Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Korean Medicine

At first, I thought it was just dumb luck, but soon I began to realize that it's just what Koreans do. As someone who is very publicly sick, my co-workers and family feel the need to share their non-medically supported tips on getting better fast. Here are some of my favorites:

7) Don't sleep with the fan on. *(see note)

6) Do not drink cold water. It is bad for your lungs. (...?)

5) You should not jogging anymore because it makes you sick [sic].

4) Drink less. (Because I have fluid in my chest. So by not drinking, I will not add to the fluid.)

3) You should not shower because it is not good for you.

2) You should not go out at night because the cold air (it falls to a whopping 68-degrees at night) is bad for your lungs.

1) You should not sleep for more than 8 hours a day. Too much sleeping is bad for you.

*The fan thing is actually comical. A popular Korean urban legend says that sleeping with the fan on in an enclosed room will lead to asphyxiation; the fan (1) keeps blowing the air that you breathe out, so you'll run out of oxygen after a while or (2) cuts up the oxygen molecules. It's called the Korean Fan Death, look it up. I think the same idea is behind the "don't sleep with the fan on" thing: it just keeps blowing the germs right back at you.

Here's a little exerpt: "The Korea Consumer Protection Board (KCPB), a South Korean government-funded public agency, issued a consumer safety alert in 2006 warning that "asphyxiation from electric fans and air conditioners" was among South Korea's five most common seasonal summer accidents or injuries, according to data they collected."

2006. A government agency.

I mostly humor these suggestions with an appreciative head nod. But the sleeping one and the shower one I said, "Oh. Actually, in America I sleep a lot and get better faster." and "Oh. Showers make me feel better, so I will still shower everyday."

Every morning the school nurse gives me this bottle of thick, brown liquid (oriental medicine, she calls it) everyday and watches me drink it. The taste isn't too bad, but it's more of a texture thing. But, I actually think it works so I'm gonna keep choking it down.

Kind of funny, huh? It actually made me start to wonder how American home remedies would sound to foreigners. Like drinking 7Up when you feel sick to your stomach, sleeping with a vaporizer or with VICS smeared across your chest, gargling 3 times a day or eating chicken soup. They seem like no-brainers to us, but maybe they're just as crazy-sounding as the Korean Fan Death. Okay, maybe not that crazy. But odd in the least.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Happy Death Day!

I originally thought that the trip to Go-houn was to celebrate my Grandfather's birthday. And, in the process, we were going to honor his deceased wife. Well, I got it halfway right. I never met Grandpa...maybe he's dead, too. But we definitely celebrated the death of my Grandmother. The anniversary of your parent's death is a big deal here, and there's a very formal ceremony to honor it.

We spent the night and day at Oh-nee's brother's country house in Go-houn. It was a beautiful Korean house built on a beautiful hill that overlooked beautiful mountains and countryside. The road to get there was about as wide as a car. About an inch off of the road were walls. That was a fun ride for someone sick to her stomach (read the previous post).

Picture taken from the house

The only thing that bugged me about the house was the lack of furniture. There were no couches, chairs or beds in the entire house. Only a hardwood floor. I got so sick of sitting on the floor by the end of the trip that I would just stand in the corner for the sake of not having to crouch.

Oh-nee has three brothers and five sisters, but I think only two of the sisters made it to the party. Oh-nee spent all of Monday cooking. I had no idea why she was cooking so much. As far as I knew at the time, there were only 7 of us at this point in time. Well, by 7:00 there were 20 people. All of the dishes Oh-nee made were plated on really nice wood trays and then placed on an alter-like table. The alter had a picture of - who I assumed was - Oh-nee's mom, some script of some kind and candles. Oh-nee's brother's son - "Call me Kenny" - spoke excellent English and explained that white foods (such as chicken, Deok, pears) were placed on the left side of the alter while red foods (such as apples, beef) were placed on the right. The fish were placed on the right but with their heads pointing to the left to illustrate their ability to be both red and white.

Making Kimchee

At 8:00, the family all gathered in front of the alter and performed the traditional bows. Each family group poured some kind of alcohol into the cups on the alter, as if giving it to the spirit...? Then they would bow as a single-family unit and make room for the next unit. I was briefly taught how to bow back in Chuncheon, so I didn't make a complete fool of myself.

My favorite part of the alter: the chicken.

video
A brief video

After the ritual, everyone eats at least one thing from the alter. According to Kenny, it is to pass on the luck from the ritual. I had a hard boiled egg. It was delicious. Then the serious eating began. I've never seen so much Korean food in one place before. But the family did a pretty good job of finishing it.

No cake. I was pretty bummed. But the Deok was delicious (Korean sweet rice cakes. Think "big, doughy gusher").

So, Grandma's death day falls five days before Chuseok, the day to celebrate all of the dead. So I will be doing the exact same thing next weekend. I'm going to be a pro. :)

All in all, the weekend was miserable for me (I just wanted to go home, lounge, read, relax,...be on a non-floor surface) but very important for my family. The family seemed very happy and excited that I was there, and my Kong family seemed especially glad that I seemed to have enjoyed myself. Family first.

We came back home around midnight. My cold had escalated over the course of the day, so I couldn't wait to sleep. Well, sleep lasted only two hours. I woke up unable to breathe and with a high fever. Luckily, I live next to the insane asylum, which acts as the emergency room off-hours. Bronchitis. Yipee. Off to the "injection room" for your happy mystery shot. Here's some mystery medicine for tomorrow. Go to the doctor tomorrow during one of your breaks.

Today during my break I was lucky enough to get another trip to the injection room for another happy mystery shot because my stupid fever hadn't come down. Here's some more mystery medicine for the next five days. Between the two trips to the doctor and the two trips to the injection room, half the town of Gurye knows I'm sick and all of the faculty, staff and students at the High School know that I took two shots from behind in one day. Perfect. Gotta love high school.

On the bright side, my students behaved extra well today. I was really surprised with the girls. If it looked like I was struggling in any way during class, they yelled at the misbehaving students to shut up, sit down and listen to teacher. Maybe this sick-in-a-small-town thing isn't as bad as I thought. :)


My First Mental Meltdown

They warned us it would happen around September-October. As I stared at the pavement on some mountain highway, in the rain, trying everything in my might to quiet my rolling stomach and stop the world from spinning, I knew that my first Korean meltdown was coming. Not just a moody spell or an irritation period, but an all-out get-me-the-hell-out-of-here breakdown.

