Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'm glad I never have to drive here

My first experience in Korea was with a van driver. At the time I thought he was perhaps new to the act of driving. Now, however, I know the truth.

I like to look out the window when I'm in a vehicle, and being in a bus or taxi provides ample opportunity for that. Having to rely on public transportation I've been able to do a lot of window gazing in my two weeks here. At first I focused on buildings and landscapes, but recently I've been transfixed by what passes for driving in this here country.

It seems that in Korea, or at least Seoul, certain driving laws that I always understood to be necessary are taken as only suggestions. Take lanes, for example. Now, call me silly, but I've always felt that the lanes painted on the road were there for a reason. Lanes here are more of a suggestion. If you can fit your vehicle between two other cars, you do. Damn the lanes, you'll make your own!

Another prime example is found in the behavior for buses and taxis. The first time my taxi straight up ran a red light I almost had a heart attack. I feel that anyone would suffer some heart palpitations if your taxi squirted across a busy intersection, barely avoiding being creamed by a bus. Again I thought that perhaps it was that particular taxi driver who was lacking in driving skills. No, if you are a bus or a taxi and you feel as though you can make it across an intersection without killing anyone, you do. Red lights, I've heard, are for pushovers.

My last example takes place on the highways. What happens on highways here is kind of like something out of the nightmare of a parent on the eve of their child's 16th birthday. If you would like to change lanes, well go right ahead. No, no don't wait for a space in traffic! Silly you! Just start changing lanes. Right Now! But be careful, if you pay too much attention you might miss part of the program that is playing on your dashboards TV. After all, there's no one else in the car so you, the driver, are clearly the intended audience. Oh, and if you think this is easy when you're doing 5 or 10 MPH in bumper to bumper traffic, don't worry, in a bit the road will open up. At some point, if those around you are lucky it'll be during a commercial break, you'll get to execute this balls to the wall lane change trick at around 60 or 70 MPH!

I have yet to see a traffic accident, but I've only been here two weeks. I suppose it is technically possible that every driver in Seoul is amazing.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


This "kid" looked 12. He's 21 and an amazing dancer

We think they were acting out dances from music videos. Not knowing Korean, we couldn't be sure why

Five men in suits, one stage, a hundred Asian women in the crowd, and four westerners. We laughed, a lot, and the Asian women screamed in pleasure as these men danced their hearts out. I wonder why this sort of thing never happens in Pittsburgh.
After watching this random dance spectacle, we looked around the night market for a bit. I didn't get anything, but I have a feeling I'll be braving the hour long bus ride again.
Ok, I did get something. I bought Sarah part of her Christmas present, but I don't feel guilty cause it was only a dollar.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Because I'm bigger than you

Deep into my second week as a teacher I've found that I am far more patient than I ever thought I was.

Only twice have I lost my cool. The first time was when one of my six year olds kept interrupting class to complain that he was hungry. Now this was the last class of the day so the kid probably was hungry. There's not much I can do about it. After a couple minutes of the child loudly calling my name and feigning debilitating hunger pains (no one get up in arms, the kid had eaten lunch two hours earlier and I'm fairly certain that no one can die of hunger after a two hour fast) my patience reached its limits. I stopped the class, looked the kid in the eyes, and pouring on the sass and attitude asked, "Awww, are you hungry? That's too bad. You get to go home in twenty minutes. Eat there." Six year olds expect to do the sassing, not to be sassed at. With eyes the size of saucers, the kid sat down and kept his mouth shut for the rest of class.

Yesterday I had to deal with the most dreaded of childhood behaviors, the incessant why question. After answering the little girls "why" five or six times I'd had enough. "Because I'm bigger than you!"

I'm not sure if giving a child attitude and intimidation are the kinds of things they teach you in college, but they sure worked for me.

Side Note:
The children say they like me because I'm not mean and I don't yell. I guess that was how their last teacher handled things. I like to think that my unconventional methods are acceptable becuase they mean I don't have to raise my voice. Either way, it's working.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The first day with the kids

Wow. All I can really say about today is wow.

Never have I thought, "Self, lets teach children. No no! Really young kids! Ya, that would be fun." I always kind of thought that teaching young kids was something that happened on the third or fourth level of hell. I really only agreed to teach because otherwise I couldn't go to the other side of the world, experience a new culture, and get paid. I thought I'd grit my teeth and put up with the kids.

Well today was quite the day for me as a human being. In the morning there were three classes of writing and grammar, and then three classes of reading comp in the afternoon. I ate lunch with the kids and didn't get a true moment to myself until 3pm when they went home. Tomorrow another group will come in at 3pm for PK, which is essentially extra English tutoring for 8 and over kids.

