Monthly Archives: January 2011

Think of the Children

My resume prior to teaching in Korea was a list of lame pre- and post-collegiate fuckarounds. Aside from having been in school in some capacity for 20 years, I didn’t have much commending me to this position. Not only was I not the most qualified individual in the EPIK applicant pool, but I hadn’t really been exposed to children since…I had been one? Which would explain why more than one person reacted with open horror when they learned I’d be teaching elementary school. (“But you don’t like kids….do you?”) Oh, naysayers. I ADORE kids. In particular, the kids I teach here.

examples of things I like

The last few weeks have been an experiment in “what would it have been like to come to Gwangju alone?” The answer is: pretty quiet and oddly productive in the confines of my apartment. But it’s been the random run-ins with students in the wild that fill me up with the warm fuzzies* and give me a sense that I’m actually part of the community here. (Cue this.) Also, no one has ever been so freaking happy to see me as some of these kids. For no reason. I could be walking to the bus stop, heading home, taking garbage out, and then all of a sudden there will be an overjoyed child from out of nowhere beaming up at me. It’s kind of like God parting the clouds, looking directly at you and giving you a thumb’s up. I mean, do you need anymore reason to come and teach in Korea?

And they’re smart. SO SMART. And really funny. And young enough not to have had the personality drilled out of them from intense Korean schooling. And though I want to throw a bajillion examples of their brilliance at you, I won’t. I’ll just give you one.

In some tangent of a 3rd grade lesson, I showed students a picture of an alien. I repeated the word a few times for them. Murmurs from the back. “Eh-leen? Eh-leen?” Pointing at the screen, pointing at me, giggle giggle. Eh-leen might be a shot at pronouncing “a-lee-en”, but it’s also the way my name sounds in the mouth of  Korean child. This was awesome because: A) the kids were making a joke/pun in a language they don’t know, and B) they were unintentionally using the word alien (as in, outsider) correctly. I was thus moved to give them candy.

Of course there are good days and bad, but I promise not one day will go by without one kid making you glad you’re here. In conclusion, come to Korea for the good pay, the free apartment, the multicultural experience. But stay for the way hanging out with kids relieves you of your adult cynicism. And the ice skating in helmets.

sure, let’s be safety conscious here, but not outside where we use hoses to clear snow off the street that then leaves a sheet of ice. Hilarious double-standard!

*blah blah blah yes, Erin’s heart grew three sizes today. Go away. *fart noise*

Moments in Cultural Assimilation 1 & 2

Multiculturalism

Good news everyone! 5 months into living in Gwangju and I’m finally integrating!

Moment 1 – Kimchi Binge

I don’t know if I made this really clear or not, but things have been pretty tedious with no friends around and no (pressing) work to do.This has resulted in boredom trips to the marts in my neighborhood. All of these excursions lately have ended with me buying ungodly amounts of kimchi. There are just so many varieties, people! I feel compelled to collect them all. And it’s so very good for you!  Pardon me for being a girl for a minute, but if someone is all, “Hey try this food! It’s delicious, you can eat as much as you want, and your butt will STILL get smaller!” YOU DON’T WALK AWAY FROM THAT – YOU’VE BEEN WAITING YOUR ENTIRE LIFE TO HEAR THOSE WORDS.

Then there’s this, which makes me real Koreanish…it started out innocently. I just didn’t have any other food in my house. But now the habit has formed…I really like eating kimchi for breakfast. It’s so incredibly bitter it does almost as good a job of waking me up as my coffee.

Breakfast du Jour. Someone on the internet, care about this.

Moment 2 – Open A Window

We’ve made a few references (cryptic haikus and all) here to the curious habit of the Korean people to leave windows wide open in the middle of winter. Like seriously. Wide open. I watched this behavior unfold as we cleaned up my classroom from winter camp. Task 1 – open the windows. Real wide. Wider. Pay no attention to Erin Teacher squawking at you in English to cut it out.

You may also recall that my house is the smaller than your typical American hotel room.(Just scroll down two posts for picture proof.)

So, minifridge loaded to the gills with kimchi, you can imagine what might follow. Opening the refrigerator released a creeping, sneaky perfume of fermented vegetables. At first I wouldn’t notice it, as the odor crept along the floor. But then it rose – rose and diffused until my little room was filled with the rather rude smell of kimchi. I would get used to it; I would leave; I would return, and recoil. The smell lingered. Something had to be done.

Today, as I left my house, despite the low temperature and threat of snow, you better believe I left the window all the hell wide open. You don’t understand exactly how bad the smell of kimchi in an enclosed space can be. I can only assume this was the genesis of the Korean open-window practice: home + kimchi = rank, inhumane odors. Similarly, once your entire family consumes a katrillion pounds of cabbage, you’re going to want to crack a window too*. Just sayin.

Methinks a Korean doth live here

*We’ve been up as a blog for a whole year and I think that was our first fart joke. Megan, this is what happens when you leave blog content up to  me.

Because Erin Did It

Okay, Erin posted her gluttonous European pork-filled first grocery trip, so I’m showing you my first trip to the supermarket in Southern Cali. Trader Joe’s, the mecca. I know, I’m a bitch. Get over it.