Let's back up, shall we? It was Sunday. I have been fighting a bad cold since Thursday and it seemed worse today. Today we were going to some place I'd never heard of to celebrate a birthday for someone who I didn't even think really existed. Things went downhill from the beginning. We weren't driving there in the family car. Instead, Oh-nee the boys and I were going to carpool with an Aunt. Well, this Aunt had a 5-seat SUV and two kids (12-year old boy and a 3-year-old girl). Do the math. 4 of us + 3 of them. So, with my head pounding and my face feeling like it was going to explode, we crammed five people in the back seat. Thank god I got the window.

The car trip was an hour through windy mountain highways. It seemed like this Aunt had not yet discovered the break, because she took the turns as fast as the straightaways. The kids were happy to be reunited with their cousins. From a foreigner's perspective, it seemed like everyone was shouting over everyone else in this little-big SUV. A half-hour into the ride, I knew I had discovered a new circle of hell.

After an hour of wishing I was deaf, dumb and blind, my stomach revolted. Thank goodness the gesture for "pull-over-I'm-going-to-be-sick" is universal. I was able to hang onto my cookies, but my knees were weak and the world was just spinning. That's when it happened. Oh-nee, in all of her sweetness, crouched next to me and innocently asked, "Do you not feel well?"

Cue Meltdown.

What do you mean, "Do you not feel well!?" I haven't felt well in days! Unlike my other moments of weakness in Korea, I voiced this one. "No!" I wailed.

Oh-nee said, "Oh, where does it hurt."

"Everywhere!" I screeched. And suddenly (and to my utter amazement) I began to list every single body part I knew in Korean (even my foot). I had no idea where I learned so many. And, the cherry on top: when I ran out of Korean body parts, I flung out a string of hysterical curses (in English). Thank goodness no one I was with actually understood anything that I said, and hopefully the Korean government never will. What I actually said on that mountain is between God and me.

When every imaginable poisonous word left my body, I suddenly felt empty; like someone pressed the reset button. I stood for a few minutes out in the rain, gathering my composure. I couldn't help but notice how beautiful the mountains were despite the rain and my mood. My inner Julie Benes whispered in my head, "You done now? Because that was just childish."

Yes, I was done. Oh-nee was on the phone with someone about getting me medicine, I'm pretty sure I scared the aunt half to death and the boys were completely lost in their Nintendo's to care. Isn't it funny? How you yell and kick and scream to make yourself feel better, but really, you only end up defeating yourself?

So that's the story of my meltdown. I really do want to post a positive post about the weekend activities, but I just can't justify adding it after that rant. Look for a separate post about the family party, because it in itself is one hysterical adventure.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Did it hurt? When you fell from heaven?

One Wednesday I taught my English Conversation Club about dating culture in America. Kind of boring for the boys, but the girls loved it. Anyways, to try to cater to the guys' strange sense of humor, I ended class by having the students make pickup lines. Yep. I'm still laughing, and it's Friday night here.

"If being pretty is a guilt, you'll be killed."
"Can you smell something? My heart is burning."
"If I were Amy I give Ara chocolate! (I want chocolate)"
"Let me read your palm."
"Your strong point is you."

This one's long:
"If my eyes is three, I give you one of my eyes. If my arms is three, I give you one my arm. If my legs is three, I give you one my leg. So, I am normal person and you are handicapped person."

"I wish I was your eyes because then I can always see your appearance."
"Hey lady. I think you wear angel mark cloth."
"Do you have glue? I want to attach myself to you."
"My ideal is pretty, beautiful and smart women. But when I stand with you, I completely forget."

See, strange sense of humor. Oh high school-ers.

Thank goodness it's Friday. This town has never seemed so small! Every Wednesday my fellow American-English-Teachers-[stuck]-in-Gurye and I grab dinner and drinks. It's very therapeutic to just talk about life in the country, student woes and co-teacher stories. We are five-strong and very thankful.

But, I have yet to have an evening out on the town without having several encounters with students. Believe me. It's very awkward to talk to students when you have a beer in your hand.

And then I hear about Amy-sightings for the rest of the week. But, hey. At least they're speaking English more! I have a group of first-graders (first year in high school) that are the kind of students that make teachers not want to procreate. I ran into them outside of school once and had a very interesting talk with them on the four different types of beer in South Korea (yep, they have four now). Ever since, they don't give me any trouble in class.

Boys. Go figure.

This weekend I'm taking it easy. There's a nasty cold circulating the school and I caught it, so I'm looking forward to a weekend of not yelling and just relaxing. Tomorrow I am going to Gwangju with one of co-teachers to see Fame. Then Sunday and Monday I am heading about an hour southwest to 고흥 (Goheung) for a birthday party or something. I'm not really sure what it is (once again, lost in the translation), but I get off of school on Monday for it, so I'm not complaining. I've never been to a birthday party that's lasted two days before. Should be interesting. Goheung is where the Korea space center is, so maybe we'll visit. You just never know.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Dragonfly

I was sitting in the teachers lounge, doing what I do best (which is looking like I'm busy when I'm actually not) when I heard a buzzing above my head. I look up and saw a dragonfly, trapped in the light. It had somehow lodged itself between the light bulb and the ceiling. No matter how hard it flapped it's little wings it just could not fit through the space to escape. I watched it for a bit; it kept flapping and buzzing. Finally, the thing got tired and quit flapping, only to realize that now, with it's wings closed, it could in fact crawl through the space. It seems stupid, but I couldn't help but think, "Sometimes, you need to stop trying in order to solve the problem."

I'll keep that in mind next time I'm stuck while lesson planning.

The school is putting together some promotional pamphlets for the school (high school is like college here. You apply to high schools, you don't just go to one) and guess who is featured? Yep. Me. So, they took some pictures of a couple of my classes that I thought you would enjoy seeing. :)

I was teaching my advanced club class (the one that blogs) how to make fortune tellers. Yeah, it was a cop-out for not wanting to prepare an actual lesson. Don't judge me.
This one was completely posed


They had fun with it. We did do actual work later, I promise. Haha.


