Well, I've been home for 9 days, now. Thanks to the 55 people who've come by to check for an update, but in all honesty after a safe flight home there wasn't much to report. My flights all went well, save for the slight terror of not leaving Dallas--therefore not arriving in Denver. We managed to beat the thunderstorm, though, and arrived a bit late, meaning I had a hard time finding my family. I remember, though, looking up and seeing the blond head I'd been searching for for the last year turn a corner--there was my mom, and I knew it was all over, with all of the feelings of sadness and joy to accompany it.
After rounding up my sister and dad (with another round of hugs), we managed to haul my 120 pounds of luggage (note: suitcases, by law, cannot exceed 32 kilograms, who knew?) to the truck. Where did we go? Home? No! We went to Chipotle, where I had my first real burrito in a year. For dessert, we all went back home for some frozen custard. I just so happened to be holding a pair of chopsticks when mom gave me my bowl, and so I figured I might as well try and use them to eat. My dad and sister assumed I was doing as the Koreans, so they tried, too. With greater, amusing success than I imagined.
The last week has been filled with a lot of Western foods, and an almost hourly comparison of, "that's not how they do that in Korea." I picked up habits I didn't realize (using two hands to give and receive, invading peoples' personal space, using certain phrases in Korean automatically), and I lost certain social graces, like being able to converse with a small group of adults. I got to go to lunch with the Peliton gang, and it was so good to see familiar faces. Later I took bagels by, and I saw everyone--I was genuinely touched by how much I was missed.
Parker's stores have seen quite a bit of patronage, also, as I attempt to replenish my wardrobe. I now have khakis and jeans and shorts galore, and not only are they new--they're 2 sizes smaller. It's exciting that more stores are options, thanks to new-found fitness.
I've been putting off concluding my blog, because I feel it is just a chapter in my life, and a chapter should always have a transition into it, and a transition out of it. Right now, I'm thinking that teaching English could still be a great adventure to continue, maybe to China this time. But the chapter's end is going to be a little open at this time, as I simply enjoy living out the lesson when I broke my leg: live life one day at a time, make the most of each day, and thoroughly enjoy the full use of my young, adventure-seeking body. (Even if that adventure is just to take pictures in front of Taco Bell to torture my friends back in Asia.)
When I was little, I moved a lot, each time leaving behind a classroom full of friends, for whom I shed a few tears. (Well, maybe not when I left Mississippi, but in general...)
Yesterday was one long good-bye, starting with Kindergarten. We had an awesome time practicing our vocabulary and coloring, then eating pizza (some of us better at it than others--the image of Ben gutting his will remain with Heather and me for some time), and going through Market Day where the kids spend their ECC dollars to but very useful crap. (I stole an eraser set! Haha!)
After came the afternoon classes, where I said good-bye to the four little nuisances who followed me all year. I really hope they do well; despite all of the yelling, I had fun with them. (Despite? Okay, maybe because of...)
It was pretty strange to walk into the teacher's room and announce, "I'm finished!" It was right around that time that I got stripped of my title "Teacher." Apparently, now I'm just Kate. As I headed out of the building, Mrs. Baek--the owner--stopped to shake my hand (unprecedented) and to thank me. I was really very touched; that was maybe the 5th time she'd spoken to me in the last year.
I hurried to taekwondo after that, and spent the last day trying to chat with my instructors. I really wish I had practiced Korean more. It'd be nice to have a conversation a little more in-depth than, "Did you eat? What? Are you hungry?" We talked about my up-coming interview, and she had the kids write on my belt. They jokingly told me I was a gray belt (it's a little dirty), and that my yellow belt didn't arrive because of the rain. But... I am technically one.
Then I had an interview for a school, and I'm quite undecided about it. It's a small hagwon that has been in place for ten years. I'm not sure how they felt about me, either--I think I might be a bit loud for their tastes. I keep hoping for a lightning bolt, some sign as to what I should do, but nothing has shaken loose, yet.
The night concluded with one more round of galbi (Yuria came to say good-bye, and Captain even sat on the floor!), drinks at Garten Bier, and a long, giggle-filled walk back to our apartments as Heather, Kayleigh and I bid adieu. With teary hugs, and Heather finally proclaiming her love, I left.
Which brings us to now. My bags are packed, and as soon as I tuck my laptop in my backpack, I'm ready to go. I'm so grateful for the last year.
At the end of a year-long contract in South Korea, Americans (and Canadians and maybe others? not Brits nor New Zealanders) receive back the 4.5% of their paycheck (plus the matching portion the employer has been paying) they have been paying into the pension plan.
I thought that this was going to be an arduous task, but it turned out to be quite simple. I just had to go to a gas station at an ungodly hour (9 a.m.? WHY?) to meet a strange man while carrying my alien registration card, passport, U.S. bank account information, and copy of my e-ticket for leaving the country. Fortunately for me, the strange man had on a shiny suit! (Gotta love Korean fashion~)
He drove me to the pension office, where a guy highlighted the sections of paperwork I needed to fill out. 20 minutes later, I was done and on my way back to Chilgok, nodding off the entire way. (Someone spent the better part of the night all riled up to see her daddy at the airport on Sunday.) Then I was deposited back at the gas station, despite it being about half a mile from school. Oh well. I was early, so Heather and I walked to school, and then I got McDonald's. Because I needed McDonald's in Korea one more time, right? Ha.
Today's classes went as smoothly as ever ("JEFFREY! SIT DOWN! TEACHER IS TALKING!"), with a slight twist of the knife in my heart as my babies told me they were sad. When I asked why they were sad, they said, "Kate Teacher America go." A few of them said they were happy, though. When I asked why, they said, "Kate Teacher here. I love Kate Teacher!" Awwww.
Without the energy (or the clothes) for taekwondo, I went and watched and took some action shots. They'll find their way here eventually--maybe. And here we are. Post-chicken galbi for the last time with my favorite Canadian, our livers still burning from the soju and our mouths still burning from the red pepper paste. It's a shame to go, now, since they know everything from the spicy level to the soju-cider-cola combo, but as I just received an e-mail from my favorite recruiter, who knows? Maybe I'll be back!
"Well, I'm going home, back to the place where I belong And where your love has always been enough for me I'm not running from, no, I think you got me all wrong I don't regret this life I chose for me But these places and these faces are getting old So I'm going home, well I'm going home"
It's really winding down this week. The weekend flew by with laundry, Harry Potter 5 & 6, and one last hangover for the road. My wardrobe is now pared down, with most things going to hopefully be reused by other clothes-shopping-challenged white folks. The underwear I've hated for the last year is now safely in a garbage bag waiting to be finished being filled, and my to-do list has ceased growing, and is being drastically cut down as I cross things off.
