December 28, 2009

These last few days after Christmas have been busy without being particularly productive.

I guess that happens sometimes.  Saturday I hadn’t planned on doing anything at all but a friend called and I met up with her to discuss trials and tribulations. We met at the Krispy Creme–  yes Korea does have a Krispy Creme.  I know.

Korea not only has Krispy Creme, it has Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and if you are feeling flush, Outback Steak house, TGI Fridays,  and Tony Roma’s ribs. They have Starbucks coffee, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and a bevy of other corporate coffee shops. At the supermarket I can find spaghetti sauce, potato salad (American style) and cream cheese.  At Costco I can get avocados, frozen vegetables and clam chowder.

I feel a little ambivalent about the cornucopia of Western food.  On the one hand, I can get most of the comfort food I need when I feel lost or lonely or just a bit homesick. Plus– Cream Cheese!!!! Coffee!!!!   on the other hand, I think ..”Why?” Why do we have to commoditfy and corporatize our food. You know that nothing on my list was locally grown- plus Korean food is pretty good.

I think in the end, the mixing and matching of culture is actually a good thing. I understand how happy an immigrant to America must feel to find food from their country. Real food, not the translation of food.  Let’s face it, sometimes the translation is better than the original, but often something essential is lost.  Yet, Fusion is probably  one of my favorite categories of food. The mixing and matching of flavors can make some excellent dishes.

I mourn the watering down of culture with the addition of the world,-   hell you can get a coke in the jungles of Cambodia; yet it is exciting to see the new creations that are inspired by new ideas and new thoughts.  Here, cream cheese is exotic food. I think that overall I’m happy with a smaller world.

So I will be happy drinking California wine with my Norwegian salmon and Korean vegetables.  And after you know I’m going to drink Brazilian coffee.

Reflections on Christmas

December 26, 2009

Many of my friends really get into Christmas.  They are all about Christmas!!!! CHRISTMAS!!! CHRISTMAS!!!! – I’m much more Christmas- meh.   Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the holiday, I just don’t care that much about it.  I do make the trouble to send Christmas e-mails, and I go to parties if invited.. but… meh.

However last night, Christmas evening, after consuming food and wine with friends, safely cocooned in fuzzy PJ’s and drinking hot chocolate and wondering how long it is going to take to answer the e-mails from my Christmas e-mails – I realized I am one of the lucky ones.

I know the gratitude post is supposed to be on Thanksgiving, but really I just feel so lucky.  I will eat an avocado and tomato salad for lunch. Avocados here  are a luxury – they are very expensive– but I can afford them when I want, and I am very well fed. Something I think we take for granted here. Korea is quite developed and although you do see the homeless at the train station and in certain underground passages, for the most part the country is quite prosperous.  And I am a member of the prosperous set. I’m not rich, and I’m pretty sure the life path I’ve chosen isn’t going to make me rich, but I do well. I have a warm apartment that is quite nice when I clean it up, I have a great job that I enjoy and that pays well enough that I have everything I need and quite a bit of what I want. I don’t have to scrape and scramble to pay my bills.  I have enough.  Not everyone can say these things.

I’m very healthy and can do almost anything I want physically ( I really don’t want to climb the mountain climbing wall that is 5 stories high- really)–ok I can’t do anything I want physically– but the stairs don’t intimidate me, I’m able to walk around town without pain or pick up most things, I’m able to walk up the mountains here- and although the bike club goes a bit faster than I want to I can ride my bike, I can dance the night away without too much of a price the next day, and if I finally quit  smoking I’ll be even healthier. When I do get sick, I can go to the doctor and I can afford the medicine he or she gives me.  This is something I don’t often think of, but it is a blessing.

I have friends to spend the holidays with.   I have people I’ve met on my travels that are with me in spirit and mind even when I am far away, and people to visit and people who visit me on the holidays.  I am not lonely, even when I am alone. I have the luxury of being with people when I want to be with them and be alone when I need that. This is perhaps the greatest gift I’ve been given in my life.