My First Foot Massage

Today I got my first-ever foot massage. This entry will be a little different because I'm not sure how foot massages are in the States, so I don't really know what to comment on. All I know is that I was super thankful to know the word for "That hurts."

I laid down on this doctor's-office looking bed, with a diagram of Relaxation Points of the Human Foot. Wow, I had no idea that every single part of your body has a dedicated pressure point in your foot. As I laid there, trying to relax as was insisted, I kept wondering what series events occurred to ever get me to do this. I guess it was all the running. It was beginning to do a number on my feet. But I think I mostly wanted to do something that I could bond on with my mom. She does a lot of that stuff: acupuncture (that was immediately out), facials, bath houses (people stare at me while I'm clothed. Imagine what it would be like naked in front of a bunch of ahjummas.) So "pedicure" seemed like a harmless enough outing.

This woman twisted and poked my feet in ways that I never thought possible. Most of it was quite enjoyable, but there were a few places when I cried, "Mercy." I was a little surprised by how sensitive some of the places were. Not in a naturally-vulnerable way, but in a there-is-an-issue-but-it's-being-worked-out way. Hm. Maybe it'll make a difference in my running... I will definitely check it out tomorrow morning.

The best part of the foot massage was during the "cool-down" period. I was soaking my feet out in the lobby. Let me paint you a picture of this place (like a lot of retail places in Gurye). You enter the building into a small lobby. Then the massage takes place in a smaller room behind the lobby. But the street wall of the lobby is completely glass.

In the 15 minutes I sat there, I had two awkward insa's and three awkward through-the-glass conversations with students. I love small towns. Overall, my feet feel quite happy, and now I'm just that much closer to my students.

Speaking of students. This week one of my lessons is on feelings/emotions. I introduced about 20 feelings (happy, sad, confused, angry, etc.). To encourage retention, I have a goofy face that I make while saying the word. For example, when I'm "bored," I rest my head on my fist, stare up at the sky and say dully, "Bored." For one of our games, I split the students into teams. I would make a face and one student from each group would have to run to the bored and write the word I acted. It's a tremendously fun game, especially when the students are competitive.

Well, the word was "fuming," so I slammed one fist into another and made the most angry face I could muster. Immediately the students started sprinting to the board. Once the cloud of dust cleared, I saw that two teams wrote "fuming" while the third wrote "cute." So much for my acting career.

That particular lesson I had another teacher in the room observing. She came up to me after the lesson and said, "You make a lot of faces. Koreans do not do that. It is very American." That really got me thinking throughout the day. Are my mannerisms really that different? Is that something that people actually notice?

In another activity, the students had to act an emotion and their team had to guess the emotion. I was a little confused by why the students struggled with this. They seemed really resistant to act emotions. My co-teacher's comment came back to me. Facial expressions are just so much more limited than those of Americans. I'm not sure if it's capability or choice, since their so concerned with keeping their eyes big and their faces small. (Smiling makes the face wider and eyes smaller) All I know is that I've seen my students happy, sad and bored, but not much else. Then I got thinking about Korean Americans. Even the ones that I spent orientation with. They make faces, right? I'm sure of it.

Nature versus nurture at it's finest.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It All Started In Gwangju

**Edit: Link to class blog is now correct. Sorry for the mix up!

Gwangju, like many of my weekend trips, was a wonderful breath of fresh air. Just a bunch of 20-somethings forgetting for a moment that they have actual responsibilities and just getting completely absorbed in a new city. That was us. Friday we spent the night in a love motel called The Windmill. Honestly, you couldn't miss the windmill.

Saturday our group split up: the girls went shopping and the boys went...well, wherever boys go. I was kind of done with shopping after having been to Suncheon for just that purpose three times in the past seven days, so I went with the boys. It was actually surprisingly feminine. The guys decided to go to Art Street and then to see My Sister's Keeper. So much for male bonding.

Dan (guitar), Dave (Middle) and Ben walking down Art Street

Art Street was actually pretty cool. Aside from Korean art, they had a bunch of old Korean men selling absolute junk: non-prescription glasses from the 80's, lighters, broken watches, etc. Our favorite find was the hand gun. Yep. For $50 you could get yourself a nice, antique hand gun with a holster. Forget about the 5-day waiting period. :) My Sister's Keeper was a mistake. Too sad. So we just kind of poked fun at it along the way to try to lighten the mood. Try is the key-word there. But, by 5:00 I was on the bus back to Gurye. Boy, that was a challenge. In 90 minutes I go from a city of just under 1 million to my mountain town of 10,000.

I kind of thought that my wild story of the weekend would happen in Gwangju. But I am starting to learn to never underestimate the wildness of the mountain town. Let's start with Saturday night...the Biker Festival.

At about 7pm on Saturday, Oh-nee asked if I wanted to go to a festival. Looking at my other option - lesson planning - I immediately accepted. Well, some of Oh-nee's Lion's Club friends (clue 1 that this night was going to be special) were selling some sort of tea at this little festival in a nearby city. The festival was called "Morning Come" and, for some reason, seemed to attract the attention of every motorcycle owner in Korea. Now, you thought white trash in do-rags, leather jackets and jean vests was funny. Hah. Imagine prim and proper Koreans, with their small stature and mid-life crises, trying to play the part of a "Hogster." Well, apparently Oh-nee and her friends found it funny, too, because we ditched the festival and drank ourselves full of mahkahlee (Korean rice wine...delish!) at a restaurant across the street. Oh those Lion's Club women.

A vendor at the festival selling "Yellow Corn" motorcycle gear. Oh, and a few fake designer bags thrown in the mix.

Sunday I think topped them all. On Friday, a student invited me to church with her. I agreed for two reasons: (1) I felt bad turning her down and (2) church was uncharted cultural territory. That's right, folks. I did it for you; for the blog.

Let's start by painting a picture of the church service. There were about 30 people there. As always, I blended. After struggling through opening songs (definitely practiced my speed reading) and trying to say The Lord's Prayer in another language, the sermon started. Happy that I could just sit back and zone out (like I usually do in the States), I began to relax. My student would occasionally try to translate something for me, but other than that, my mind was free to wander. Well, I was nice and relaxed when the pastor - who was getting pretty fired up - looked straight at me and yelled, "Repent!" Snap. Welcome back, Amy. He was waiting for me...this happens a lot. People say the only thing they know in English and wait for me to either tell them "good job" or to correct them. I gave him a smile, a thumbs up and said, "Very good." He gave a grin and announced to the congregation - as if there was any doubt - that an American was in their presence today.