By all rights I should have hated every moment of today. I should have floundered and fallen on my face trying to explain initial /f/ and pluralizing nouns. I should have had a lot of emotional responses to today, none of them positive. Instead what happened was a part of me looked over a gym room of 30 or so 6 and 7 year olds and...and...well damn, smiled inside.

The part of me that never wanted to work with kids gave up today. That part of me lasted a whole ten minutes before it threw its hands in the air and stalked off. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I am excited to get back to work tomorrow...

Monday, August 3, 2009

My first day

This is a small park outside of a subway station

These little park things are EVERYWHERE, very nice in a big city

This little dog guards my school buildings parking garage

This is my desk at school

This is my room. Oh my, I have my own school room!

I realized that I titled my last post "The quiet city" and never explained what that meant. Silly me.
One of the very first things that struck me as different about Seoul is that it is a surprisingly quiet city. I have been told that the Koreans are a very reserved people, which explains why no one yells on the streets. What is truly odd is that no one talks very loudly on the streets and the subways are almost silent! Of course the traffic makes noise, but it really doesn't seem that bad since no one yells and none of the stores blare music into the street.
There is also a decided lack of graffiti. I have yet to see a single sign or wall defaced. There are also little park like areas with benches, fountains, and art on almost every block. It all kind of combines to create a very...peacefull city. (as peacefull as a city can be) All of the things I dislike about NYC aren't found here. The green spaces and art, along with the mountains peaking from between buildings, help alleviate the sense oppression I feel in NYC.
The people are differant than any other city I have been to. No one really smiles at others as they pass on the street, but if you talk to anyone they are very helpful and kind. If you stand in one place looking confused random strangers will go out of their way to ask if you need help. And pretty much anyone else you see who isn't Asian will go out of their way to say hello and ask how you are.
Non-Asians definatly attract attention. Lisa and I were in a grocery store Saturday and were contemplating eating in their cafe when a small Asian child came up to us. She said hello and told us her name in English. Then she looked at her parents and told us "Mother. Father." I wasn't entirely sure what to say to this random child, but Lisa, without batting an eye, says to her parents, "Her English is very good. Very good English." The parents broke out in huge smiles and thanked us! As foreigners, we are kind of like walking English tests and no one hesitates to use us as such. It's a very interesting experiance.
I can't help but think about how non-English speakers are treated in America. Here, more often than not signs and menus are in English and Korean, and pretty much everyone speaks some English. It's still hard to get around if you don't know any Korean (and thank god for Lisa's willingness to go with me and translate) I can't imagine comeing to America and not speaking English. I also can't imagine moving, not speaking the language, and having people be pissed that you can't speak it! I feel bad not being able to speak Korean and no one expects me to.
So, to recap:
no shoes inside
great public transportation
everything is really cheap
people are helpful
a comfortable city
great food, also dirt cheap
safe, very safe
and of course you walk everywhere so loosing weight is going to be a snap
if I could just get Bob to move here and learn some of the language, I might never go home...I might not feel so positive about it in a month or so when homesickness sets in, but ya never know

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The quiet city

How did this clutter get here so fast?

Korean money is super easy to understand. You just pretend that the first three zeros aren't there and it's basically in dollars then.

The corner store on my block sells this for like 1.50$ and it's like three shots of wonderful espresso.

This is Green Tea Soy Milk. It is a gross as it sounds. Every time I think about it I kinda want to throw up. I think I'll just stick with chocolate from now on.

So, my first day in Korea was crazy. Lisa, a Canadian teacher whose about to start her second year here, spent the day showing me around. I owe this girl a million! She helped me get my subway pass set up, showed me where the grocery store was, and helped me get to know the neighborhood. She also spent like five hours running around to a million stores looking for a three prong adapter for my computer. We finally found it, thank god.

So, in Korea pretty much all the buildings have walkways through them. Everyone uses these walkways to get from one street to another. They also don't cross big streets above ground. Everyone goes down into the subway and crosses there. All the foot traffic means that all of these walk ways are full of people selling stuff. There are stalls for everything from cell phones to produce. It's really cool. I bought my indoor shoes for work from a woman in my subway stop.

I've got to say, I really enjoy that everyone takes off their shoes when they go into a home. You don't take them off when you go to a store or restaurant, but homes and places like my school make you take off your street shoes at the door. I got myself a pair of red flip flops for my school shoes.

So, today is my first day of work. It's nice because it's only a half day and the kids are still on vacation. Tomorrow the kids come back. Before school I get to go and have my health insurance physical. Hurray for health insurance. After that all the teachers are getting together for brunch. I love how all the teachers hang out. After school Lisa and I, and I think another teacher, are going to the post office. I'll put up more tonight.