Freaking delicious. We had mini-appetizer night. Crab cakes, bruschetta, sushi, cheese and crackers, lox and cucumber, all recognizable as “yummies not found in Korea”. It was amazing. The cilantro dressing was my very favorite purchase (I’m not even just lying to spite you Erin).

From left to right: Mini-Pita Chips, Honey Moon, Tuscan Moon, Bay Moon, Pirate Wine :), Red Pepper Spread, Row 2: Lettuce, Crab Cakes, Cream Cheese, Dark Chocolate Pistachio Toffee, Chocolate Cookie Ice Cream Bon Bons, Row 3: Lox, Salami, Brie, Cotswald Onion and Chive, Baguette, Cubed Pancetta, Row 4: Cucumber, Avocado, Mini Heirlooms, TJ's Spicy California Roll, TJ's Cilantro Salad Dressing

Jesus Christ Am I Bored

School ended right around Christmastime. Immediately upon being released from the responsibility of my job, I fled for two weeks of vacation. “Peace out, fools!” I cried as I left my fellow English speakers in the dust. Since my return, these friends and acquaintances have trickled out of the city on their own vacations, leaving little ol’ me behind. Until today, I had Erin’s Fun Time English Camp to distract me from being alone. But that’s over now. My orders are not to return to school until February 7.

It’s  January 21.

I’ve been home for two hours and I’m already losing it. Hard. I’m talking Jack-Nicholson-in-The-Shining losing it. (“Wendy…Darling…Light of my life…”)

Pictured: my entire house

Every drawer open, the wardrobe agape. I’ve been in and out of the empty refrigerator a few times looking for nothing in particular. I’ve thrown a pile of dirty clothes back and forth between my bed and my chair, and every surface is smeared with my possessions as I’ve desperately hunted for something to do.  (Cleaning the mess I’ve made is a not a viable option.)

It’s so bad that I can’t even think of anything to write about for my blog. Nary a haiku or clever little anecdote rattling around in this brain today. So much the worse for you, Reader. So let’s take a vote on what I should be doing, seated at my desk as I am now. Behold my first foray into Paint since I was 10 years old. Yowzer. Okay, here are the choices.

  • A. Write! Be productive! Do not cruise the internet!
  • B. Drink that bottle of fine scotch whisky
  • C. Find a use for that fist toy I bought at Home Plus
  • D. Drink, then write, then drink, then hit things with the fist toy

Cast your votes in the comments section! Seriously. Help a bitch out.

My Lunch Speaks

hey. psst. hey.

yes you, whitey

come'er. closer.

closer

EAT ME

God help me, I did.

That’s 번데기 – beondegi –  silkworm pupa, pretty popular snack in Korea. They taste exactly like the word “pupa” sounds – repulsive. You see street vendors around here cooking these bad boys up (you will know them by the rank odor of death that accompanies them), but for obvious reasons, I passed on ever putting one in my mouth. Because, dudes, why? WHY?! Why in a land of plenty would you ever resort to eating bugs?

But then these appeared as a side dish at lunch with my coteachers, and I was riding on the high of a good day at English camp, and I decided to be a little adventurous. After all, I like pretty much all Korean food, even the stuff considered weird in the States (like this, this or all this delicious business).  But you, beondegi…you are the weirdest. You are something special. First, beondegi is usually boiled, so there is no crunch when you bite one, but there is an explosion as the chrysalis bursts and the silkworm innards assault your tongue. Second,beondegi tastes like it is actively punishing you for eating it – only a sander across the tongue will get this taste out of your mouth.(Note: it’s a rare lunch that comes with more than an accompanying tablespoon of water. You cannot drink this away.)

These are the appetizers served in hell. Repent, readers, or you too shall know the piquant flavor of the silkworm.

Silkworm: how you like me now?

Stroke Me, Stroke Me

Last weekend I went out with a couple English speakers, and as typically occurs over dinner and drinks, we got to telling stories about our experiences in Gwangju. One person would start off with “Hey, you know when X happens?” And then the rest of us would be like, “Oh man, X! That shit is cra-zay!” And we would empathize, and then the next person in line would offer up a shared experience and we would repeat the  chorus of foreigner recognition.

We landed on the topic of ajummas.

Note the ajumma’s unquenchable lust for perms and visors.

Feeling that I had something to contribute to the conversation at this point, I was all “Oh man, guys, ajummas! Isn’t it weird when they pet you?”

The laughter accompanying our conversation sort of petered out.

“Wait, what?”

“Pet you? Like, pet you? Like a dog?”

“This doesn’t happen to anyone else?”

“…”

“…” Continue reading

My Love Affair: 비빔밥

What is that? It’s bibimbap. Pronounced “pi-bim-bop”

Is that a real word, Megan? Of course it is. I would never invent a word. Especially one that already sounds like a bad guy side kick from Ninja Turtles.

What is that then? It’s a famous Korean dish that is served in a single bowl and literally translates to “mixed meal”. It has rice and veggies and is super tasty when done right (which is often). There are tons of variations and that is what makes it my current (and very serious) addiction.

Bibimbap

If it’s just vegetables, why are you all in love with it?Well because like I just said, there are eighty katrillion variations on bibimbap Continue reading