A little while later, a woman gave me a visitors card to fill out. Fast forward a bit, and I was again jolted back from daydreaming (about Kung fu and it's real-world practicality) when the pastor roared, "Amy Benes," and the congregation all turned to give me a good luck and smile. I gave a nice, diplomatic wave, to which the pastor replied with, "Very pretty!" Well, good thing I'm not ugly, or that would have just been awkward.

So, yeah, church was pretty fun. It was just like church at home, except I only understood the words for "Love" "Christ" and "Jesus." Oh well, that's the important stuff, right?

Sunday afternoon, I was told we were going to buy soy beans. Knowing deep down that this could only mean that something got lost in the translation, I grabbed hiking shoes, an extra shirt and my purse. Since my day-trip-turned-camping-trip experience, the hiking shoes and extra shirt are pretty much a must-grab whenever the family piles into the car. We were also joined by Oh-chahn's friend.

Before starting out, we got gas. And then decided to get a car wash. The car wash was not only the highlight of the weekend, but probably one of the most funny situations in Korea. Watch for yourself.
Well, we did buy soy beans, in case you were wondering. We also had tea at a tea shop with the shop owner at a really cute market. Then we went to a temple (와염사). The temple was really pretty. But pretty is a prerequisite for temples. Still, I'm in awe every time I go to one. No hiking this time, but I refuse to let my guard down.

Looking down at the entrance of the temple

All in all, it was a pretty fun weekend. Definitely one to remember. I won't make this any longer than it already is, so....yeah. Thanks for reading! Oh yeah, one more thing! Take a look at our class blog: http://guryehighschool.blogspot.com. You don't have to read it, but the kids love seeing the number of views the blog gets.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The War on Bugs

I have declared an all-out war on bugs.

Tuesday night my family went on a trip to move my mom's mom's grave. Since I had school the next day, I stayed behind by myself. It's amazing how big and lonely that small apartment suddenly felt without the screaming boys and the busy parents.

Anyways, Tuesday night before bed I noticed a few fresh bug bites. Long story short, by the next morning I had 15 new bug bites, each of them had swelled to the size of a grape and felt like someone sewed a red hot poker inside the welt. Needless to say, I was not the most pleasant person on Wednesday. But, thankfully (I suppose), my face was spared. I don't think I would have ever lived it down if I taught English to high schoolers with a mountain on my forehead.

Well, the swelling has gone down and a few of the bites are pain-free. But, in the meantime, I have become bugs' worst enemy.

It started on Wednesday in the teachers lounge. I was sitting there, trying painstakingly hard to ignore the itchy burning all over my body, when a mosquito flew past my line of vision. I can't really explain it. Think of the Incredible Hulk when he gets really mad...minus the whole physical transformation thing. Something inside of me just snapped and I went nuts. To the surprise of my co-workers I began slapping the air in front of me. I almost had him! I stood up and slapped some more. Finally, I got him! Yes! Before sitting down, I gave my staring co-workers a sheepish look and said, "Bug." They laughed and life moved on. But now I have a very impressive reputation in the teachers lounge as the bug-killer.

I kill so many bugs at home that Oh-nee has entrusted me with the family fly swatter. I sit with them - playing cards or watching the baseball game - armed and read to kill anything that floats my way.

I'm not the only one being attacked. Poor Oh-chahn has them just as bad. So we're kind of a team, him and I. He usually spots it (then runs away screaming) while I try to swat it. We're definitely an entertaining pair. But, progress! No new bites for either of us!

On a side note, my Vice Principal is currently showing me his golf swing. All part of the normal day here at Gurye High. He also decided to post a "phrase of the day" in the teachers lounge. But it's more like a phrase of the every other day. This week we've had "Let's call it a day" (I like that one), "Let's wrap it up" and - today's - "That shirt looks good on you." My VP usually approaches me randomly and says the phrase, but it takes me a while to (a) determine what language he's speaking in and (b) figure out the words behind the accent. Then he asks me to read it. Soon, the entire teachers lounge is asking me to read it fast, then slow, then loud, then soft. God, I love my job. (BTW, I just killed a bug...haha, sucker!)

This weekend should be a lot of fun. I am heading to Gwangju (1.5 hours west by bus) to meet with some ETAs. The normal night of fun will ensue. I kindly turned down a third wedding invitation for Saturday. Yikes! Monday, Oh-nee and I are getting foot massages and/or pedicures I think. So that should be fun, or at least blog-worthy. I'll keep you posted. Thanks for reading, and I'll try to post some pictures soon!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Some Days ...

1) Some days I have less patience than others
I was updating my status on facebook this morning (to: "screaming is all part of the morning routine with my mountain family.") when Oh-chahn ran into my room and asked his famous, "What are you doing?" Not really knowing how to explain, and perhaps a bit irritated by all of the morning screaming, I just said, "talking to friends." This is how it went down:

O: What are you doing?
Me: Talking to friends.
O: Boyfriend?
Me: Uh, yeah, some boys.

At this, Oh-nee laughed. I looked up and saw that Oh-chahn looked like someone who just dropped an ice cream cone. Oh-nee said laughing, "Amy said talk to boyfriend, then Oh-chahn (nun) go like this [made a very sad face]." I laughed and reassured Oh-chahn that he was the only man in my life. Families. Just when you think that you wish that they weren't there, they save the day.

2) Some days I have less foresight than others.
Today in my last class, I was helping one group with a worksheet. I was actively speaking to one girl specifically when I noticed the other two girls and one boy in the group just staring at me. Not in a listening sort of way, but in a watching sort of way. I stopped and one of the braver girls held up her finger and said, "Can I touch?" The automatic, open-minded part of me said, "Okay" even though I had no idea what she wanted to touch, which made me a little nervous. Slowly she reached up and touched my eyelashes. As soon as she touched them, she drew her hand away and gave a yelp. Instantly, the other girl that was watching went in for the touch. Same story different girl.

Then, as I was trying to get them under control (they were laughing really really loudly), the boy in the group took my finger. Somewhat distracted by the girls, and pretty use to students taking my hand, I barely even noticed as he made a direct shot for the first girls' eyelashes. "Feel," he said, "Very small, no curlys!" Next thing I felt was my finger missing her eye lashes and hitting her directly on the forehead. This, once again, caused a fit of laughter. Well, at least they didn't try pulling them off, right?

