Monthly Archives: December 2010

Hey Look at Me! I’m Kinda Korean!

No, this isn’t another vaguely racist blog post. This is about adaptation, y’all.

Moving to a different country, speaking a new (and Asian) language, diving head first into a new profession, all of these things are designed to challenge one’s identity. The whole point of moving myself to the other side of the world was to encourage personal development. It’s a pretty solid equation

Discomfort = Adaptation = Growth = Bad Ass Human Person

I expected life to be inconvenient: communicating in general, becoming familiar with the public transportation, getting a hold of American things like food or beauty products, none of these challenges came as a surprise. It’s the kind of stuff you take for granted when you are nestled in America, the ease with which you function on a daily basis.

But then there were a few unexpected twists and problems that I did not think I’d be facing, and it’s kind of goofed up my plan.

“Hey dude this beer tastes horrible.”

I didn’t realize that it would be impossible to drink a decent beer. I don’t know if anyone believes us when we keep saying this, but the beer here is shit. It’s just plain awful shit. I often find myself wondering if I would enjoy a Keystone or a Coors Lite more than Korean beer. Worse, I find myself believing the answer is yes.

The dearth of tasty alcohol has left me with a bit of an identity crisis. I’ve gone weeks at a time, WEEKS people, without having a beer. There’s a large bottle of soju that has been sitting on top of my refrigerator untouched since the beginning of September. And the only night I usually drink now is Fridays. THE ONLY NIGHT.

Sometimes I’ll turn to Erin and say, “Remember when we used to get off work at 5:00 on any old weeknight and head straight to <insert random bar> and drink a few <insert tasty beers>? When we used to drink for pleasure?” And then our eyes gloss over as we step back in time and watch our former selves enjoying spontaneous Happy Hour at Delilah’s or T’s.

Then we snap to, soberly look each other up and down, and shudder at what different people we are, what different, less alcohol-bloated people we are.

“Hey, it’s COLD in here.”

If you are reading this blog and plan to come to Korea to teach English, bring long underwear. I will say it again, if you are coming to Korea to teach in a school, bring long underwear. One more time, just in case, if you will be teaching in Korea in the winter BRING LONG UNDERWEAR.

November rolled around and it got cold, as it’s apt to do in the Northern Hemisphere. Then it got colder, and then a little colder. And as it kept getting colder, the Koreans began wearing their puffy coats in school and started opening the windows like it was spring. The foreigners, in turn, started wondering why all the windows are open and why isn’t the heat on. Not one of the answers I have received about the lack of heat and the compulsion to “be one with the outdoors” is satisfying. So I’m forced to spend most of the day with my winter coat on, still freezing my bum off from the icy breeze that’s come in one of those open windows.

And the other day, a Korean had the AUDACITY to insinuate that I was foolish for “not knowing” it would be cold here.

“Didn’t you know it would be cold here?” As in, didn’t you know Korea has a winter season that gets cold?

Um, excuse me, bitch please. “Yes. I did know that Korea has WINTER. Thank you. I just didn’t know that Korea lets winter INSIDE”. I did not know that you choose to leave all the fucking windows open all day and that everyone has to dress like a bloody eskimo to come teach in what is essentially a walk in freezer.

Forced to adapt, I have become a person who appreciates heated America in a completely new way. But I have also become a angry popsicle person. This one might just be a wash as far as personal growth goes.

“Hey, but, how do I cook?”

I knew the kitchen would be small. That there’d probably be no oven. That I’d be working with only a pair of burners to get my ‘cook’ on. But I was still pretty optimistic about being able to spend time in the kitchen doing my very favorite thing in the world, the thing that makes me feel like me.

However, my hopes were quickly extinguished when I realized that I have limited access to American cooking ingredients (remember cheese?), that I can’t read or identify Korean food, and that while I can function with two burners, one square foot of ‘counter’ space is actually really sucky.

I gave up on the cooking pretty quickly. I started eating more and more for lunch at school and pretty much stopped eating any kind of real meal for dinner. I might have a snack, some fruit (I know!) or a piece of toast. And so the only thing gourmet I do anymore is make spam and egg sandwiches on the weekends. Don’t get me wrong, they are kick ass, and I’ve perfected the frying of an egg, but as a culinary enthusiast I don’t have much to show for my four months here. I feel sort of like I’ve failed myself.

Which is why last night’s Kimchi Fried Rice was a major accomplishment. I know, it’s just fried rice, like the easiest thing on the planet to make. But this is the first time that I’ve really used Korean ingredients to make anything resembling a Korean dish, and it’s only because I was forced to. A coteacher gave me a giant tub of kimchi and I needed to figure out something to do with it besides just eat it plain.