I've booked a hotel for Saturday night, so I have less things to worry about Sunday--I'll be an 8-minute shuttle ride from the airport, and I'll have a clean, cool room to spend my last Korean evening. On Saturday, Yuria and I went for one last galbi trip, and it was a little sad, despite being very delicious. For once I had spicy galbi that didn't make me sick, and I wish I'd discovered it sooner--yum! Hopefully I'll be able to find something comparable to share with y'all back home.
Tomorrow morning, I go to meet a guy I've never met in front of a gas station, so he can take me to the pension office. I've been paying part of my paycheck into the national pension scheme (I love that they use the word scheme here), and I get that back, plus the money Mrs. Baek has to pay to match my contribution. So that plus my last month's pay, plus the bonus month's pay most contracts pay makes for a neat little sum to bring home (over 6 million won).
I'm leaving at a good time. Swine flu is shutting down entire public schools, and all of the hagwons in surrounding areas. As a result, any teachers traveling next week are going to be in quarantine for a week, and all other teachers have to pick up the slack. We have also been informed that anyone planning on leaving the country for the Thanksgiving holiday will have their contract terminated. I understand why it's being done, but I think it's irrational. We didn't come to South Korea to sit in our apartments and watch TV, despite how amusing that may be sometimes. We came to see the world.
I still don't know what I'm going to do, despite everyone and their mom asking me. I just want to get to American soil, because if there's one thing I've learned in this month overseas is how much I love my homeland. I may disagree with the government (as a matter of fact, I do), and there are certainly things I value highly in Korea, but at the end of the day I'm a patriot, and I can't wait for a good ol' Colorado sunset.
The strangest thing happened to me while I was walking to work today. I passed another hibiscus flower, and I had the distinct thought, "It'd be better if it wasn't pink." WOAH WOAH WOAH! Back the bus up! This is the first ever recorded instance of me thinking it would be nice to see a splash of a different color, and it deserves to be noted.
Another moment of bizarre happened as I was waiting for someone else to cook my dinner. I was staring into space and thought, "I'm tired of talking." I am the child who spent a good part of her childhood car rides bribed into silence. My parents, when I was born, promised to each other not to use the phrase "shut up," and found themselves using it daily (hourly) by the time I was a teenager. And today, it finally happened. While I wouldn't mind some company, it would only be for companionable silence--I am tired of talking.
While I haven't exactly been doing anything, I've been pretty introspective. As I lay in bed last night, I developed a mental image of what I must have looked like a year ago, arriving at Incheon Airport, all alone, hauling my three bags through the airport. Sweating, tired, and well, all alone.
I can't believe I was never scared. It never even occurred to me to be concerned or anxious about what was coming up--and with good reason, really. The last year has been amazing.
So I'm not sure why I feel so anxious about returning home. I think about the same person--except not the same person--hauling the same luggage (albeit lighter) through the same pathways, and going home without knowing the future scares me. Am I coming back? Who am I going to meet? Whose lives am I going to change? Who is going to change mine?
My blog's been a little quiet lately. This is related to several things, mostly reading and a lack of things to report. On Friday, however, we did go on a field trip to EXCO, the local exhibit hall (those readers familiar with Billings would know it as the Metra). They had a show about dinosaurs which involved walking through a black light tunnel, looking at (fake) fossils, climbing through several bouncy-castles decorated like dinosaurs, and a sand digging pit. To top it all off, there was a dinosaur show that included a 3D portion (with one of the top 10 hottest men on the planet as the host), and a skit with a seriously real-looking T-Rex (aside from the whole part about him only being 8-feet tall and having a pair of black human legs sticking out from under him.)
The part I found the funniest was when I was attacked by a dinosaur. I really was. There was an inflatable dinosaur arch that deflated just as I was walking by. It's quite fortunate that I was the one it landed on--I acted as a good propping device for the kids to escape through, while the employees fixed the situation.
After, we did the lunch thing and snuck off to watch a movie for the last period. So, in short, you could say that the day rocked!
For dinner I'm eating "Italian Cheese Pizza." "Italian" my butt. It has corn on it, and the crust has green tea in it. And it came with a side of sweet pickles, for flavor contrast of course.
Today I had an interview for a hagwon, and in the back of my mind I tried to keep thinking, "get the job then turn it down, get the job then turn it down," but after working 19 classes in 2 days, I don't have my heart in working for a private academy anymore. As much as I may appreciate the offer (it's always nice to be wanted), I have my heart set on public school or nothing. (Guaranteed 22 classes or less a week? heck yeah.)
Also, I've been kind of proud of this class I've been teaching for 5 months, now. They're very low level, and I named them all when we started. I had named the kids Amy, Billy, Colin, David, Emily, Frank, Greg, Harry, and Jay was already named Jay, so I was stuck with skipping "I." (ABCDEFGHJ, get it?) Today I got a new girl, and I was so excited! I had "I" names written on the board before class even started, and I practically pounced on her when she walked in. To my dismay, however, she already had a name. :( It's a lovely name (a family name at that, Julia), but my class is incomplete. Sigh.
I'm proud for other reasons (i.e. they have all improved significantly), but you know it's the goofy things that are going to stay with me.
Today was an average, go-to-school-be-annoyed-by-the-boss kind of day. Let it roll off my back and got on with my day, having a lot of fun with my classes. I finally got the beginners to stop speaking so much Korean (their English is SO improved that they can), and well.. the others.. at least got part of their workbooks done this time. Their conversation skills were really high today, so I let them ramble about I don't even know what anymore. They were even using past tense--knocked my socks off. (Well, would have if I'd been wearing any.)
After was taekwondo class. I verified that I did pass my test, so I'm at yellow belt level, but because I'm leaving I'm not getting my belt from this gym. If I go back, they'll give it to me, but I can't seem to find a job in the area. I'm really glad I passed.
Maybe even verging on giddy. I passed!
Part of today's exercise involved weaving in and out of a circle, the obstacles being us taking turns. I was one of the obstacles bent over in a kneeling prayer position. Because I'm so much bigger, they used me more like a leap-frog playmate, and it was pretty funny. Until I got knocked in the head. But then I got to sit out and watch, which got even more ridiculous the faster they tried to go. I wish I'd had my camera as the tiniest and the biggest ones crashed into each other; it was awesome how the little guy bounced off of the big guy's chest!