3) Some days I just never know what to expect
Right at the start of my first class today, a random student came into my room, ran to the front where I usually teach and started spinning in a circle with her arms thrust outward and her face pointed up. As she spun she sang, "Teacher smell! Yummm! Teacher smell so very very good!" And, without another word, she skipped out of the room. I'll take that as a compliment...?

4) Some days I want to tell Koreans that they're nuts but I love them
For those that don't know, I run a lot. In fact, I run every morning. Since I work late, it's easier to run in the mornings. Well, at 5:30 a.m. in my little mountain village, the only people awake are over the age of 60. Let me paint you a picture of Koreans (60+) who work out.
  • No matter how hot it is, they will be fully dressed in a coordinated tracksuit.
  • Everyone wears visors, even before the sun peaks over the mountains.
  • Breaking a sweat is not okay.
I cannot even begin to describe the looks I get as they see a yellow-haired girl wearing a mis-matched t-shirt and shorts combo, (I dress in the dark in the mornings, okay!?) huffing and puffing, face bright red and glistening passes that 60-something on a bicycle.

So, at 5:30 a.m. the entire male and female population of Gurye over the age of 60 make their way to my bike/running trail and set out for an hour walk. Armed with their visors and track suits, they walk at a mild pace. And they do these silly little stretch-like moves in the process. I'm pretty sure that the stretches do more than harm than good (because they lose their balance a lot and fall off the path), but I keep tight lips. It's pretty entertaining to watch.

5) Some days I feel nuts
I found out that my apartment is next to the mental institution. Apparently it's a pretty popular institution. I guess that's good to know for when things finally snap.

Thanks for reading, hope it made you smile!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cookie fail

I never should have attempted the cookies. There were a number of things that contributed to my demise including, but not limited to:
  • My mediocre-at-best cooking skill
  • Absence of measuring cups and spoons
  • Absence of a temperature gauge on the oven
  • Absence of cooking sheets (my mom kept asking if I wanted to fry them)
  • Flour laced with rice powder
  • And, best of all, two excited boys insisting on helping every step of the way
I over-estimated on the sugars, so the cookies looked delicious but crumbled right as you picked them up. Never mind, though. That didn't stop my brothers from eating every last crumbly crumb.

The weekend was pretty eventful after the wedding. The dinner bibimbop with my mom and her friends actually turned out to be quite a wild party. Those Lions Club women know how to have a good time. And since I was the special new person, the ahjumma of the group insisted I drink with her with every shot. Don't let her age fool you, she had my head swimming before 7pm. We finished the night with good ol' noraebang. Might I add that none of them actually wanted to sing, but instead wanted on me to sing. Sooooo, yeah. Fun times.

After the wild Lions Club party ended (around 9pm) I went to bed. Sunday was spent in Suncheon with the other English teachers. We went and saw "9." Interesting movie; very action-packed, dark and (thankfully) not dubbed in Korean. I came home, had some dinner and began my cooking quest. Now I'm off to play a few hands of card games with Oh-chahn before lesson-planning like a fiend. Hope you enjoyed the update!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Weddings ... Gurye style

I cannot even begin to place a word for the event I just experienced. I kind of thought that everyone would suddenly turn around and say, "Gotcha! Just kidding!" Okay, here it goes:

I put on a nice blouse and skirt. No jeans for me today. Since my mom didn't say anything, I assumed that I had done good. Then we met up with one of Oh-nee's friends to carpool to the wedding. Note: the wedding was for a friend from work. I think Oh-nee might have introduced them to each other.

Well, what do you know, Gurye has a wedding center, too. There were two weddings going on today. And, like always, I blended in with the crowd. It got especially awkward when they took me to this message board and insisted I write a message to the bride and groom in English. I tried to get Oh-nee to sign it with me, but no. So, a month down the road, the happy couple will be looking at their message board filled up with messages from their closest friends plus an odd message in a different language from someone they have never met. That's me, keeping my reputation as a Korean Wedding Crasher.

Before the ceremony I was introduced to three moms who each had two children in my classes. Six out of 600. I tried desperately to remember them, but I couldn't even fake it. I didn't know if the names were for boys or girls. Teacher fail.

As we bunched in the back of the ceremony room (friends stand in the back, family sit) a woman was herding people away from an area right in front of me. It kind of looked like a track of some kind. Then the ceremony started and that's when things got all Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass like.

The ceremony began with the mothers - dressed in hanbok - lighting some candles on the alter. That's normal, right?

Then the lights dimmed and blared this really loud Korean music. A spotlight shot at the bride and groom standing in this gazebo thing at the front of the room. Okay, a little gaudy, but cute. Then, the fog machine kicked in, blasting fog around the couple (which then spilled into and covered the family). Then, to my already shocked amazement, the gazebo starting moving. All the while this weird Korean nature-techno music was blaring. The gazebo took them from the front of the room to the back...directly where I was standing. It was the most awkward minute of my life, watching them on this moving gazebo. I stood there willing it to move faster.

You think that's good? Well, that's just the opening scene.

The bride and groom dismounted from their floating gazebo (which somewhat resembled Cinderella's pumpkin coach) and made their way to the start of the aisle. The groom was first; he was flanked by two workers from the wedding center (tiny women) carrying swords. They marched in front of him, stopped halfway and raised their swords to make an arch. The groom walked under the sword arch, followed shortly by the bride. The music had changed to the wedding march for this little exchange.

They approached the alter and did insa to the pastor. And that's where I have to stop my report, because Oh-nee and her friend pulled me away and up toward lunch. I guess friends don't have to sit through the ceremony. That was fine by me; I ran 12 miles that morning and was starving! As I was leaving they were playing Ode to Joy.

The after-lunch was another buffet, just like last time, but it looked much less appetizing. But I was pretty hungry and confident that I could eat just about anything. I grabbed some mushrooms, greens, veggie job chae and some other standard Korean dishes. The first bite tasted like Pine Sol. The second was okay and the third tasted like the ocean. Thinking it was just my dumb American palate (and responding to my angry stomach), I pushed through. I've eaten worse, right? While eating I could hear Ode to Joy resuming downstairs.

