Sunday, July 25, 2010

10,000 Won!?

I was certain when the waitress brought out this feast that I had somehow made a mistake in my order and asked for more food than I meant to. In front on the left is grilled teriyaki chicken on a bed of lettuce and cabbage with some kind of thick sauce. In back, three fried shrimp. On the right, a rice ball filled and covered with numerous small veggie oddities. Back right, alternating shrimp and salmon sushi. Miso soup on the right. The pile in the back left is actually four delicious rolls (crab I think) covered in what at first tasted quite unpleasant, but melted away into a saucy spicy delicious that I had to consciously stop myself from eating too quickly. Then a small bit of Kimchi. I'm still full.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The world is so closed when you're illiterate

I'm learning Hangul, and I plan on having a basic grasp of it within the next couple days, and to be reading (though not understanding, for lack of vocabulary) at a 3rd grade or so level by the end of this week.

It's easy enough once I remember what sounds come from which letters. Each symbol block in a word is a syllable. A lot of Korean menus and signs actually are written as phonetic English in Hangul, so I'll be making my life and ability to acquire vocabulary much easier by learning to read. I'll also get a lot more out of Rosetta Stone.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

PICTURES -Second Day of Work and Korean BBQ

Not much to say about my second day of work. Training and observation continued. I'm feeling more comfortable getting involved in the classes and am not spending the entire period sitting or walking around.

After work, Katherine (the girl I'm replacing) took Tyler and I out for Korean Barbecue. Like all things Korean, there was a heap of side dishes - but with a twist. You order uncooked meat which is brought to your table along with the side dishes, and then you use tongs and scissors to cut the meat up and barbecue it on a tiny grill set in the center of the table (pictures on my flickr, link at the bottom of post and in my profile). Once you've cooked your food to your liking, you can eat it as is OR take the side dishes and put them, along with your meat, into small lettuce wraps. Delicious. Also super low carb, so it would be easy to get back on that train if I ate Korean BBQ every day.

Katherine has been in the country for about a year and a half total, so her Hangeul and spoken Korean are better than mine and Tyler's (who has been here about a month). she ordered us two different types of pork. A type of pork chop and then what looked like super thick cuts of bacon. Very fatty, but very delicious.

Work is interesting on Tuesday/Thursday (or maybe just Tuesday? I'll find out soon). We finish with classes at 8:15pm, but then have to stick around work until 9. So what people end up doing is going out to dinner after class, then coming back to work to clock out. Nice.

Walked home alone for he first time. I got this now.

Here is the link to my Flickr page. I think. I've never used it before so if this doesn't work, let me know and I'll fix it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

First Day of Work

I was a little worried nobody would come to get me for my first day of work, to show me where exactly it is that I work. However, a couple of people, Stephanie and Tyler, came by to collect me a few minutes early, which was a relief.

SLP, contrary to what I had imagined, has a very nice interior. Air conditioned (for the most part), a very modern look, some fish tanks on one of the floors opposite the elevator, and dozens of small classrooms with variable themed names instead of room numbers. There is a floor of Greek god rooms (Apollo, Zeus, etc.), a floor of animal rooms (Tiger, Penguin, and weirdly enough, Dragon and Unicorn), and a floor of character trait rooms (courage, honor, etc.). Each class I teach will be no larger than 12 students. Twelve!! The curriculum is very structured, and lesson planning should be a breeze as it will, once I get the hang of it, consist of writing down what pages in the book are being covered that day, as well as any homework.

The school has a large kindergarten population, though I won't be teaching any kindergarteners. One of my first experiences in the elevator - they pack them with as many people as will fit - was with an entire class of kindergarteners. It was SO ADORABLE!! This flood of children carried me bodily into the elevator, constantly waving and shouting "Teacher! Teacher!" at Luke (my supervisor) who was showing me around the building. I had one kid patting me on the back to get my attention, and when I looked he just goes "hello!" and waves enthusiastically. I almost died for how cute it was.

I got the tour, met the director - Mr. Jeoung - introduced myself to the staff (about half foreigners, mostly American), went over some stuff like when I'll get a health check for immigration, when I'll get a bank account, paid, etc. Then for the rest of the day I shadowed the woman, Katherine, who I'll be taking over for.

A little ENVoY goes a long way over here. The kids were rambunctious, but when Katherine had them guessing information about me like how old I am and where I'm from, I told them I wanted to see hands, and I would wait until it was quiet before continuing. Silence, hands. Kudos, Fowler. I also observed one class on CCTV. Every classroom in the school can be monitored from the CCTV room by school staff or parents. They'd kill for that kind of monitoring back in the US.

