Monthly Archives: November 2010


Playing The Foreigner can mean suppressing your personality (at work and in public and such) for the sake of Fitting In or Not Going to Asia Jail. This strategy works flawlessly, so long as no one asks you any questions about yourself, ever. And this never happens, especially in Corea del Sur. Thus, The Foreigner must consider three courses of action when confronted with an inquiry:

A) The Truth

B) The Simple English Response (whatever answer will be easiest to explain in broken Korean/basic English)

C) A Complete Lie That Will Make A Future In Place Much Much Easier

These aren’t always mutually exclusive, but frequently so. Let’s witness this process in action. An Example: “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Possible Answer A) The Truth: No, I do not have a boyfriend. Yes, that’s my age, you heard right. Your frowning and head-shaking and pity are not necessary and unappreciated. What’s that? You want me to date someone  you know? Likely a man raised with a Confucian value system that quite specifically outlines the subservience of women to men? Super great.

Possible Answer B) Simple English Response: No.

Possible Answer C) A Complete Lie That Will Make A Future In Place Much Much Easier: Yeah, I totally have a boyfriend. But, um, heee….doesn’t live here. Yeah yeah, far away from here. I know, it’s totally sad, right?! But that’s okay. I’ll, you know, maybe see him over winter vacation or something, no big deal.


Guess which one I chose? (Hint: C) And for awhile, there was peace in Erinland. My well-meaning coworkers were happy that I wasn’t going to die alone, and I was happy because my answer effectively killed the question, and my 6th grade girl students were happy because Boyfriend meant I wasn’t ever going to date Kyung Hyu – my babe of a coteacher and the man that they are clearly all destined to marry.

Complications arose. First, my 5th graders were to speak with my family on the phone as part of a lesson. As they wrote down their questions, I spotted several “You like Erin Teacher boyfriend?” Goddammit you little bastards…of the four sentences you know… This would end in much shit upon my head if my parents thought I had a secret boyfriend OR if my parents thought I had a secret boyfriend and then I had to tell them I didn’t. They would cry the bitter tears of those with a spinster daughter. Blessedly, the question never reached my mom & dad – proof of a divine, benevolent force at work in the world.

And now, with winter vacation on the horizon, I’m getting more and more curious questions from coteachers about where I’m going, when I’m seeing Boyfriend, what we’re going to do, when we’re getting married, if my parents like him, when they can see pictures, etc. The lies! The tangled, tangled lies!

Anyway, this is all making me feel like Jan Brady.

Update, yo: In efforts to keep my finger on your pulse, dear readers, I need to know if I’m racist and if that bothers you. More specifically, is that picture caption racistly hilarious or hilariously racist? There’s a difference, believe it or not. Fire away.

Obligatory Thanksgiving Post

Well friends, I’ve waited until Thanksgiving is mostly over to post this because I want you to remember it.

I knew what I was getting myself into, coming to another country that doesn’t celebrate wonderful American traditions like stuffing yourself with poultry until you need to unbutton your pants or waking up at 3:00 in the morning to stand in line to go shopping, of all masochistic things. I knew.

But it’s still kind of sad. Especially because there is no good way to really celebrate here. The amount of effort it would require to make a pretend Thanksgiving meal would not be worth it,  because in the end I suspect you’d find yourself with a table full of “rice” stuffing and Korea-tasting potatoes. No thanks.

My coteacher asked me to teach some stuff about Thanksgiving, plus I thought it could be kind of fun for my English Club. Thus I scoured the internet for wonderful child appropriate Thanksgiving ‘things’. There’s a lot less to teach foreigners about Thanksgiving than you think.

So dearies, I give you this, what my Thanksgiving 2010 has been reduced to:

I Challenge You to a Duel!

You know those times where you would give anything to have a camera? Or to be able to work your camera in a quick and efficient manner so as to capture whatever fleeting moment you are after? That almost happened today. Except it didn’t because I’m awesome. Read on.

I started to leave the English classroom after 4th period but noticed my favorite coteacher, Mr. Coteach, lingering. I stopped to wait for him and watched while he ceremoniously removed his jacket, surrounded by a group of fourth graders. I frowned at him as if to ask “What the hell man?”

He pointed at a fourth grade boy and answered with a smile, “Me..and Minsu…we fight!”

Life During Wartime

In case you missed it, this happened.

This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco.

Hundreds of miles away from Gwangju, for the record, and nothing to get worried about yet. I rolled into this country knowing full well that it’s a nation still technically at war. In fact, my whole application process was shaking down in the wake of the mysterious Cheonan sinking and the international blame game/pissing contest that followed. So my world wasn’t completely rocked when these images of black columns of smoke kept popping up on all the TV channels. Nor when my fifth grade students started demonstrating the arc of artillery shells and explosions while shouting “You hear? You hear?!”