After lunch, Oh-nee met with more friends, of which all told me I had big, blue eyes and a small face. (Wait, really!?) I ran into a few students and had awkward conversations with them. Finally Oh-nee and I jumped into the car. Home, right? Nope.

Oh-nee: "Mahd-upsoyyo?" (not delicious?)
Me: Trying to be polite, I said that it was okay.
Oh-nee: "Ah-ni-yo. Mahd-upsoyyo." (No, it was bad.)

Thank God. I'm not crazy. So, we went met back up with Oh-nee's friends and one of their houses. The woman owns a flower shop and lives in the back of the shop so it was pretty nice. Everyone had coffee except for me, who had some kind of pine tea (to wash down the Pine Sol). I make it sound bad, but it is actually very tasty. I drink a lot of it because there isn't any caffeine in it.

We sat there for about an hour. I listened to their conversation as much as possible, but they had placed me in front of a TV playing an American movie. My brain was hungry for American movies. And besides, the conversation that I could understand was pretty boring. "What does she eat?" "Why does she run?" "Can she use chopsticks?" "Does she not eat meat because she doesn't want to get fat?" "Does she have a boyfriend? Why not?" "Her face is so small!" "Her eyelashes are so long and curly."

Yep, standard conversation topics in my world.

Right as the movie ended the after-party broke up. Oh-nee and I did a few errands before heading home (I'm going to try to make Hershey Kiss peanut butter cookies tomorrow, so we stopped to get supplies). I guess I did alright with Oh-nee's friends, because I'm having bibimbop with them for dinner. I really hope Oh-nee's coming, but I'm not entirely sure. I'll keep you posted. Hope you enjoyed!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Another Unsure Weekend

Thank God it's Friday! This week has been crazy with all of the sick students. The last period of the day has been canceled so the students can scrub every square inch of the school. Honestly, I feel like one of Miss Hannigan's goons with all of these small kids scrubbing stairs, windows, desks and everything else with a surface.

This weekend shall be interesting. I am going to a wedding on Saturday and might be heading to Suncheon (20 minute bus ride south) for shopping on Sunday with another English teacher here in Gurye. But I also plan on making Hershey Kiss cookies on Sunday. Wish me luck! I think the oven's only been used to broil fish. Breakfast fish, might I add.

This is where it gets a little hazy. My mom and I spent a good half-hour trying to talk in our broken languages. What I think is happening: My mom and her brother are going to move their moms' remains to a better grave. From what I gather, it is Korean culture. Oh-nee's mom died 20 years ago, "When we were poor." Oh-nee said. "But now that we prosper and are successful, we move the remains to another place...Greater respect for ancestors." I think that's pretty cool, digging up your mom after so many years in a shabby grave and upgrading to a tomb.

Anyways, Oh-nee will be gone next Tuesday and Wednesday. At the same time, Dad and brothers are going on a trip (???)...maybe? Not sure, this was a very broken part of our conversation. But from the sound of it, I will have the apartment to myself next Tuesday night. Which means American breakfast, lunch and dinner! Yay!

Okay, host family bonding story time!

Last night my host dad came in - a little sauced up - and invited me for a beer. I obliged and he proceeded to pull out his English conversation book. He turned to the slang section. Yeah, it was a pretty fun night. One of my favorite questions was, "Are you interested in Oh-Chahn?" Giggling and stealing a glance at the scrawny 10-year old in question (who, by the way, was standing on his head on the couch wearing only boxers), I said no. He looked at me blankly, a little hurt and said, "Why?" I then had to explain that "interested in" usually means interested in a boyfriend-girlfriend kind of way. He also asked how my divorce was coming along. (I thought about playing along and saying, "Just fine, thanks!") He ended the conversation by saying, "You are tired." And when the head of the house tells you how you feel, that's how you feel, no matter what. It was only 10:30 pm, so I listened to music for a while, pretending to sleep.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Days of School

At the third week of teaching (my fourth in Gurye), I would say that I'm starting to get a handle on things. I already am starting to have my "favorite students," "favorite co-workers" and "favorite classes." I've learned a few names from each class (baby steps, right?) and even have my own parking space in the school parking lot. So, as things slow down, I figured I better post some pictures.

Right when you walk in and look to the right

Looking to the left

Looking at the door

Today I was informed that 10% of the student body have serious GI issues. By serious I mean they were pulled out of class today to go to the hospital. So, during the last period today the principal called a faculty meeting. I didn't really know what he said, but I kept hearing the Korean words for swine flu. Ugh. Suddenly everything is the swine flu. Anyways, now the entire healthy student body is disinfecting the school. I haven't really figured out how dousing everything in bleach will help the children with the GI problems, but the faculty seem sold on it. Except for my co-teacher. He just rolled his eyes and said that it was probably something with the water. (The water fountains were shut down today, by the way)

It also reminded me of something that happened on the way back from Daejeon this past weekend. I took a train from Daejeon to Gurye on Sunday afternoon. The way the tickets work, you get an assigned seats. Well, what do you know. My seat is right next to a grouchy-looking ahjumma (아줌마 no good translation...think of a frumpy woman in her 60's who wears brightly patterned sweat pants with brightly patterned shirts with a huge visor). As I sat down, she promptly moved her stuff to a seat across the aisle. Maybe that was her actual seat. Maybe not. But I couldn't help feeling slightly like an outcast. Oh well, never trust ahjummas.

On a lighter note, check out my English Conversation Class' blog. ECC is a special after-school class for advanced speakers. The blog is a semester project and will be updated about once a week. If you think Amy in Korea is funny, just wait until you read the most recent Gurye High School post. My personal favorite is from the "Cons to Plastic Surgery" section:

"[We are against plastic surgery because] After we marry and have a baby, if the baby is not similar to him/her, their spouse will begin to suspect. The divorce rate will increase!"

Okay, that's enough for now. This weekend I am going to wedding #2. This one is in Gurye, so it should be a little different type of wedding. It's a family friend, this time. I'll be sure to keep you posted!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

My First Korean Wedding

The wedding was actually a very small portion of my weekend, so let's take it one eventful event at a time. Sorry, this is really long. But, it's funny! So your efforts will be rewarded!