I saw a hibiscus today. I was walking to work, and I looked to my left, and there it was--the flower that decorates seemingly everything back home for summer, yet I'm not sure I'd seen one in real life before (other than maybe somewhere indoor for plant havens). It was pretty and pink and my camera is dead, so you'll just have to trust me on this one.
Facebook continues to astound, recommending yesterday that I add an ex as a friend. I haven't anything in common with this person, really, other than living in the same state (still 1 1/2 hour drive) and being Christian. I figured why not (curiosity killed the cat and whatnot), and I'm glad to see he's doing well. He's graduated, gotten engaged, and I guess is looking for a house to buy. That's all pretty exciting. I think it's ironic that we're both teachers, now, him with a fancy degree (master's) and me with not much more to recommend me than being an American.
This weekend, we celebrated Mel's birthday. We went to a place that combines billiards and bowling (?), and I got to do something I've always wanted to. I opened up the cocktail list, and I asked the waitress for one of everything. This was such a stupid idea. Not because it was expensive, and not because it was too much alcohol. It was too much sugar! I got sick after the fifth one and left with a massive headache. But, it's one of those silly things I can check off my list. I need to get through the "stupid stuff to do in my 20's" list before I'm no longer in my 20s.
Yesterday, then, I stayed in bed all day with a sore foot and the first season of True Blood. I'm not really going to recommend it because there's a lot of sex to fast forward through (or rewind for if you're a pervert), but it's an HBO series about vampires. It's helped loosen my intrigue leftover from Twilight; these vampires are different (yet similar in ways that make me smirk), more vulnerable, and really, who wants to be easily slaughtered by an old fashioned pencil?
One last note... I got my hair cut for the last time in Korea (this time, at least), and it's pretty cute. I'll have to find my camera charger and get this whole "no picture" situation rectified.
The worst thing that happened all day was... my mascara broke. And I had a spare. Tough life, right?
Yesterday I crunched my ankle in taekwondo, and I didn't really care. I, the quasi-hypochondriac that I am (really I'm more klutz than hypochondriac), still went to class and ran and blah blah.
It's like I don't even know who I am anymore! I'm happy, and I'm exercising. Maybe there's more to those happy hormones exercise induces than previously suspected.
In other news, I've been reflecting over the past year, and really all I've got to say is I'm embarrassed by my three-month dedication to someone who in the end was at best not interested and at worst just wanting free English lessons. I can't promise it won't happen again, but maybe I'll either 1) keep it privater (yeah, spell check left that like that, so I am, too), or 2) keep it to under a month. Here's to Friday!
Also, I have submitted almost all of the paper work to start applying for a public school position. While I previously thought all positions were filled (what with having been told that by the main office in Seoul), it turns out that recruiters have ins with individual schools, so there may be a Part II to this adventure; whatever happens, it won't ever be like the first time, but there will be mischief. Oh believe me, there will be mischief!!
I never considered myself stingy before. I always gave pretty freely of possessions or whatever trinkets I thought a person would enjoy, and it's just now dawning on me that adage: money can't buy happiness. I still withheld something very important from people who deserved it: I kept my love hostage.
I thought that if I loved fewer people, that I would be less hurt. I didn't anticipate that it would mean that I would be less whole. As I sit sad about leaving my 41 consistent students (and dozens of others whose lives I've touched in the past), I realize that I've made room for each and every one of them in my heart. I've poured blood, sweat, and many many tears into their lives, trying to make them the best little English speakers in the city.
Was I successful? Not by a long shot, but they've all improved. And my heart really hurts at the thought of leaving them behind--especially Aidan--but I know more of what I'm capable of, now, and that no matter how far away I may move, there's room for all of the people I want to love in my heart, and that it won't crumple from pain when I'm separated from them.
I was walking home from galbi tonight, and a thought occurred to me, a new facet to the sadness of leaving Korea. The entire journey has been like setting a flame to my candle--I feel like I've been shaken up and sent out to discover who I am and what I'm made of. I don't know if it's because the surroundings are entirely new, so all of the memories are fresh, but even though I've walked certain pathways literally hundreds of times, I have so many unique memories of many of these walks that I'm afraid of losing them when the surroundings change.
For instance, the walk back from galbi entailed walking to the corner where Heather and I took my first post-cast taxi ride. I want to remember the feeling of accomplishment I got from hobbling those two blocks in the cold winter air. And the feeling I got the next night when I walked two different blocks on my own without having to stop and rest.
In Parker, there's no familiar corner with the wooden-planked second story restaurant, from which some man leaned out of the window to yell how pretty Jamie and I looked. There's no chicken galbi restaurant where the Queen of Awesome Heather told me that she admired me because I seem to know what I want.
There's no familiar taekwondo room where I can recall the first time I blocked a soccer ball, much to everyone's astonishment--including mine. There's no fourth floor multi-purpose room where I saw 60 kids hold candles without burning anything down and where I helped to host a bi-lingual kindergarten graduation. There's no first walk to Home Plus with Tere, our arms bumping together and me being pleased that the skinny girl was sweating like a pig, too.
So, as tempted as I am to let this post trail off and end on a sorrowful note, I make this an open invitation to all of my beloveds. I'll be back within four weeks, and I'm looking forward to making new memories to carry with me on my next adventure. It can be as simple as a last meal at Hacienda (thanks mom and dad), a ride to the Bagel Stop (Sid, Tab), a spin in the short bus (you know who you are), or yet another beer/mojito/margarita/tequila sunrise/Jaeger bomb wherever we may happen to be at the time (did someone say Mackenzie River Pizza Company?).
Yesterday was my test in taekwondo. There is a test every month, and it just so happened this month I was actually learning stuff so I could advance to yellow belt. The test did not go very smoothly, but something pretty amazing happened: I cut myself some slack. I've only been practicing the moves for two weeks, and they were busy two weeks. I did practice at home, I stayed after to practice... I literally did the best I could.
So I plan to keep at it, if nothing just continuing to practice the same moves over and over, improving them as much as I can. It's interesting to me how much more aware of my body taekwondo requires me to be. To move all four of my limbs intentionally and simultaneously takes quite a bit of effort.
Every day I've been trying to say yes to small things, like changing the place where I order the same food. As a result, I discovered a kimbap shop that doesn't put mushrooms in its kimchi soup, so I was pretty stoked about that.