In my perverse little mind, the threat of war is the teensiest bit exciting. My American middle-class white existence has only ever been marginally touched by it, so I can still afford to romanticize violence. And it would make my (military serving) grandfathers very proud indeed if I died in a fireball of noble glory defending democracy and a roomful of school children from communists. (That sentence makes bald eagles weep tears of pure patriotism.) So I thought about that for a little bit and chose to ignore the fact that, as a government employee and foreigner, I’d probably be shipped out stat if things heated up between the Koreas. All because of this fool:

it’s funny because he’s fat

Curiously, none of the (adult) Koreans I know said a word about the goings-on on Yeonpyeong Island. Waiting in line at the bank, assaulted by the media coverage on a TV just at eye-level, I asked Coteach what she thought about it. She refrained from any real opinion (I suspect there is a covert game of “Don’t Agitate the American” going on here…), but mentioned worrying for her younger brother. We’d spoken of him before: a kid just 18 or 19 years old in the middle of his compulsory military service. So here was I, in my brain turning this into the Great War that would magically transform me into an Ernest Hemingway-type genius or Great American Hero….when in fact I am only ever going to be The World’s Most Consistent Asshole.

Stay tuned for further developments and exercises in humility.

UPDATE: Shit just got real.

This Is What Self Pity Looks Like, Korean Style

Yesterday was bad from the very beginning. Before the beginning even. If I haven’t mentioned it yet, I live on the noisiest street in the entire city of Gwangju. Across the way is a junk yard. And when I say ‘across the way’, I mean about 30 feet from the window above my bed. And when I say ‘junk yard’, I mean the place where all the old men come in Korea to either drop or destroy large pieces of glass or pipe. And when I say ‘drop or destroy’, I mean actually let drop, from what sounds like 40 feet in the air onto the ground or into the back of a truck, large metal pipes and sheets of glass.

I do not really know the purpose of Drop-n-Destroy. I only know that the angry eye contact I have made with the men outside at 5:30 in the morning has done nothing to deter them from making sure glass is being broken and pipes are being flung well before the sun is up. In fact, it seems lately the folks at Drop-n-Destroy have expanded business to include some sort of mechanic work. This primarily involves trying to turn over the engines of dying cars repeatedly underneath my window between the hours of 6 and 8 am until I am so angry that yet again I’m forced to stick my pissy face out there to find the culprit and try to murder him with my eyeballs.

Anyway, in that regard, yesterday wasn’t that different than most others, but since I hadn’t slept well the cacophony from my dear neighbors was less appreciated than usual. Upon waking the first time, I was pleased to find that it was still dark out and that I had quite a bit of time before I actually had to get up.

FALSE. There were a mere 6 or 7 minutes before my alarm would be going off. Apparently the sun has decided to sleep in and doesn’t care how that makes the rest of us feel in the morning. I never realized that I like Daylight Savings Time. In fact I always kind of trash talked it. I didn’t know that without this doofy American change, it’s dark until 8:00 am and finding the motivation to get out of bed is like sticking your hand down the garbage disposal and talking yourself into flipping the switch.

Having taken about a half hour too long to trick myself out of bed then, I was running late and in a frantic rush to get my coffee loaded into the Holy Thermos (holy because it protects the coffee that gives me life). While I was unwrapping sugar cubes with one hand I was pressing on the coffee press with the other and the next thing I knew boiling coffee was shooting all over me and my kitchen.  I have no idea what went so wrong, but I only had a few seconds to be confused and angry about how much it sucked (considering the mess it created and that I now had just half the coffee I need in a morning).

The rest of the day looked a lot like that. First a terrible bus ride, complete with ajumma elbow-to-face action and nausea-inducing brake stomping. Next my coteacher decided to do away with our planned “free day” and teach the sixth graders as usual (surprise! here’s a punch in the junk). And the rest of the afternoon was spent with Koreans who won’t talk to me unless they are asking me to do their homework or take their online tests or voice-record their final exams, all of which they did yesterday.

By the late afternoon, I was a broken shell of a person, hunched down at my desk with my headphones on, jumping out of my skin like an abuse victim when someone touched my shoulder to say goodbye.

Cheerleader Erin tried to encourage me to feel better and carry on with my original afternoon plan to go to Home Plus (Home Plus = Korean Wal-Mart, land of crowds and suffering).

4:19 pm erin: you can survive! go to home plus!

4:19 pm me: where it’s so much more megan friendly?

I needed a few things, so I went. I figured the walk would do me good too.

Unfortunately what happens at Wal-Mart or Home Plus when I feel any sort of angriness or sadness is that I buy THINGS to feel better. Much like ‘hungry’ is the worst way to go grocery shopping, ‘wallowing in self-pity’ really is the most dangerous way to visit a megasuperlandofcrapstore. Because I end up allowing myself to buy all sorts of garbage that is not only unnecessary, but that I might have specifically told myself earlier I would not be buying.

Chocolate, for instance, is on my list of things I’m not allowed to buy right now because it is not on my current ‘diet’. But I bought two. A $7 disc of Camembert cheese also falls into the category of “Makes your ass fatter: DO NOT BUY”.