I try to be a good person, I try to “deserve” these gifts, but really if I think about it, so much of what I have is pure luck.  I was lucky to be born to a family that valued education, even if I didn’t when I was young. I was lucky that even though I threw away my first chance at education, I come from a country that allows a second chance at university.  I am lucky that my country has never known war on her soil, that I’ve never had to fear bombs or foreign soldiers in my home.  I’m lucky that my parents were well off, and I’ve never known the fear of hunger or homelessness.  I come from a country that speaks a language other countries value enough to offer me contracts to teach them this language.  I can travel quite freely, both through work and for fun. These are things I had nothing to do with, my goodness or my badness as a human being. I didn’t have to work to get them.

Americans have this “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” myth. We forget you need bootstraps to be able to pull yourself up by them. We forget that a lot of what we have, a lot of who we are, isn’t based on what we’ve earned. It isn’t from our own hard work or our own specialness.  Those that are part of the “haves” are not better than those who are part of the “have-nots”

It is easy to take for granted the things we have.

Well, it is almost Christmas

December 23, 2009

and I am almost happy.  I just spent the last two days in training for the SMOE/EPIK  contract.  I wasn’t nearly as bitter as many of my fellow foreign teachers, but then I am disgustingly optimistic by nature.  I thought the general nature of having workshops to discuss issues with the schools and with teaching is generally a good idea.  However, the timing wasn’t so good. It is the week of the Christmas holiday and with Winter Camp prep in the works, I really would have preferred to be in school working on the worksheets for camp than talking about problems with my school.  Most of the teachers are pretty satisfied, but of course when you put a bunch of people together to discuss problems things can get pretty negative.

My group wasn’t that bad on either day, and I quite liked several of the people I met. They were part of the SMOE training, and I went through a different orientation, so it was good to meet more people. Plus I got to see some of the people I met at the EPIK training and catch up.  I don’t know that I learned anything particularly helpful, but I am not going to complain.

The second day we went to a buffet, and they did serve beer and that seemed to help ease the pain of two days in workshops. After lunch we went and saw a show. JUMP.  It was good, there was kung- fu and dancing, but it wasn’t as good as NANTA and it didn’t have a story, although they did try to have a story. Some random old guy came on and off the stage, but I’m not sure what his role was, and  of course the geeky guy learns the mad skillz and then gets the girl. (this is a recurring theme in most Korean dramas/plays/dance numbers/pop songs/ etc.

After the play I met up with another friend and we went to look at the pretty lights near the river.  We walked and talked about politics, if werewolves were sexier than vampires and music.  I still say that werewolves are sexier than vampires because they are still alive. Dead is not sexy to me. However I haven’t been able to find any empirical proof.  I shall keep looking.

Today was the last day before the vacation, so of course my students were not into school. However they did play the game even though it was in English, and they gave me flowers.  This holiday should be pretty good, despite my natural humbugness of mind.

One more Christmas lights photo:

I really need to get out more

December 20, 2009

But… it is really bitter cold out.

I did go to a friend’s for an early Christmas party- He is going to leave for the holidays. The food and gift exchange quickly devolved into a dance party- My friends can dance pretty good, booze or no booze.  And I did go to Costco.  Do not go to Costco on a Sunday evening. Just don’t.  It isn’t worth it.

They say that Korea has a problem with a low birth rate.  It is not a problem from my standpoint. Every time I get on the subway, the problem of Korea’s low birth rate is not the problem I am thinking of.  I think it is because I am from a mid-sized city in the Midwest.  There are not that many people out on the streets, in the malls and in the stores.  Some days it is exciting, all the hustle and bustle.  Some days exciting is not the adjective I would choose.

Maybe it is the holidays- I am very ambivalent about the holidays.  One one hand I feel all ba humbug and on the other hand I still get weepy when watching the airport scene in “Love Actually”.  I know, I know…. it is a bit embarrassing to admit to.

I think also the crowds bother me somewhat because most of the time I don’t think about my foreign-ness much. But during the holidays I feel very foreign. I can’t explain, Korea does put up some Christmas displays, and they kind of do the Christmas music thing, but it isn’t even remotely on the scale that they do it in the States.  Ah well, at least I am spared the sappy Christmas specials and “Little Drummer Boy”.  There is a bright side to everything.