Today, I went to taekwondo early just to see what happens before I get there, and because it was recreation day, not very many people came to class. As a result, it was me and just this one other guy for a while. For the first few minutes, he kicked around a ball while I sat in the office enjoying the air conditioning. Then it occurred to me, maybe he'd like someone to play with.
Since there weren't any other options, I guessed that meant I was the option. I thought more about whether I would fail, if my ankle would give out, or if I'd somehow accidentally rip my pants, but in the end I decided to say yes. And it felt great. I blocked most of the balls, taking a few to the neck at a speed I'd estimate at three hundred kilometers per hour (roughly six million miles per hour, I think, for those who aren't good at conversion math).
Speaking of exaggerating, it's hot. And the running dialog in my head (Scrubs, anyone? I'm so JD) says it's consistently either six thousand degrees, or a million degrees. Either way, it doesn't matter if it's Celsius or Fahrenheit, I'm going to 1) die, and 2) be hot, and 3) whine.
The end of the story is, I'm glad I did it. I wasn't as old as I thought, and I had fun.
So Saturday night, I went out dancing with the girls and met a guy named Sam. He's from Sri Lanka, and I spent the first five minutes dancing trying to remember where Sri Lanka is. (I was wrong.) He kept holding my hands while we danced, and unusual for Korea--he knew how to dance well. It was a treat! He asked for my phone number (I was feeling particularly crotchety and refused to ask for his), and he told me I was beautiful--and not in a "I want in your pants" sort of way.
Within 10 hours, he texted me. Awww. He wanted to meet, and I was going to, but I was too lazy to shower. (So pathetic!) So we met up tonight, and it was really nice. We sat at a cafe for a while, but then moved on to a convenience store. Now, I realize that this may come across as being shallow, but... He speaks with an accent close to an Indian's, and we were sitting in front of a 7-Eleven. I couldn't help but wish he'd ask if I wanted a Slurpee.
It was a really good night, talking about how obscenely long his name is (49 characters, and he had to pause to remember how to spell it all), how we both regularly butcher 5 languages (he speaks Sinhalese, Korean, English, Spanish, and Tamil), and how beautiful my gray (what the heck?) eyes are. Oh, and for those who never put 2 and 2 together (like me), Ceylon Tea comes from Ceylon... now renamed Sri Lanka. The more you know~
This post is kind of just fluffy; mostly it's to remind myself that someone saw past all of this weight I've been using as a defense and saw a beautiful girl worth dancing with, and then pursuing. I feel deeply touched and grateful for tonight.
When I leave Korea in a few weeks, I will be leaving many things behind.
Some of these things will be small, and rather insignificant, such as my leftover conditioner and shampoo, or some of my dignity at WA-Bar. Some of these will be big and insignificant, such as all of the clothes I've shrunk out of. (As of today, I'm down 3 kilos in a week! June 30th, here I come!)
Others will have meant much more to my overall life journey. I will be losing coworkers with whom I've bonded dearly, children whom I love almost as much as myself, and a fresh, daily supply of kimchi whenever I want.
But the part that makes me a little sad today is saying goodbye to my hairbrush. Samantha Liptac gave me a hairbrush for my 12th birthday. It's a lovely shade of sea foam green, and it has followed me from Montana to Colorado to University to well, now, Korea. The other day the bristles started to break off, leaving little pieces of plastic on my floor that look a little bit like the people pieces from the Game of Life.
And so to honor this 14-year relationship, I leave with a song.
In my life, I've played my share of MMORPGs--role playing games online that involve lots of people generally grouping together with the common goal of destroying each other and being crowned king nerd of the fantasy world. In these games, there are generally 2 ways to gain experience: kill stuff, and do quests. I was always a fan of the killing stuff approach; quests generally required a lot of reading and time, while killing stuff has the obvious instant gratification. That and, well, you get to kill stuff. One of my favorites was killing the giant spiders just out of spite...
But that's not really the direction I was intending to take this post. On Thursday, I had two very real realizations. 1, I'd lost 3 1/2 pounds in 4 days by being conscientious about what I was eating and exercising to the fullest of my ability. 2, while I've come a long way, I still have a long way to go. I asked Ji-Yeon (Ji-Yun? not sure about the phonics) what I could eat, and I was told carbs are only allowed in the morning, and the rest of the day is tofu and vegetables.
You thought Atkins was hard in America? Welcome to the land of rice and ramen. Rice is involved in everything--dessert, wine, snacks, every single meal. Getting soup? You know what'd make that soup even better? Rice! And my favorite "rough day" food is a bowl of cheesy ramen with rice. Since the thought of Atkins still conjures mental images of dry beef jerky and bunless hamburgers, my thoughts turned to other diets, rolling over what I thought I could live with for a while.
That's when I realized, Koreans essentially live off of the cabbage soup diet! This is the secret to their skinny! The #1 food of Korea is kimchi. Hands down. Who doesn't love a bowl of fermented, spicy-as-hell cabbage? (I know I do!)
So, after taekwondo last night, I headed to get a bowl of kimchi jjigae (yum!), and the evil woman brought the soup (yay!) and a bowl of rice. And the rice was glistening and perfect. It didn't look like any of the pieces were crunchy. It looked fresh and fluffy and delicious and they didn't even bring the lid. They left a perfect bowl of rice just... next to the soup, and the soup beckoned to the rice, and the rice taunted the soup. I didn't even touch the bowl. I pushed it away with the back of my spoon and ate the kimchi instead.
While I was home, I was thinking about what is going to happen next. I love learning languages. It also turns out that I like exercising, now. Back about nine years, I sat through a guest presentation during my German class about joining the military and going on to study at the Defense Language Institute. Every so often my mind wanders back to this, and I think to myself how much I would love to do that, but doubted my ability because of my weight and hatred of exercise. And now, I feel like that might be a possibility. I read an article about a woman getting in shape to join the army, and I just feel hopeful. Like, when people ask me what I'm going to do after, maybe I won't just answer "go home and exist." Maybe I'll actually have a goal.
And fortunately for everyone involved, this quest probably won't involve me killing stuff.
Currently I am sitting outside my local convenience store while typing atrociously on my newest toy. I'm seriously in love with apple and their intuitive spell check. After Mel Arthur Abby and I gushed Chris went and bought one too. This greatly amuses me as we race to see who can do the coolest stuff first. I've already read Eclipse and Breaking Dawn on mine and while it zaps the battery it was awesome. I'm glad to have an ereader option for the plane.