Sometimes on my bimonthly visits to Home Plus, I allow myself to indulge in these little spicy chicken nugget things that have been wrapped in cellophane just long enough that they become ever so slightly soggy as they cool. I love them because they remind me of the chicken nuggets my mom used to make me to take to school when I was little. She cooked them in the morning and wrapped them in foil and by lunch time they too had become mushy on the outsides and not quite hot. It’s disgusting and amazing at the same time. Regardless, they will not help me reach “Hawaii Body” any faster and so they were supposed to be off limits yesterday too.

And yet, as you can see, I ended up purchasing not one, but ALL of those things. Plus a coffee mug because I liked it and felt bad for myself that I had a bad day. And you can bet your ass that as soon as that photograph was taken, I attacked a couple pieces of chicken and tore into the Camembert while I admired my pretty new mug and prepared to pace myself once I got to the M&Ms

The lesson of this story: Don’t go to Korea? Don’t wake up in the morning? Don’t go to Home Plus?  Don’t be Megan? I don’t know. You choose.

The Wonder Year

Remember fourth grade? Me neither. Because it was unfortunately sandwiched between third grade, the only time that I was in the same class as my childhood BFF Jennifer, and fifth grade, when I ruled the school  in my super favorite look-at-me-I’m-hot-shit cut-off shorts.

Actually, I do remember two things about fourth grade. I was in Ms. Kavlick’s class, and she was the oldest and most decrepit teacher I ever had. All she needed to successfully pull off a ‘haggard witch’ look was a black hat, as her nose was already appropriately misshapen and her skin sufficiently warty to scare any student at J.P. Ryon Elementary. And then Ms. Kavlick told us a story about a certain eye problem she had recently experienced.

“The other day I noticed that my left eye wasn’t tearing up when I cried (??) so I went to the eye doctor,” she began. The eye doctor examined her eye and determined, as any genius might, that something was blocking her tear duct. He told her that there was nothing he could do and that it would probably fix itself soon enough. Ms. Kavlick was satisfied with this evaluation and got up to leave the doctor’s office. As she was leaving, she needed to cough so she grabbed a tissue and hacked really hard. When she looked at the tissue, there was “a small rod shaped ‘thing’ the color of a dark booger,” she told us. She showed it to the doctor and he announced happily that this booger colored stick was obviously what had been blocking her tear duct. I don’t think I need to explain why this has stuck with me for 16 years.

Fourth grade was also the year that my class dissected an owl pellet. For those unfamiliar with the procedure, it means that a class of 9 year olds used tweezers to pick apart and remove itty bitty mouse bones from the hardened, turd-like regurgitation pellets of an owl, which someone had to actively go out to the woods and collect. And if that’s not gross enough, we also cleaned the bones and glued them to a piece of black construction paper in a proper mouse skeleton form. I recall my mother trying to hide her horror when I whipped that paper out at the dinner table one night, and then various times years later when I refused to throw it away because I still thought it was neat.

Why am I telling you this? Because those really are the only two things I can remember about being a fourth grader. What I do not remember is that in fourth grade, you are still an exceptionally cute child with an awesome imagination and the attitude that anything can be cool if someone older and slightly interesting is involved.

Seriously, these fourth graders are really adorable. Like a teacup poodle or something else tiny and ‘awwww’ inducing. They’re way cuter than the douchey sixth graders who are currently morphing into snotty, evil monstershits. Fourth graders are still all baby-faced and small. Sometimes I just want to hug them for no other reason than their cute factor.



They approach everything with a sense of wonder and amazement. Everything in my English room is fucking spectacular to them: most importantly me. After three months, they still get really excited to see me. Like, can’t sit still in their chairs excited when I walk in the room. How can you not love someone who is so thrilled to see you? It’s like having a little puppy who jumps and yips and runs in circles when you get home everyday. (I’m sorry I keep comparing them to dogs, but really, in this case it’s meant in the best way).

Fourth graders think games like Simon Says are the shit, or better yet, “Disappearing Dialogue!” Disappearing Dialogue! isn’t even a game, it’s a dialogue practice cloze activity. But my fourth graders were tripping all over themselves last week to have the chance to stand up and recite the same boring, “Let’s go shopping! I want a chair! How much is it?” over and over again. Like, waving their hands wildly, whimpering and whining with their asses barely in their chairs trying to get me to call on them. Sometimes I call on the same kids over and over again because I’m afraid if  I don’t they are actually going to explode. And there’s no candy or stickers at stake. Nothing.

Hanging out with the fourth graders is fucking nuts, but it’s also why I am considering teaching as a deliberate career move now instead of just a means to get to the other side of the world. I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend their days with people that still like you even after your haunting eye-booger story and grotesque owl vomit project??

Verschwörungstheorie! (A Pictorial)

Fascism: Accident or National Concern? You decide.