Step 1: The Car Ride

At 4pm on Friday, we packed into the family Hyundai Santa Fe (the gold edition, of course) and headed out for Seoul! Seoul is a solid 4 hour drive, but it took us around 5 due to pretty intense traffic. Boy, I'm pretty sure I reached a new level of patience. The boys slept for the first hour or so, but then were up and loud for the rest of the trip. I'm not going to lie, sitting next to those two for an hour in 5 mph-traffic was NOT easy. There was a point when I literally thought I would completely lose my cool. Thankfully, some last shred of sanity and perhaps teacher-ness told me, "If you can't beat them, join them." So I joined in their rough housing and yelling, all while sitting three to the back seat. I was really proud of myself after that trip. And really looking forward to quiet time and sleeping!

Step 2: Uncle Kong's

I guess it makes sense, but it never occurred to me before, that we would stay with relatives. So, I was a little surprised when my dad put the car into park outside of a seedy looking restaurant. "This," he said, "Is my brother's restaurant." (For the record, it was a nice restaurant, just in a not-so-pretty-to-the-eye place) The family - Mom, Dad, 5-year old son - lived above the restaurant in a one-room apartment. Hoh boy. There was one bed in the apartment - for the prodigal first son, of course - and that night I slept in it. I felt really bad, but the boy didn't seem to mind. It was really strange to be sleeping in a bed with seven people sleeping on the floor around you. But I slept like a baby and woke up fresh and happy the next day.

Step 3: Getting Ready
The shower in this apartment was a shower head hose and a sink. To be perfectly honest, I thought it was kind of fun - trying to find the optimal way to bend so as the most amount of water possible went into the sink instead of the floor drain. The best part was when I was drying my hair, but we'll get to that in a second.

I walked out wearing a nice blouse and dress pants, but my mom shook her head and went digging through my bag. She pulled out some jeans, gave them a brief inspection and told me to change into those. That's right, folks. I went to a wedding wearing blue jeans. Americans.

Onto the hair drying. The dryer was in the bathroom. Also in the bathroom, besides the infamous sink+shower combo and toilet, was the washing machine. Yeah, it was a tight squeeze. Anyways, I was drying my hair when I felt water rush around my ankles. I gave a yelp and leaped out of the bathroom. A load of laundry had finished and the water was exiting to the drain on the floor, flooding the room in the process. Sometimes all you can do is shrug and laugh.

Step 4: The Wedding

The wedding was a combination of traditional and western wedding practices. But, really, it reminded me of something that happens in Las Vegas. The entire thing took place in a wedding center, which consists of open ceremony rooms and lots of buffet restaurants. The ceremony room was really glittery and had spotlights and a projector screen at the front near the alter. I'm not really sure what the relation was that was getting married, but I do know that I had to sit at the very front; directly behind the grooms' parents.

The ceremony was short and sweet. There was some religious stuff, but it was mostly traditional Korean. The mothers entered first dressed in traditional hanboks and did some bowing. Then came the groom. Followed by father and bride. No flower girls or best men, just the important people straight up. The bride and groom were dressed western wedding style. At the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom performed the most formal of the bows to each set of parents.

My reflection: The whole thing was just different. The bride did not look happy at all. I'm nearly positive she didn't smile during the whole thing. She just looked at the floor wearing a very serious expression. I think she was just really nervous and very overwhelmed. Looking back on the whole thing, I think the main difference was that the wedding was not her/his day. The day wasn't for them, it was for the family. It was like the bride and groom were a TV show for everyone to watch. I don't pretend to be a cultural expert after one wedding. I have no idea if this is how all weddings worked. I'm just stating what I saw at this wedding.

Step 5: Pictures
At the end of the ceremony, both sides of the family took pictures at the front of the alter. Despite firm protests on my part, my family dragged me up there. These poor newlyweds. I can just see it now. A month down the line they'll be looking through their wedding pictures and come to the family shot. They'll see this smiling blond girl front and center (I tried to hide in the back corner SOOOOOO hard) among a huge crowd of unsmiling Koreans and think, "Who the hell is that?" Oh well, that's my legacy I guess. The American Wedding Crasher.

Step 6: The Reception ... ?
The reception consists of the guests eating at one of the buffets in the building. There is no designated buffet and the guests have to purchase their meal tickets. The buffet was the happiest meal I've had in a long time. They had random bits of American food along with my favorite Korean food and interesting Korean-American salads. I ate very well.

While the guests are gorging themselves (eat more! it's a buffet! expensive ticket!) the bride and groom de-dressed and re-dressed into traditional hanboks and had a tea ceremony/photo shoot with anyone who wanted to drink tea with them. Once again, it's not about them, it's about the family.

After the photo shoot/reception, the two hopped in a limo and the family hopped into a bus. Together they travel to the after party.

That's where my wedding experience stops. My family continued on to the after party, but I was dropped off at the train station where I caught the 4:16 p.m. to Daejeon to meet my friends. Two hours later I was having dinner with the greatest, most American group of friends in the world (of Korea). Gosh, what a breath of fresh air! Talking fast, using slang, NOT using hand motions! Ah, fantastic!

And what wedding is not complete without a hookup? At lunch I was introduced to Kong Byeong Cheol. He's single, I'm single and we were born in the same year. Match made in heaven according to my family. Exchange numbers, now! Haha, weddings....

Here are a few pictures from the weekend. Since this is so long, I won't go into too much detail. Thanks for reading, you are a champ for finishing! Yay!


Cornelius, Kelly and Dave at the restaurant.



I took the train back to Gurye. This is the south gate. It says "Welcome to Gurye." It was a 4 mile walk. Had I known that, I would have grabbed a taxi. Oh well, live and learn.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

This happened right after I posted

video

I thought it connected very well with the previous post. :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Far rah rah rah rah, rah rah rah rahhh.

Sitting at breakfast today I realized that my daily life with my family could probably be recorded and dropped into A Christmas Story without anyone knowing the difference. Breakfast is always together and always hilarious from a confused foreigner's perspective.

First, my two brothers - Oh-mahn and Oh-chahn - are polar opposites. Oh-mahn is kind of a husky kid. He eats a lot and studies a lot. Oh-chahn is stick-thin and studies very little. :) Well, Oh-chahn is not a morning person (of course, Oh-mahn is), so every day at breakfast he sits there peering out of exhausted eyes, hair askew every which way, and plays with his food while moaning and complaining. Oh-nee and Oh-pa (my dad) occasionally yell at him to eat his food. He only does so once Oh-nee has folded his toast into a sandwich, peeled off the crust and feeds it to him piece by piece. All, of course, on separate occasions. This morning he was complaining that, because his elbow really hurt, he just could not stomach breakfast.