In other nerdy news I made a deal with my taekwondo instructor to lose five kilos in twelve days. Smart? No. But since I'm down 1.5 in three days I don't see the harm in trying. She has a lot of faith in me--and her teaching abilities. Truth be told I trust her, too. Which is a pretty winning combination. Despite staying up until an ungodly hour finishing Breaking Dawn, I was glad to exercise and I was the most motivated and hyper one today. It felt like Debbie had the reigns again. I think this had something to do with a fervent prayer at five this morning that God would help me get through the day despite my own stupidity. He really came through for me. As always.
As cool as this is it's a bit annoying--although I'm impressed the soreness begins to set in. I hope your Thursday kicks as much ass as mine did!
Generally on Facebook I send flair, burn up my energy points on Mafia Wars, check out a few people's statuses, and get off because despite being an eavesdropper, I'm not really addicted.
I'm always a little pleased, though, when my friend Tabitha's daughter sends me a message. She's 17, now, and talks to me like I'm normal. We talk about David Cook and Twilight, how her aunt is living with their family again, their new dog.. I just think it's really cool that it occurs to her to message me.
So thanks, Sid, for starting my morning off with a feeling of being well-thought of.
Today was a pretty awesome day. After a healthy breakfast of bananas (squee!), I taught some kick butt lessons that involved a lot more talking and a lot less writing--I think everyone was happier. Lunch was dolsot bibimbap (deeeelicious) with my homegirls, when I brought up that I have 40 days left. "Forty days and forty nights," Kayleigh chuckled. "What're you giving up?"
Well, it isn't Lent, but I'm thinking maybe I should give up my countdown. I find myself living less day-to-day and more for a certain day. There's still six weeks of fun to be had, as evidenced by my beloved kindergarten students. We just had the best time today. We sang. We learned. We made up motions to the songs we sang and learned.
Then, during taekwondo, we did walking-while-kicking drills. My instructors, I think, are as obligated to tell me a good job as I am to tell my kids they're doing well, hoping that encouragement will produce a better product. But when a 12-year-old compliments you (a twelve-year-old double dan black belt), you know you're doing something right.
A month or so into my Korean experience, I got my first kindergarten beginner class. These students come Tuesday and Thursday, for two classes each day, one with a foreigner, and one with a Korean. A week after it started, I started teaching Aidan (named thus after watching an episode of Sex and the City--sue me). From the very start, English has been a challenge for him, but he always smiles and always tries hard. I know he isn't at home studying every night, going over and over the material, but his in-class effort is unmatched.
He and I have both cried because we were so frustrated with each other, and his inability to say "bathing suit" (baby suit?) still cracks us all up.
Today, however, is a monumental day that deserves its own blog entry. Today my very special little boy read. Alex had five sentences for their phonics lesson written on the board, and she had me come into the class on break time to listen to Aidan read. (The man has an apple. The boy has a hat.) Even just thinking about it, my eyes are starting to well up again. The relief, pride, and joy have filled my heart to bursting; I'm really glad I got to see it before I go. Praise the Lord!
I have a new toy. I remember the days when the original iPod Mini brought me glee. I was working hard to get by each month, but managed the funds for the last pink one in Missoula--I was so elated. I know there are advocates out there of buying anything that isn't the mainstream, and that there are good alternatives to the iPod, but for now I remain dedicated to the toy that amuses, and the program (iTunes) that bewilders.
Saturday, Mel and I went out shopping. I ended up with the 8 GB iPod Touch, and we both got matching pink cases. It's a pretty awesome little toy. I figured out how to do an ad hoc wireless network using my laptop, so then I could upload my e-books to the little treasure. (Yes, these e-books are Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. So?) I'm looking forward to adding more obsessions to it in the future as vampires begin to lose their stronghold on me.
Last night was a difficult night as I tried to reconcile where I've been in the far past to who I've been in Korea, and to where I'm going and want to be going. The only things I really know about the future is that a guy (who isn't fictional) and children are in it. I have no other details than this, but a bad experience in a previous relationship sent me into a tailspin. I had been judged by this "Christian," and while I know that it had more to do with his own problems than me, it made me take a look at what I do here. I can see now that the drinking, the dancing, the staying up until 8 a.m., are part of a very real, very human (okay, at least girly) need to socialize in a country where the options for friends can feel limited. I just hope Mr. Right is more understanding.
That said, I spent the day considering my options, although I really only considered the one career path: teaching English. There's Italy (maybe, Tracy, I'm still looking--will send information if I come upon it), Dubai, Argentina... lots of countries (continents) to see. I gave up on this, though, as my heart wasn't into it, and I started watching an absurd amount of That 70's Show. I've noticed I'm significantly older than the main characters, now, so I started paying more attention to the grown ups--namely Red and Kitty. I have been under the impression that one has to live one's life in one's 20s in order to accomplish and see everything one wants to see before one dies. As silly as it is, I looked at them and saw that isn't true. Sure they're actors, but they're 50-ish, working, and pursuing dreams that matter to them. I don't necessarily care about getting a motorcycle, but it's the gist--following what's in your heart. So I don't get to all of the continents before I'm 30; so I end up going back to school and not graduating until I'm 35; so I don't get married before I'm 40. Life doesn't end just because I've aged. It ends when I give up. And from that perspective, it's possible I'm the youngest I've ever been. Hiiii-yah!
Thursday and Friday we had open classes. This is where the parents come in to see what exactly it is we do in class. Except this is bogus because the presence of 8-12 (20 in Heather's case, ew!) parents throws off the teacher, throws off the kids, and really--well, for me at least--makes the entire room a boring ball of nerves. The first day, my co-teacher and the vice director basically told me my class was an epic fail, but after talking to the one person in the school who possesses an ounce of tact, I guess I'm just suited for older students. Friday, I followed her suggestions, and while it wasn't exactly lively (they were so quiet!), it was more successful, proving that I can in fact learn, at least.
It's had me mulling over this whole "take a native speaker and plop them in front of kids and expect good to follow" theory of learning English. On the one hand, there's some value to having someone who understands the grammar and nuances, but we're not educators. We're out-going people (usually) who have adventure on our minds. In my case, I'm lucky that I have a big heart and a severe dedication to avoiding failure; for others, though... well. It's fortunate our contracts only last one year.
As I sit here at the end of my contract, doing the expected (mulling over what's next) I ponder being a teacher in the States. All I can come up with is a "hell no." Eight kids in a class drives me nuts. I have one class of five in the afternoon, it's all I can do not to throw one of them in the trash can. (Thank you, Mr. Klunder, for your shining example in seventh grade!) A class of 35 would pretty much bring me to my demise, I think. I don't think it would matter a brass farthing that I spoke the same language; it might help if I was from another country.