TaDa

And so I fried a little spam and fried a little egg and put some kimchi and kimchi juice and rice in a pan, and voila! Now I’m more me than I’ve been in a long time, but I’m also kind of Korean!

Swiss Miss, Day 1: Food Orgy

So I know this pertains to nothing, really, except how damn happy I am at this very moment. Friends, all my dreams are coming true already and I’ve been in Geneva about 12 hours.

Feast your eyes (wah waaah) on the grocery haul:

From left to right: Beer, wine, eggs, croissants, bread, baguette, bread, scotch, champagne, milk (meh), cereal (meh), espresso, cheese A atop cheese B, sausage A, sausage B, Sausage C, (obscured) salted ham, (obscured) bacon filets

It’s on like Donkey Kong.

Swiss Miss

Guys! It’s vacation time! Yes yes, potential EPIK employees take note: winter vacation comes with 2 weeks of paid leave. This is way more rad than all the other lame job benefits  I’ve had in the past. (You can keep that 20% off select entrees, Applebee’s. Jerks.)  While other people have decide to take this opportunity to go somewhere warm like Bali or Thailand, I, friends, am taking the road less traveled and less thought-thru – I fly to Switzerland tomorrow.

My feelings are neutral. *rim shot* <cartwheels off stage>

Why? I guess it’s because I really like hating snow and making myself miserable. Also, my friend is living there (Hi, Hayes!) and I will go anywhere that I don’t have to pay for lodging. I’m stoked, and I’m going to tell you why.

In Switzerland, things that should be made of wheat will be made of wheat: Things like bread, noodles, beer, grain alcohol, beer, BEER, flour, beer, bagels, cookies and assorted pastries, beer, and certain petroleum products used in plastics. (Beer!)

In Switzerland, there are white people the size of grizzly bears: Holy crap am I excited to feel small and anonymous. I’ve come to grips with being Completely Obvious the last few months, but it’s a lot of work to know you’re being looked at all the time, especially when you can practically see the exclamation marks over people’s heads as you walk past. “How the hell did that get here?!” has become the logical response to my face. So not eliciting that  reaction for a week will be great. And I’m not exactly a monstrous person, size-wise, but the Korean population is slight – a bunch of fine-boned, lovely bird-people. That means I kind of feel like a socially awkward Tyrannosaurus Rex. Self-esteem, you’re about to make a comeback.

In Switzerland, I will go beard watching: Damn do I miss facial hair on men. I realize that I’m in danger of sounding like a beatnik hipster type, but in this regard, I can’t help it. I remember last winter watching a friend’s band play (oh god, ouch, hipster, ouch) at a shady bar in Chicago. At some point I looked around the dark music hall and every. single. man. present had a full beard. I swooned. Megan was there, ask her. I also have extraordinary hopes that I will run into Pascal Baffert, the sole Swiss member of the Handlebar Mustache Club…just click on that link. Experience the magic for yourselves.

In Switzerland, there is cheese:

Erin: Man, I really underestimated how much I miss cheese.

Coteach: Korea has cheese. Korea has two kinds of cheese.

Erin: Yeah, but France has like, 500 national cheeses.

Coteach: The yellow cheese? Cheddar, you know it?

Erin: You mean those plastic-y Kraft-singles-looking-things at the store?

Coteach: What?

Erin: Nevermind.

Coteach: And we have white cheese too. It’s called….cream cheese?

Erin: <sigh>

Switzerland has it’s very own national cheese, just like America! Any country who takes the time to give their people a personalized dairy product is awesome in my book.

In Switzerland, I will sacrifice myself on the altar of travel: Like I said, I’ve been here a few months so the novelty has begun to fade. This vacation comes at the perfect time to throw myself back into the cold water of a language barrier and up against the wall of cultural differences (though after Asia, Europe seems really really mild, as far as cultural differences go.). When you travel, you’re forced to be the best version of yourself, trust people in an unquestioning way that in ordinary life doesn’t come so easy. I’m ready to be extravagantly uncomfortable again.

So peace out, homes. I will try and send you a line from the Alps, but I might also be lying dead in a cheese and beer coma. One can only hope.