Oh-mahn, on the other hand, is sitting across from the table slurping his soup and downing his entire breakfast in a record-setting time. I catch pieces of the table conversation, but not a lot. I hear "Amy" and "New-na" (sister) a lot, but I never quite figure out what they are saying about me.

And then there is shower time and dressing time. The shower is an epic battle between good and evil. I know it's coming when I hear Oh-nee say, "Oh-chahn nun, shower!" First comes the pitiful complaining and whimpering. But Oh-nee will have none of that. She gives Oh-Chahn a little push toward the bathroom. Then comes the louder complaining and whimpering accompanied by gestures toward the incredible baseball recaps on TV. Oh-nee simply, but firmly, guides Oh-chahn by the shoulders. Finally comes the screaming and kicking as Oh-nee, trying desperately to contain her laughter, picks up my 40-pound friend - kicking, screaming and all - and waltzes him into the bathroom.

Once in the bathroom, Oh-chahn admits defeat, but he does so with his last shred of defiance. Okay, just a little culture lesson. Korean bathrooms are usually one room with a toilet, sink and shower head - no shower tub, area or curtain. Our bathroom has a tub, but no shower curtain. So, the aftermath of the shower is astounding. I have no idea how that scrawny little boy manages to get water in every corner of that bathroom. Amazing.

Well, just like in A Christmas Story, Oh-nee dresses Oh-chahn (the youngest). Still a bit bitter about his shower, Oh-chahn sits like a limp doll - refusing to help Oh-nee at all - while she dresses him. He usually throws in a few bitter-sounding comments to which Oh-nee replies with a snappy remark. Boy, times like these I really wish I knew what they were saying.

Did I mention that, while the entire shower and dressing ordeal is going on, Oh-mahn is completely self-sufficient. He even manages to beg his mom for something (permission to play with a friend, money for a snack after school, etc.) above the wailings of Oh-chahn. All the while, my dad is sitting at the table reading a book, throwing in the occasional word of discipline at Oh-chahn (mostly telling him to be quiet). Yeah, mornings are loud. Oh-nee is a champion.

There is no snow yet, but I can't wait to see the snow gear the boys dress (or in Oh-chahn's case, are dressed) in.

A little agenda update. Today (Friday) after I finish school Oh-nee, the boys and me will pile in a car and head to Seoul for a wedding. Oh-pa will come on Saturday. The wedding is from 11am to 4pm. After that, I will board a train to Daejeon (another big city about an hour southeast of Seoul) to meet some ETA friends! Yay! I'm so excited to see them! I'm also really excited to (1) talk fast (2) talk without hand motions and (3) use slang. So, this will be my last post until Sunday night USA time. Hope all is well, miss everyone! Thanks for reading!


Please, People. Get Over it.

I'm not really sure what happened, but I think the Korean death toll from H1N1 has reached a terribly high number: 3 people.

Last Friday, I thought it was odd that my host mom and my co-teacher both brought up H1N1 at different times throughout the day. And now, every time I eat, drink or come in the apartment, I have to wash my hands.
I think the Korean government is telling people to avoid contact with Americans. Several of my ETA friends have to get their temperatures checked before school every day. One ETA actually had her desk in the nurses office for a while (the nurse made camp somewhere else). My own personal favorite: my host dad told me to stay out of the States for 10 years. (Don't worry, he was kidding. But I think they were honestly worried about me going back during the year)

The cause is clear: last week another English teaching program - EPIK - sent over 600 Americans to teach English throughout Korea (mostly in rural elementary and middle schools). Imagine, 600 Americans from all parts of the country dragging themselves, their luggage and sometimes their pets through every airport in America. Yeah. I'm sure it's them.
But, a white person is a white person. And we definitely stand out. I told my co-teacher (and tried to tell my family) that H1N1 is just another flu. It kills the same number, if not less, than the normal flu. The only difference is that (1) there is no vaccine [but it's coming!] and (2) it spreads very rapidly. But I feel like I'm whispering in a loud room; they don't really seem to get it. The most I can do is shrug and hope that my quaint little farm village stays keeps their cool and doesn't make me teach in a mask.

Okay, now for a few humorous vignettes:

1) An English teacher at school mentioned that she was hosting an American who was studying at a University (which one, I have no idea. But I'm thrilled at the chance to meet another American!). She said that he is really interested in learning Korean and asked if I had any materials that would be helpful. The thing is, she kept asking for vocab sheets, but pronounced it "shits." Therefore, I had a hard time keeping my cool face when she asked if I "had the shits at school."

2) The P.E. teacher is a chain smoker. :)

3) When people sneeze, they just sneeze. No one say
s, "Bless you" or anything like that. I never really thought of myself as a "blesser," but it's honestly really really weird to not hear any sort of acknowledgment after a sneeze.

4) A group of students (all boys) wait for me every day at the edge of the school driveway just to see me on a scooter. When I pull in around the corner they all cheer. And when the see me in the hall, they say, "Vroom, vroom!" and twist their wrists (like how you accelerate a motorcycle). Yeah, I'm a celebrity.

5) My host dad saw me running one afternoon. When I came back, he made me sit down and he gave me a very serious lecture on running on the st
reet with my headphones. This one actually really got under my skin. Running is my thing. DON'T mess with my thing. I've got 5+ years of city street running under my belt. I know how to handle cars, roads and intersections. Gurye and the 17 autmotive vehichles inching along at 10 mph is very much manageable. But anyway, I have to run a quarter mile away before putting on my headphones.

6) One of my lessons this week is on tongue twisters. One group wrote: "Dirty dead dogs are delicious." Another wrote, "She's so sexy she sings." Oh high schoolers.

7) The most important one: I found the new faculty bathroom. Check out the toilet! (By the way, you can only imagine how hard it was for me to take these pictures without looking like a weirdo)

Mmm, heated seats. Once you go heated, you never [want to] go back


Yep, it's exactly what it looks like. I haven't tried it out yet, (I'm honestly afraid to do so) but I will let you know when I do!