Thank God It’s Friday: Yet I am a little sad.

December 18, 2009

It’s Friday.  My apartment is officially freezing, despite having the heat on.  It will warm up eventually, but it doesn’t encourage going out on the town.  That is ok, this weekend is going to be fairly busy- what with a party and shopping.

I am not sad because I’m in a cold apartment.  I’m sad because this was the last day that I will teach my second year students.  These are the students who help me find great music when I’ve heard it once or twice out and about.  These are the students who come up with some of the most creative and evocative language-  These are the students that draw pictures of me; pictures where I look kind of like an apple with glasses, but still the thought is sweet.  These are the students who laugh at my corny jokes and who make me laugh with their corny jokes.

That is the nature of teaching- You hope you taught them something, and you let them go.  Every year.  Every year I learn to love my students in all their imperfect glory, and every year I wish them well as they go on to the next stage in their lives.

I will see my second year students in the halls- they are only going to third year, but I won’t see them often and I won’t be teaching them anymore.  It is sad and hopeful all at once.

On movies and the bitter cold

December 17, 2009

Last night my co-teacher and I went to a movie again.  We decided to do a movie night every other Wednesday. That way we could still have free time, but since we both like movies we would be able to catch most of the ones we wanted to see.

We saw “Avatar” –  it was pretty good. Sigourney Weaver plays a tough but compassionate scientist who fights the evil industrial/military people who are trying to exploit a distant planet.  The military commander was suitably evil, and the special effects were spectacular.  The only complaint I had was that it was a bit too much “noble savage” in its story arc.  However, the special effects were spectacular.  I said it already, but… they really were.

I wanted to walk home after, but my co-teacher and the foreign teacher at our middle school were both saying it was too cold. It was cold, but not that bad.  Unfortunately today it is that cold, and for some reason, my floor is not heating up properly.  Burr.  I guess I’ll throw on another layer.

Today I got busy at work.  The students are all finished with their final exams, and the winter break starts next week. Guess what? The students don’t want anything to do with school. Yeah, their bodies are in the chairs, but their minds are somewhere far, far, far away.  We are playing games, of course.

In the teacher’s office I’ve been keeping myself busy preparing for the winter camp.  At first I was going to base my lesson plans around the Navajo code talkers of World War II, but when I mentioned it to some of the students, they first gave me a pained look, then a very fake smile, and said, “yeah that is interesting”  They really do try to be nice.  I then said, “What about the Wizard of Oz?”

Their little faces lit up. So guess what, all the prep I did for the “Code Talkers” camp is useless.  Fortunately there is a lot of material about the Wizard of Oz.  I’m going to have them listen to “Tin-man” from the 70’s group America, and “Good-bye Yellow Brick Road” from Elton John. I’m trying to get scenes from “The Wiz” and Sci-Fi channel’s “Tin Man”  I can download the whole movie, but I want to show scenes and then talk – write about them.  I think at the end of camp we should watch the original with Judy Garland.  I also printed out the original book by Frank L Baum from Guttenberg project, and I’m going to make them write their own story based upon the books/movies.  I think it will be fun.  At least I hope so.

It’s that time of year again

December 13, 2009

I have been thinking of the nature of friendship.  What is it that makes a friend? What do we need of our friends? and what do they need of us?

We become friends with those we have contact with on a regular basis, sharing our daily triumphs and tragedies over a cup of tea or coffee.  We need to watch the changes in their lives, be part of their dreams and regrets. But …

I also think that friends can remain so even from far away.  It is hard to predict who will stay in your life over the long miles, and over the long years.   I have been fortunate, I have maintained a friendship with people I knew before university, from my university days, and my first years here in Korea. But it is sometimes surprising who has stayed with me. Some of the people  I thought were “here and now” friends wound up becoming very close over a long period of time, and some of the people I was sure would be friends for life have drifted away from my life.

I was thinking about this, because this weekend I met up with some friends from last year, over coffee I realized that I am very lucky indeed.  It is the time of year to go through my mail box, and wish friends and family good cheer in the holiday season. I realized I hadn’t sent messages to a few of them for a very long time. I was pleasantly surprised by how many responded.