Although I was nervous about getting settled in, the work I'll be doing doesn't seem near as demanding of me, my time, or my abilities as student teaching was, which is a shame, but it is good to know I'll do just fine.

I'm trying to settle in to a routine of getting up and getting some Rosetta Stone done, then breakfast before showering and heading to work. If I'm diligent with my language study, I do think I will be able to at least function at a a level close to a where a Korean Kindergartener is in English. Those kids are reading English and speaking basic sentences, at 4-5 years old, it's astounding. Word on the street is that Hangeul, the written Korean Language, is very easy to learn and once you have it down much of the written Korean on signs and such is actually English phonetically spelled with Hangeul.

After work, I went out and had drinks with Tyler and Michael. Michael is Korean, a sort of Security guard and hallway manager at SLP. Really good guys, we had a lot of fun. Making friends is about a thousand times easier than I imagined it would be before I came over.

I'm going to try to remember to bring my camera around with me when I go out for breakfast this morning, then post up some pics tonight.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Shopping and Traditional Eating

Shopping at "Home Plus" in Korea is like a combination of Costco and an amusement park, where the sample people there in full force and accompanied by a contingent saleswomen with french street vendor tactics. Spend too much time showing interest in what they're selling and it will somehow end up in your basket. Kids were running around wild, shopping carts have unfixed back wheels so they can drift like a car or move completely sideways, and the whole place is made more incomprehensible by combination English and Korean writing. They also have a McDonalds (I tried a bacon tomato burger...DELICIOUS!).

Here I learned that there is no such concept as "excuse/pardon me" when moving past somebody or asking them to get out of the way. I had a woman literally run her cart into the back of me gently multiple times without ever saying a word, because in this culture, somehow the words would be more offensive than the nudging. It cracked me up though, I feel like none of this can possibly be real, especially the nudging in a country where convenience store clerks bow deferentially when selling umbrellas.

Paige and Forrest led me around a bit and talked to me about the culture and the goofy things to look out for or be aware of. They've been amazingly kind and helpful, and I'm currently attempting to concoct a way I can repay them for everything they've done for me up to this point.

They invited me out with them to have a traditional Korean meal with a woman (Grace) who runs a FREE Korean Language class across the street from my apartment. Grace and Cindy were extremely friendly and spoke reasonably good English. They took us to a restaurant that translates approximately to "Country Table", where the first word is in reference to the country style meals and cooking and the table is the traditional, low table that you sit or kneel at on a pad.

I wasn't even sure how we ordered. There was some discussion about it and I just said I was down for whatever, and somehow the waitress got the message. Eating works entirely different here. I actually needed instructions. The waitress brought out nineteen - yes, nineteen - different side dishes (two of each between five of us) which covered the entire table, and in addition to this we ordered one plate of a sort of barbecued beef bite. The side dishes are very small, perhaps a 3-4 inch plate in diameter (occasionally a larger bowl for soups or this strange egg dish). In addition to all this, each person has a bowl of rice and a seaweed soup.

Paige said it best, "I have no idea how much I've eaten." All the little dishes make it impossible for you to keep track of how much you've had as you sample from each one and mix and match flavors with rice and the beef dish. At some point I found myself full of apparently healthy food. Grace would tell us about each dish and how each one was "good for X" where X is any possible body function, part, or remedy for an ailment. We joked when we got in the car and the center seat had no seatbelt, that sitting in the center without a belt is good for the skin.

The only thing I didn't try was a rotten looking sort of grey crab. Red flags shot up when Cindy brushed flies away from one of those dishes. However I did eat about three different types of Kimche(sp), multiple lettuce/cabbage dishes, some kind of sauced up nuts/beans, a bean/meat paste, a couple of egg type things, etc etc. Most of it was good, but some of the flavors were just so foreign to me that I found it hard to make myself take a second bite. The whole meal cost 11,000 Korean Won per person, which is under 10 dollars (a steal when you think about how much food we left on our table).

After dinner, Grace took us on a little drive around Ansan and we stopped at a cultural center where every Saturday they have some sort of live performance, a concert, and then a movie all for free. I'm going to join her Korean class, which meets on Sundays. It'll make a nice supplement to my Rosetta Stone practice. I spoke two words of Korean at the table, and was complimented on my pronunciation on both. Despite the fact that I can't even recall what one of the words was (the other was thank you), I take this as a sign of my superior language abilities, and I will no doubt master the language in good time ;) .

I'm exhausted but I'm going to push to stay up for another hour or so. Tomorrow is my first day of work, I'm really hoping somebody shows up to take me to work because I would never be able to find SLP on my own.