So I return to not thinking about it, and instead focusing on my newest obsession (to help fuel previous obsessions): the iPod Touch. It plays music. It plays video. AND it connects to the Internet! Holy crap! Abby has had one for a month, now, and has Skype on it; as a result, with a headset, she can use it like a phone. Mel got one on Wednesday, and there have been a lot of "green with envy" thoughts floating in my head. Having had it pointed out to me that my income is fairly disposable by my ever-encouraging mother, I looked into it further, and I can use the thing as an e-reader, too. This means I can take Twilight, the movie and books, with me wherever I go.
As I mention this, I consider what it would be like to read my blog from beginning to end. First, there's the discovering Korea. "Oh, wow, this is so cool!" Then there's the broken leg. "Oh, wow, this sucks big time!" Then there's Albert. "Blahlblahboringblah." Then there's Twilight. "Oh man, she's another vampire freak, too."
So let me redeem myself by concluding with news from the taekwondo class. On Thursday, I started to learn my first poomse. Poomses (Poom-says) take basic taekwondo movements and choreograph them into a certain number of movements, and knowing these are how one progresses through the belts (or so my understanding goes). In order to obtain black belt, one must know seven. Now, for poomses I've been sentenced to either watching or practicing the basic movements (though still watching in the mirrors). They never once looked easy. I never thought to myself, "Oh, I can do that." And so Thursday, it came my turn.
I will say this much, I didn't fall over. And for the most part I was pointing in the right direction. (Really, with expectations this low, it's amazing I ever think I fail at something.) We went through the 19 movements, and the instructor was actually pleased with what I had managed to do, which gave me some confidence as we did it again. Enough progress was made for the day, and I got to go back to sitting. Now that I had tried, I knew more of what to watch for, and it was educational and helpful.
Friday, yesterday although it feels like it was much much longer ago than that, was "you've been a smart-mouth, so now you're going to pay" time. I don't think Hannah and I fell into that category, but we were still lumped in for the ten minutes of running around the room. It was just running and counting, but I felt pretty proud as I kept up with the really fast boys for the first five minutes. Then the cramping and the panting started, but I still made it. The best part came after. They pulled out the basket of rainbow-colored, foam-padded... nunchucks. Now, let me remind you, I walk into stuff all of the time. Just in taekwondo I've given myself six bumps on the head by walking into the kicking practice equipment. I broke my leg going down *one* stair. I fall down and trip over literally nothing. And here they are giving me nunchucks; regardless of being padded, this is going to be worth watching.
Within minutes I'd clocked my ear, yelped from the pain of hitting my shoulder, and smacked the back of my head several times. Half of the time I was doubled over in pain. The other half of the time I was doubled over laughing. The instructors did their fair share, too. They had to have known, right? It was lots of fun, though, and now I'm really excited for Phil's birthday present. He had given me a set of wood nunchucks with a Jesus emblem on them. I think they were a gag, but now... "HI-YAH!"
Today we all headed back to school, some of us a little tired because we were up until 3 a.m. thinking about all of the awesome things God is doing in our lives. For instance, my jobs have been pretty varied--hospital volunteer, garbage emptier, reverse telemarketer (I took orders via the phone for 50+ catalogs), deli clerk, law office receptionist, seafood clerk (a step up!), night watchman, parking lot nazi, property manager, assistant to medical insurance salesmen, and now ESL kindergarten teacher. My friends have dubbed me the queen of random, and I think this is evident in my employment decisions--I can't wait to see what happens next!
Despite tiredness and a caffeine withdrawal headache, I had a great day with my kids--except for when Brian realized his grandmother forgot to wash his lunch tray. It didn't occur to me to wash it, I went to the kitchen and got a borrowed tray. He was so upset he cried for an hour, stopping only when I bribed him with candy. Thank God for leftovers from our lesson on "lollipops."
After, Hannah and I had some yummy tuna jjigae before heading in for taekwondo. Today we warmed up with a lot of kicking (which involves a lot of sweating and pant-tugging for me), and then we got to spar. The goal was to kick our opponent's butt--literally. I almost died laughing because the first time I "won," I reached between my opponent's legs and got his butt that way. I think the best part of the night was when I got to kick the butt of the most annoying kid in class. He kept running away from me, but I still got him. And after, the instructor corrected my kicking, so I started making even more contact. It was awesome!
We had today off (for no particular reason, but I'm grateful nonetheless). The stress of the last two weeks had really brought me down, as had the remarkable lack of sleep. After waking up at 1 today, I fixed that little problem. I went to work, fixed the last of the few problems I had, then went and read (New Moon, haha) in front of my convenience store for a few hours before taekwondo.
Today's class was really good, and I'm really glad I went. I was granted mastery of the front kick! I kicked so high my instructor had tears of joy. It is now as I type that sentence that I realize, I am the Aidan of taekwondo. I'm glad I could give someone the same frustrated joy. When I demanded a sticker for my achievement, they just laughed at me. Tomorrow, I shall buy the largest sticker available and wear it proudly!
It turns out that they won't change the time schedule until after I leave, so I'll be able to continue until I leave. I'll definitely have my yellow belt before I come home!
1) I love watching He's Just Not That Into You. I feel enlightened and empowered to wait for something fantastic instead of settling for the unromantic and ordinary. (e.g. Edward Cullen, but that's just a continuation of my delusions)
2) The spicier the curry, the better.
3) When choosing a country for teaching English as a second language, I am one of the few people who needs to consider the quality of emergency care before consenting to move.
4) I miss the washing machines (and dryers!) of home. They work better.
5) Today is my sister's birthday! Happy Birthday, Molly!
Well, there just hasn't been much to report. The week ended on an upturned note, and although plans for Seoul got postponed, I still took Friday night off from taekwondo to celebrate my first free Friday night since I started Korean lessons. (What with them requiring me to wake up at the same time I wake up for work, I couldn't exactly be hungover. Except for that one time...) The girls and I got dolled up and headed out for some dancing good times.
Yesterday was an excellent lazy day, topped off with Night at the Museum 2 (it went a little slowly for me, things didn't flow smoothly), dinner at an Italian place, and some good old fashioned pool/bowling fun. More dancing ensued, which pretty much brings us to the present time. No falling down drunk, and for the first time I went to Frog without almost getting into a fight. It was either a slow weekend for everyone, or maybe I've taken steps towards being 26 instead of 22.
