Monthly Archives: March 2011

First I Was All…But Then I Was Like…

Vacations – they’re the greatest, right? You leap into a distant time zone, reset the wristwatch, listen to the strange but beautiful language, smell the air, taste the food, make out with the locals, sample the music, note how the light is just a little bit different at sunrise and how people dress just left of how they do back home.

And then you’re on a plane again with a camera full o’ memories and at least two months’ worth of dinner conversation. “Oh you simply must summer in Sardinia, Geoffrey, it’s divine that time of year! And the natives do the most darling thing with cheese…

Ah, glossy candy-coated travel memories! Like this:

Geoffrey, I’m telling you, you’ve never even seen a chin until you’ve seen his chin.

Immigration – now that’s a whole different bag. You get Vacation Wonder for a few weeks, a couple months if your lucky. Then things starts to look like this:

Ugh. Nobody cares about your gross exposed musculature anymore, Korea.
Ugh. Nobody cares about your gross exposed musculature anymore, Korea.

So that’s where we’re at. 7 months in, and the shine has worn off. I still love teaching and my students and stuff. But nothing is….weird anymore.  Which is sort of the whole point of me being here. Everything has settled and I find myself back at Normal. I hate Normal. I flee Normal by doing things like moving to Korea. And yet stupid Normal finds me. Everything is boring and I hate it.

Even worse than being discovered by Normal, though, is that I’m getting close to dropping the Polite Foreigner Act all together. Things driving me to an American outburst include the following: The from-the-depths-of-your-rotten-lungs spitting; the trend of getting off an escalator/stepping into a doorway and then stopping as if you don’t know the people behind you are on an irrevocable crash course towards your ass; walking up to me to look into my shopping basket; getting asked if I’m Russian (that is, a prostitute)…

I hesitate to go on; nobody likes a whiner. But I think maybe it was this, that tipped the scales against Korea:

The old man that changed everything.

Obviously the most comfortable place to sit on a bus is between my legs, slowly settling in against my junk as we ride merrily down the mountainside. Because there is nothing uncomfortable about this at all. You’re bumming me out Korea. You’re bumming me out.

Delivery Chuseyo

One of the coolest things about Korea is delivery food. It’s blazing fast, it’s good quality, and you can get just about anything you can get in a regular Korean restaurant (including dolsot bibimbap and awesome fried chickens). I suspected as much for the first five and a half months I lived here. But being that I don’t speak Korean, calling up a Kimbap place and requesting food was a laughable endeavor.  Sometime in February though, out of hungover desperation and vacation ennui, I forced myself to make it work.

A lot of the words are familiar to me: “bibimbap”, “kimbap”, “I want”, I say these things in restaurants. “Delivery please” had to be researched and pronouncing my address had to be practiced (I never say it to cab drivers, I just ask to go to my school which is three minutes away and far easier to explain).

After a little studying and a LOT of practicing, I was just about ready to pick up the phone. I had my script, my address spelled out phonetically, a list of what I wanted to order. The only flaw in my plan would be if the Korean on the other end tried to ask me any questions. I was perfectly capable of reciting my order, but there was no way in hell I was going to be able to converse. Continue reading

Great Lengths

I don’t envy the men and women locked in a conference room somewhere tasked with creating the national English curriculum of Korea. What an impossibly crappy job that must be. “We must have more singing! More chanting! More games with finger puppets!”

The same people responsible for subtly suggesting Hitler youth-dom to 4th graders

Last semester, being the doe-eyed baby teacher that I was, I felt bad criticizing the tools I was given with which to teach. But they were lacking. The books were weak, the lesson material questionable (Does any native English speaker say “See you again”? And isn’t “So long” a little…antique to be teaching a bunch of 12 year olds?) and above all, this was BORING.

The audio and video clips accompanying every lesson were low-budget nightmares, fraught with speech impediment-ridden child actors (we’re only trying to teach a language here, Casting Director), and cartoonish voice overs. A few of my favorites examples:

And now, taking the Creeper Cake:

Imagine how well that went over with jaded sixth graders. (PS: You can see the complete top ten list of worst videos here.)