I wish I had pictures of the meal. I set up a Flickr account, but didn't have my camera with me. There will be other opportunities.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Welcome to Ansan

Last night I arrived in South Korea about 7pm local time. Customs were a breeze. The plane ride wasn't that bad, Korean Air is pretty much awesome. I had my own little TV in the seat in front of me with a decent selection of movies to choose from, I ended up watching Ghost Writer with Ewen McGregor, Brothers and How to Train your Dragon. Two meals, about three hours total sleep, two albums of Avantasia and an amicable conversation with the Chinese guy next to me later, I arrived in Incheon International Airport.

My ride wasn't there to get me right away, which put a damper on my mood, but a nice Korean man asked me, in good English, if I was waiting for somebody and if I had their cell number. I did. He called for me and found out that my ride would arrive shortly but was having trouble finding parking. First contact with Koreans? Very positive first impression.

Mr. Kim showed up a short time later and bought me a water, put me on the phone with Luke from SLP (the school I work for) to give me the low down on what would happen tonight and next week, then put me on the phone with Don Park who welcomed me to Korea. We found the car, and left for Ansan. Incheon is on an island that is connected to the mainland by a TEN MILE BRIDGE. I was blown away, just looking around at the world like everything was new and beautiful, which of course it was to me. Mr. Kim was a little hard to understand, but we managed anyway. Very nice guy.

I've arrived during monsoon season and have already invested in an umbrella. It feels a bit like Florida. Very warm, humid as hell, and sometimes just drops rain like hell.

Mr. Kim took me to pick up Luke, who gave me a TV, and we drove to my place to get me settled in. My place isn't bad at all. It's actually nicer than most dorm rooms I've been in. My kitchen consists of a hot plate and a sink, so I'll have to learn to make due with that (seeing as how I'm practically a gourmet cook, that might be a challenge). The bathroom is interesting. The whole thing is the shower. So I've got my sink and my toilet, then the shower head just sticking out of the wall. Awesome. Then there's the main area with a nice (heated) tile floor, a desk, a couple shelves and cabinets, a couch, a fridge and some chairs. My bed is the coolest part. I have to climb some steep stairs and then it's up in a lofted area above the couch and the bathroom, with sweet windows to the lower area. It's just a mattress on the floor, but with some blankets and a pillow it's quite nice.

I met some other teachers in my building: Paige, Luke, Rich, Forrest, and Vic(toria). They're all super nice and all in the 23-24 age range. They took me out with them for some pizza and beer where they regaled me with hilarious stories of their time teaching here and really made me feel welcome. Great people. I learned a little more about Korean culture, for instance, there's no bathrooms in restaurants, at least restaurants like that. You have to get toilet paper from a table near the door and take it with you to a public restroom outside.

The people I've met have just been fantastic. They lent me an umbrella and even a key to the apartment complex.

Jet lag is going to be annoying, but I think I'll be over it after tonight.

If you're thinking about Skyping me or saying hello, South Korea is 16 hours ahead of Washington/Oregon. If i'm online on Skype, I'm probably at my computer.

That's it for now.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Last full day in the US

I'm leaving tomorrow, the 16th. I've got my big suitcase packed and just have to throw some miscellaneous stuff into my smaller suitcase and I'll be ready to go. Figuring out how to adapt all my electronics (all two of them) has been annoying, but I think I've got it handled.

Now I've got almost an entire day (just a few small errands) during which to do...whatever, before I get on the place tomorrow.

I've been reading up on some Korean customs and culture, and there's a few things that bother me, but that also make me curious to see how they function in practice. "Kibun" for one, which doesn't translate directly but can be described as "pride, face, mood, or state of mind." As an example of this, the site says a person may lie to your face, even when you know they're lying, in order to preserve your Kibun. External appearances are much more important than the values represented by them, such as honesty. It also says a student might bow to you on meeting you or entering your class, but may also answer the phone during class, talk out of turn, and plagiarize work.

The drinking culture also shocks and excites me. As near as I can tell, the information I have is current, so some highlights are:
-Many business relations don't trust each other until they get very drunk together
-Drinking is often done as quick as possible to get real drunk, real fast
-If your glass is ever empty, it will be filled, so you have to leave alcohol in your glass if you want to stop
-Refusing can be impolite (but is becoming more acceptable)

Sounds dangerous. I'd love to teach some Korean friends "Double Jeopardy" and turn it into an international phenomenon!

I fully expect to embarass myself culturally a few (dozen) times, but hopefully I'll be forgiven for being an ignorant westerner.

Very exciting times.

Also, if you can find the picture associated with the title of this blog on or anywhere else, send it to me! It's a monkey relaxing, saying the title to somebody off camera. It's hilarious.