For a long time I felt trapped at age 22, so I was really confused when it was my sister's 22nd birthday, what with her being three years younger and all. When I turned 25, I was in panic mode about my life. Now, a year later, after having lived my life, I feel like I'm coming into my own. And let's face it, Cinderella ends just after the wedding because the big growth spurt was over. (Well, it should have ended. Cinderella 2? Cinderella 3? What the heck?)
Something about life, though, is that unlike a 90-minute movie, we have plenty of time for many adventures. I'm off to try my 3rd Indian restaurant since coming to Korea. I'm going to have to find one in Denver and drag people along; it's way better than Ben Stiller in Along Came Polly makes it look. ;)
So, after a Monday hypochondriac episode of "My eyes aren't getting any better!" and the ophthalmologist declaring, "Yes they are! Don't come back!", I've finally finished my week long punishment of wearing glasses and got to put my contacts in this morning. So far, so good.
Everyone says the glasses are cute, but for me they are a bitter reminder of a geeky youth where nothing seemed right until the magical day we had a garage sale and I had enough money to buy my own contacts. (Well, almost enough. Fortunately for me, my parents are either 1) easily annoyed, or 2) indulgent.) So to be forced into wearing them because of an angry case of pink eye (which, Abby informed me, only happens when someone gets poo in their eye, EW) left me feeling rather unglamorous--partly because my movie star sunglasses don't fit over them.
For the last week I've had a headache, which I like to blame on my glasses, and last night it intensified, leaving me unmoving on my bed--yes, skipping taekwondo. After a few hours with the Cullens (the ones in my head, not the movie), I lay in the darkness staring up and thinking about my students. Because Anna left on Friday, there have only been 15--but I still forget and make 16 copies. I thought about how each of them represent 32 parents and 64 grandparents, all who had hopes and dreams for their futures--futures that I'm a part of. I started wondering what they were going to be when they grew up, and what their new teacher is going to be like. I hope she understands how special Aidan is, despite certain lacking abilities (i.e. understanding number sequence, oops).
I stepped into unknown territory, examining each of the kids and trying to think of what I hope for for my kids. I have two little girls who are perfect angels. They're the smartest, and will probably be leveled up into the second year class. I think they're probably what I would have wanted for my children before I realized how un-challenging and un-fun perfection is. For all of the times Aidan and I have made each other cry, I am going to miss him desperately. I feel as though this difficult four-year-old has taught me a lot about losing my selfishness and loving not because of what someone can do for me, but because he is good and deserving of good things.
It strikes kind of a theme that goes along with Twilight. Yeah yeah Bella's extraordinary, but how would the first book have gone if Edward could have read her thoughts? I pose the suggestion that his initial interest in her comes from the mystery and the challenge of getting to know her. Part of Aidan's appeal is the challenge he poses for my teaching abilities, and how the reward is greater when he does learn. I hope there's another one of him in my future.
So Saturday after I got my certificate for finishing my Korean class (and with a "see you later" from he who will never call, and thus never be seen again), I packed up to visit Abby in her little town of Naa. Technically the invitation and party was Arthur's, but I find something about Abby just draws me in--she has the gift of hospitality that always bewilders me. Like my cousin Pam, she has an amazing ability to make a home comfortable (and clean, for that matter), and thinks of things for guests that don't really occur to me.
After a few mishaps (i.e. going to the wrong bus station, getting rammed into by an impatient driver) we met up and drove from Ulsan to her town 20 or so minutes away. As I drove around Ulsan in the bus and on the way out in Abby's car, I really admired the town. It has 1/3 the people of Daegu, has more of a retro feel, and from what I could tell was way cleaner.
The night progressed into a barbecue that was fun. Arthur had a lot of friends come in, all of them having exotic (aka not North American) accents, so it was fun to listen to them. One of my favorites was a Korean named Dinny who learned English working in a pub in Ireland. He had the foulest mouth of anyone I've met outside of college--it was hilarious. As the food disappeared (including Abby's fantastical kimchi jjigae, whose recipe I need to remember for home--anchovy powder, red pepper paste, and garlic are the base), the group headed out to the beach for a bonfire, s'mores, and fireworks. It was awesome being right on the sea and hanging out. I really wished Tracy had been there; it would have made it all perfect. Well. Aside from the broken glass in my foot, but that's what taekwondo calluses are for.
As you can see, the next day was beautiful. Probably 75 and sunny with a light breeze, Abby and I did some shopping, visited the beach again, and spent the day being 20-something girls. I came home spent, sore, and full, and looking forward to next weekend when Kate (보배) and Abby (부휘) do Seoul! (서울)
Today was the last day of the May session at ECC. In Kindergarten, it meant we were concluding the first textbook, and I'm just amazed at how much my kids absorbed. The final chapter was about parties and reviewing other material (pets, numbers, etc.). In my imaginary world, I envisioned a grand party for my kids, helping them remember important vocabulary such as friends, cake, presents, and cards. We made going-away cards for one of the little girls who is moving--Anna. She was a quiet one, and walked to the beat of her own drummer for sure. While everyone else colored their bear brown, Anna colored hers rainbow. She's also the little girl who thought she was a boy for the first week, and a book for the second. I hope she does well in her new school.
For the party, I wrapped thirty-two presents, taking care for each of the little matchbox cars so the rear-view mirrors didn't poke through the paper, that all of the wires for the sketchbooks weren't sharp, and that all of the bows were put on prettily. As I spent the four hours doing this, I realized that all the effort would be wasted on them, but that I wanted to do it anyway. I really think this year has been an extraordinary experiment in how a child's love can heal and bring out the best in a person.
It was successful--only slightly less wonderful than Disney World--and the boys played with their cars the rest of the day, which was a lot of fun to observe. When I used to watch wondering, what on earth are they thinking?, I find myself wishing I had a 9th toy to get in there with them.
This afternoon I had a final class with some kids I inherited from Kevin. Matt, who has been at ECC longer than all but two teachers, is moving to another part of town or something, and won't be coming to ECC anymore. So. Sad. He's so much fun. He's the one who asked for my autograph.
As I write this, I remember my grandmother and her relationship with George Winston. She was his 2nd grade teacher or something, and they've continued a friendship long since. She still goes to his concerts when he passes through Montana and catches up with him. I know how big of a room I have in my heart for my past teachers, and I know how fiercely I love my students. Some of them probably feel the same, and I'll be remembered long after I go. I'm glad I could sneak in memories of presents and cake beforehand.