Yes I do think that friends need contact: the afternoons shared and spent, and also messages shared and sent. Friends are those that carry the thin delicate chains that bind our hearts through the miles and across the years.

A very good week

December 10, 2009

I wanted to say that nothing special happened, it was just a good week, but that isn’t really true.  A cascade of special happened. One of my students came in third on a special speaking contest, competing with students from all over Seoul. This is quite an accomplishment, because she doesn’t have any of the advantages most of the other competitors had; she didn’t study abroad, she doesn’t have money for a special English school or tutor, and neither of her parents speak English.  Yet she prevailed. I think that speaks very well of her. I feel so proud of all her hard work (and the work was all on her, I only gave a few pointers and encouraging words)

I also got my TEFL certificate in the mail, so I am now officially certified. woot.

And two old friends I hadn’t heard from in a while were on chat, and I got to speak with them. I love that.  I cherish people when they are here, let them go, and hope that the threads of love and affection are strong enough to be a lifeline to their hearts.  They always have a line to mine.

School was easy, and today the English department went out to lunch together. We went to an all you can eat buffet, so I’m feeling that smug satisfaction of having eaten too much with fun people.

Sometimes life is hard, and wearisome, and a struggle just to get the motivation to wake up, and sometimes I despair.

But not this week.

Its snowing

December 8, 2009

Actually it isn’t really snowing.  It wants to snow, it tries to snow. Desperately. But the tiny little flakes can’t seem to hold it together to get to the ground, let alone accumulate there.  Perhaps later tonight.

My students are all taking their final tests, so I am in the office alone. I drink coffee and prepare for the winter camp. To be honest I’m quite excited about it. I have 20 hours to prep for, (two weeks) and I should have a reading, writing, speaking and listening component. I’ve decided to do the whole camp based on the Navajo code talkers.  I found a book for kids, and there is the movie “Windtalkers” and of course tons of stuff to read for kids on Native Americans and World War II.  I am starting to enjoy myself just looking for all the materials.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones in life. I live somewhere I enjoy, my enjoy most of my job, and I have a good life.  What more does anyone really want ?  (ok, maybe there are some things, but here in the real world, I think I’m doing pretty good)-

For Raymond: Shrimp

I ate these at the shrimp festival.  How cool is that, having  a whole festival devoted to one of my favorite crustaceans.  Anyway they cook it by putting a layer of salt on a tin pan, similar to the ones you get when you buy pie crust from the store, and then putting the shrimp on top of the salt.  Then they cover the shrimp in tinfoil, and put the pan on hot coals.  Yum.

How do you explain…

December 6, 2009

I finally finished my TEFL and to celebrate some of the English teachers at my school and I went to a chicken hof. This is a fried chicken and beer place that is near where I live.  We drank some beers, and somehow the conversation took a turn into Urban Dictionary territory.  Now, I’m not an expert on slang, that would be for the young’uns, but I do know a few things. One of the teachers is older, and she likes very young men. She says they are more beautiful. Fair enough.  So I said, you are a “cougar.”  Then I had to explain what that meant (an older woman who likes very young men) — that was ok.  Then we talked about flings, friends with benefits, and the conversation went down hill from there.

I had a great time.

Personally I like men who have lived a little, had dreams come true and dreams crumble, and to be honest, beautiful is not something I’m looking for anymore. Kind is.

So after that I went home to my comfy but ugly jammies. (they have these really soft big jammies that are soooo warm.), and my music and a good book.  I know, Friday night I should be out dancing, but …. I’ll leave that to the young’uns, ….this week.

Saturday I met up with a good friend for shopping in Myeongdong. Oversize sweaters are all the rage, so I was able to find some cool stuff in my size. Woot.  I also was able to indulge my scarf addiction, and watch a very skinny Korean man do a ‘sexy’ dance.  All in all a good weekend so far, but it isn’t over yet.  I’m off to Kyobo to brave the maddening crowds and get some books and have lunch with a good friend I haven’t seen in a while.  I’ve got so much catching up to do now that TEFL is finished.