right there behind them. I think all of my co-teachers felt the same when we realized that all of a sudden, our kids that never say a single word during class knew the answer to everything, the ones that are usually crazy outa control were perfect little angles, and the kids who are usually the go to kid to get the answer you're looking for wouldn't say a single word even when you told them exactly what to say. Very interesting dynamics and I'm sure many more surprises tomorrow!