I thought I had it bad. I thought the methods thrust upon me to teach English weak. But never, NEVER could I have imagined something as profoundly embarrassing, degrading and STUNNING as this:

(Many thanks to Megan and the Gwangju crew for introducing all of these videos to me!)

Here, Use My Eyes

“An unexpected and unknown visitor allows you to see a familiar place as if for the very first time. I’m thinking of the meter-reader rooting through your kitchen at 8 a.m., the Jehovah’s Witness suddenly standing in the living room. ‘Here’, they seem to say, ‘use my eyes. The focus is much keener. ‘” – David Sedaris, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

For the second time this week, there was a loud, insistent pounding on my door, followed by the always-a-pleasure “Have You Ever Seen A Lassie?” doorbellphone. This sudden barrage of loud and obnoxious sounds always scares the piss out of me, if for no other reason than proximity. I am usually seated on my bed, which is about six paces from the front door, and even though it is only about six paces from the door, I somehow NEVER hear the knocker coming and end up jumping out of my skin when the attack begins. Continue reading


About two weeks ago, the office of education contacted my fellow teachers and me re: contract renewal. Ah, to stay in Korea or not? My conclusion: if I’m to stay in this country, it will not be to teach. Nay, I will remain  only under the condition that I can design children’s English notebooks.

You see dear reader, having students who care nothing for their worldly possessions means I’m usually left with all their school supplies after a week of classes. Pencils, erasers – these things are no different then what you see back home. But the notebooks? They are things of wonder.  They are rife with this nation’s best Konglish. (Konglish = Unintended Hilarity) And since I’m weird, I’ve studied these notebooks plenty.  Over the course of my intense research, I’ve decoded the key to a successful English notebook cover. Continue reading


It’s the end of Full Week #2 and my brain is mushy and still a little Guinness-logged. So I’m just gonna give you the highlights of my week.

1.) Today my teeny tiny fourth graders had to get up and do a role play that involved meeting the characters from Tom Sawyer, including Huck and Becky. It was super basic “Becky, this is Huck. Huck, this is Becky,” and “Nice to meet you!”. Anyways, I watched this role play about 15 times over the course of the morning.  When the last group got up to perform before lunch, this rolypoly kid with his underwear sticking out was cast as Huck. Before he spoke, he lit up an imaginary pipe, which was both startling AND hilarious. My coteacher was like “No no no” but he kept at for the full minute and a half, switching to pretend cigarettes and chain smoking, lighting and relighting while the rest of the kids did their dialogue. It was awesome. And random. And so funny.

Evidently, some Korean children are familiar with this picture...

Continue reading

Wave of Mutilation

Yesterday I had one of those stunned conversations that everyone has been having since Friday. They go something like this –

A: Did you see what happened in Japan?

B: Yeah, oh my god, can you believe that? Have you ever seen anything like it?

A: No, that footage was terrifying! And so many people have died…

B: I know. It’s horrible.

A: Horrible.

Totally useless exchanges, if we’re honest with ourselves. Only this latest conversation didn’t stop there. My coworker continued to explain to me (brow all the while still creased in concern for the people effected) that the Japanese were godless and, considering their actions in the past, kind of definitely had it coming to them, this disaster.


Chocking up suffering to divine scale-balancing has been going on since the beginning of God. This answer is comforting only because it’s easy. This answer means you don’t have to think anymore about why your God would even allow pain on his earth. And this answer only works when you aren’t the one being “punished”.

It’s safe to assume I’m just as wrong as everyone else when it comes to our thoughts on The Big Picture, or even what “right” is. I’m convinced not one of us has any clue what’s really going on. But a little compassion wouldn’t hurt, since we’re all so goddamned confused.

Here’s a pretty s0lid list of ways you can donate aid to Japan. Consider it.