Category Archives: Gwangju

Cloudy with a Chance of Dying

Erin wrote about it the other day and I’ve been whining about it on Facebook to anyone who will listen all week. It’s hot. And humid. And miserable. As a result, I’m one drop of sweat away from a breakdown. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every conversation I’ve had this week has revolved around how hot and wet and straight up pissed off I am.  I really almost lost it yesterday afternoon when I walked by my principal’s office and realized that all his windows were closed because he is the only one in school allowed to have the air conditioner on. I dare him to look at me today.

To spare you the pain of a whole new ranty blog post about it (it is seriously the only thing I can think or talk or write about, I’m sorry), I’ve reduced my daily gchats to a “word cloud” that shows exactly how climate-centric my life has been in the last ten days. August 26th, where are you??

Good Riddance

To start this week I could write you a lovely story about my weekend spent outside in gorgeous Gwangju, drinking beer and feeling pretty positive about life in general. It’s been beautiful here lately, which is both wonderful and confusing. Amazing weather, happy students and activities every weekend until August make it hard to understand why I would leave. I know that I don’t belong here another year, but right now I’m blinded by the spring sunshine. In order to balance the scale of my emotions, I have to really focus on the mundane reasons that, considered collectively, remind me why I’m out in four months. Thus, in no particular order, here are five things right off the top of my head that I will not miss about Korea. Continue reading

Why Did the Megan Cross the Road?

ACT ONE

“They have fried chickens there.  Like whole ones. For $12.”

That’s how I got sucked into going to a baseball game. It was all about the chicken from the very beginning.

See, I don’t really like baseball. I find it a bit dull. Being a big hockey fan, I can’t help but compare the pace of a hockey game to the pace of a baseball game, and the constant excitement and momentum of hockey makes baseball excruciatingly boring. I know this sentiment offends most people, but I don’t care.

I heard a lot of positive talk from foreigner friends here regarding Gwangju Kia Tigers baseball. They had a blast last season going to as many games as possible and were all pretty pumped about spending the next four months at the field. Most of it I disregarded for the aforementioned reason. But then someone told me about The Chicken. She said it was amazing and cheap and special because it’s like, a whole chicken, fried right before your eyes. So I thought: Nice weather? $7 a ticket? Fried chicken? Alright. I’ll go.

Baseball Concessions: Look familiar? I didn't think so.

ACT TWO

From the moment I arrived and took in the scene that was “concessions”, it was all about The Chicken. Erin and I joined a group of our waygook friends, planting ourselves firmly in front of the chicken cart and giant bubbling pots of oil.

Friends: Hi guys!

Me: Chicken?

Friends: How was your day?

Me: Chickenchicken.

Friends: This is your first time at the baseball game right?

Me: Chicken?

Friends: Maybe we should buy tickets? And think about getting seats?

Me: Mm..Chicken.

Fixating on how awesome this super fresh, whole fried chicken for $12 was gonna be, we waited.

 

A whole chicken per pot.

And we waited and waited. And waited some more. When all was said and done, four boxes (a chicken in each box) and forty minutes later, we made it to our seats.

I surprised myself by opening a beer and enjoying a few sips before diving into the goods. Was The Chicken everything it promised to be? Pretty much (especially after I found the packet of salt at the bottom of the box). It was super crispy, with a tasty batter made all the more flavorful by the wholeness of the bird.

Glory

Would I return to the baseball game for a warm spring night full of cheering, beer and chicken? Indeed.

ACT THREE

This afternoon, I was jolted from my post-lunch coma by one of my favorite students asking me “Teacher, where you go yesterday?”

Yesterday was her birthday and I thought she expected me to have been at school, so I explained that I work at my other school on Tuesdays. But she shook her head and said, “Last night. TV. I see you!”

A look of surprise and recognition washed over my face and I started laughing. Again on TV huh? I’m pretty sure my giant waygook clan was featured on the soccer game a few weeks ago too. Ah, fame.

And then she repeated, “I see you on TV. Eat fried chicken teacher!! HAHAHAHA!!!!”

Ah, shame.

I imagine my 11 year old student, sitting at home around the tv with her family. On the screen appears my greasy face, half masked behind a giant hunk of fried meat as I gnaw away gleefully. “That’s my teacher!” she cries. And her parents frown uncomfortably, embarrassed and concerned by the grotesque image in front of them.

I almost want to look for the video. Google search “Foreigner devours fried chicken at Korean baseball game”. But it would definitely ruin chicken and/or baseball for me forever.

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.

One of These Things is Not Like Others

Where’s Waygook?

My third week of teaching, I stood before a class of very confused ten year olds. Seems like a given, right? The average Korean student spends about 90% of English class without any clue what is going on, but this time it was different. The kids weren’t perplexed over the subtle differences between “vase” and “base” or “fork” and “pork”, nor the mind-boggling similarities among ‘to’, ‘two’ and ‘too’. This time it was because they couldn’t locate the imagined photographer in the room. Continue reading

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*

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