The Truth About Christmas

Twelve Drummers Drumming
I designed English Club to expose my students to American culture, beyond the super exaggerated commercial society they are shown on the television. Naturally then I planned an entire unit devoted to Christmas. What else does an elementary school teacher do in December? It occurred to me more than once that this may raise eyebrows given how politically incorrect Christmas is in U.S, but as the course designer and the school’s most authentic source of all things American, I decided that operating under the American Culture umbrella I was free to do anything I want. I march to my own drum, bitches, and it’s not a buk. Continue reading

Confiscated: Princess Disease

The other day I took this cartoon from sixth grade girls because it was distracting them from my super engrossing lecture on modal verbs. I asked my coteacher what is said and meant. She could really only explain that there is a lot of laughing and she wasn’t sure what the Blobby guy in the third square is. But she did explain that Blobby accuses the girl of having “Princess Disease”, meaning she cares too much about her looks. The girl misunderstands that Blobby is insulting her and wonders, “Could I really be a princess?!”

I was intrigued by this Princess Disease business and tried to find out if it was a translation error, “disease”. I offered a few other ways to describe the concept: ‘narcissism’ and ‘vanity’.  But she assured me that in Korea it is considered a disease.

Given the prevalence of Princess Disease amongst bang-combing, mirror-wielding sixth graders, I just hope it’s not contagious.

**If anyone can tell what else is going on in this cartoon, please feel free to translate!

Weird Shit on Korean TV: Ass Play

You guys, do you even understand how many Google search hits I’m going to get with that title? Welcome, Fetishists!

In this week’s installation of “Weird Shit on Korean TV” I give you wonders the likes of which you would never see on prime time TV back home. I cannot fully explain what transpired; we are all the lesser for it. It was a magical time and place in the world, and all too brief. Behold:

Men in unitards – off to a good start.
okay, i’m with you so far. But the, uh, red scarf threaded between the legs? Explain.
Lift with your legs, bro. Wait….what?
WAIT WHAT

Continue reading

Minority Report

Malkovich Malkovich? Malkovich!

The Scene:Home Plus (Korean Wal-Mart). The Players: Megan and myself.

Megan tinkers with some water bottles and I dick around with some curious instrument for making kimchi that resembles both a bludgeon and a sexy toy. I’m about to comment on this when, Hark!, a voice –

“Teacher!”

The name by which we are both better known. I drop the offensive kitchen(?) item. We turn, but Megan is on the front lines; I’m concealed a few feet behind her.

“Teacherrrr!”

Megan looks back at me with “Does this one belong to you?” written on her horror-stricken face. I step out from behind her shoulder. The hollering girl (5th or 6th grade, glasses, ponytail, skinny jeans and sweatshirt down to her knees – that is to say Every Korean Girl) sees now that there are two of us. She stops.

We stare at each other. The guilt kicks in and the mind races: Oh God, I can’t place this kid because I spend every day with 700 Asian children with glasses and ponytails and pink fluffy coats and Converse All-Stars and  I know NONE of their names, what the hell is the matter with me? I should be able to distinguish them from one another….what kind of shitty teacher am I? What kind of shitty person? Do I not care about the individual? Do I succumb to some kind of white, colonialist douchebaggery wherein I blur all people of color into some blob of “other”?  Do I then fear the “other” and hate it and degrade it? Oh my god I just referred to everyone that isn’t white as “it”. I’m so racist. I’m so goddamn racist. Is this as bad as being one of those people who wears Confederate Flag trucker hats? Not that that would necessarily make you racist, I guess, just a Mississippi enthusiast. Kind of. I mean, I think you know exactly what you’re doing when you paint that on your pick up or double wide. Oh god, that was kind of racist, wasn’t it? Racist against hill people. Is “hill people” racist? I think so. I’m racist against my own race. Can you do that? I just did.  I am shit. I am total shit.  Oh god, please tell me I’m not actually racist; this is an isolated incident; it’s not the way I actually am. I’ll take down all that questionable stuff from my racist fucking blog, I’ll take out my own eyes so I don’t even see people anymore let alone race, take my ears if I start defining people by their voices because you know some people are pretty unmistakably black when you hear them speak ohmygod I just thought that this is getting worse it’s snowballing jesus please don’t let me actually be racist it’s the worst thing I can think of because I’m a tolerant person I swear to jesus I’ll start going back to church I’ll volunteer at soup kitchens and shit if it will atone for this anything you want you know except like adopting a child from a third world country which has absolutely NOTHING to do with race I’m just not ready to be a mother even though I love everything equally!  I DON”T SEE RAAAACCEE! christ almiiiightyyyy –

The girl looks at me. The girl looks at Megan. She looks back and forth between the two of us. She can’t tell us apart.

Because we whities all totally look alike.