Tonight is my test in taekwondo. I haven't been the last two days because I can't wear my contacts. I'm trying to decide whether to go; I'm pretty sure I'll pass according to their standards, but I'm equally as sure that I'll fail according to my own. So it comes to a point where I wonder, is it really my eyes I'm trying to protect, or is it my ego? I'm testing out my contacts, though, to see if I can make it through an hour or two before getting my glasses back on. Stay tuned...
This week has had its challenges--but, Wednesday is already over, so it can't be all that bad! This morning started off with an insane burning in my eyes. I've been fighting something in my eyes for ten days or so, but yesterday they were clear. This morning I couldn't even crack them open because the light burned them so badly. I rushed to get my glasses on and got to the doctor with plenty of time before class.
She wouldn't even seriously look at them, they were so bad. (When I first looked at them, I wondered if they were bleeding.) So she gave me a referral for an ophthalmologist (spelled right on the first try, woo hoo!), and I set off to see if Jin would send someone to help me at my 2:30 break--because I'm a good, hard-working teacher who wanted to rally and pull through for my students and coworkers. She rationalized that the office was going to be slower when all of the students were in school, so she sent me in the van with Albert to go see what was wrong.
I have two infections, one being pink eye and the other something I didn't even recognize. The whole ordeal has made me look back on my past ten months and sigh. I've had bronchitis 20 times, 16 sinus infections, a broken leg, tachycardia, tonsillitis 4 times, and now pink eye. I was never the healthiest horse, but come on! This is too much! I wonder if destiny is preparing me to write up on what I think of the Korean health care--which is that it's awesome. You get in and out with relative ease, and my insurance is $120 a month ($60 comes out of my pocket.) All in all, I saw 2 doctors today, got 3 prescriptions, and paid under $10. Something is worth noting about their system.
The rest of the week, well, I don't want to remember it for posterity (not that I really want to remember conjunctivitis, either, but it is worth remembering that for a few hours I really did look like a newborn vampire). So I choose just to remind myself of my first month learning German. Frau Dyer was never the actual source of my frustration--generally it was myself, or other stresses during the day. It's important not to take things personally (as a teacher, as a girl, as a friend, etc.) because so little is actually about me.
Lesson learned (for the evening, at least), and now I'm off to skip taekwondo and do some shopping for my kindergarten party on Friday.
After the world's worst tequila hangover (free shots = bad, bad idea), I discovered Twilight. And then before I knew it, I was devouring the entire series, leaving little room for things like blogging, eating, and sleeping. I still went to taekwondo, though, going five times last week! On Wednesday, we had physical fitness tests and it was so full of good news. It confirmed what I thought my weight was, and in 2 years I really have dropped 55 pounds. Extraordinary! My flexibility is more than it was in high school (I got crowned the "queen"--I'm so glad that's the most-used phonics word for "q"!)
The part that makes me smile is the sit-ups test. She gave us a minute, and I did thirty and figured time was probably out so I stopped. Then I realized it wasn't anywhere near finished, so I did some more, finishing at 35--higher than in high school. So we have 2 things to garner from this: 1) I was out-of-shape in HS, too, haha, and 2) I've come a long way in 1 month. Hooray!
Yesterday I sort of had two dates. After Korean class, Luke finally asked me out to lunch with him. I think it was more for companionship than anything, but we ate Mexican and talked about lots of things--future jobs, attitudes towards Korea, Christianity, and dating. We talked about how hard it is for him to take initiative with girls, and that he thought he would have married long ago, but that he's just been waiting for it to happen. It took an extraordinary measure of will-power to smile and nod instead of reaching over and smacking him. Oh well.
After heading back to my corner of Daegu for a nap, I got a message from a Korean I've been texting with, and we met up for drinks. And his friend was there. His friend who doesn't speak English. It was a pretty awkward time, Eric only being able to talk to one of us at a time. The friend requested I find a Korean friend for him to talk to, so I tried, and I know Alex was probably just rolling around on her bed laughing at the entire situation. I ended up leaving for the preservation of harmony.
So after a good night's sleep, I'm up with dishes done, laundry cycling, and jamming to the two awesome CDs Tracy made for me with potential plans for a movie. Despite the suspicion that I would love being a vampire, I'll hold off on further forays into fiction until my plane heads off July 26th. There's still a lot to do--and blog about--before I go!
Not updating for one very stupid reason: must find out whether Bella dies. Have sick mission to work 40 hours, take TKD classes, take Korean lessons, dance all night, and still make it through the series in 1 week. ... 400 pages and 1 day to go.
So this is something just kind of random, a thought that struck me as odd. I'm sitting at my computer, trying to think of something interesting to post in my blog, and what I come up with is the following.
"I learned how to round-house kick today."
Excuse me, but "I" as in "Kate" and "round-house kicks" generally belong in a sentence along with "video game." But I learned the real thing today.
I love my students, and I sincerely believe that each and every one of them is a genius. I don't care that Billy's name is sometimes spelled "Bily," and Greg is "Gerg" and Emily is still sometimes "Emliy." These little geniuses are undertaking the monumental task (chore?) of delving into English and trying to communicate in two languages--long before people in the US decide to look into Spanish. They have to undergo learning a new alphabet (UPPER CASE, lower case, and don't even get started on cursive), new phonics (i.e. the previously mentioned lack of "f," plus the difficulty of r/l, the new sound "th," and so on), grow accustomed to double consonant sounds, and rearrange their thoughts in a completely backwards way.
Despite all of these difficulties, my sweet babies in kindergarten still try to tell me what they did over the weekend (I Nintendo Dad = I played Nintendo with my father and we had a wonderful time). They cheerfully tell me over and over that they are sitting ON the chair, not UNDER the chair, and every morning Dove class greets me by hiding under the table, giggling until one of them gives up and pops out with a "good morning, Kate Teacher!"
At the other end of the scale, I have a class just a few weeks away from entering the Intermediate level of their English studies. Their vocabularies are quite good, and their grammar is coming along. They understand the joke when I demonstrate cutting one's finger versus cutting off one's finger (a bit higher class than the nosebleed/coffee comparison... 코피/커피). This class has been one of my points of joy these last few months, and I received the sad news that two students will be moving so the class will be merged with another at the beginning of June.
I've lost a lot of classes over the last year. Overall, the numbers drop because students test into higher level classes. Now, as I mull it over, I wonder if they tested into higher classes to escape me. I hope that isn't true. I know my standards are incredibly high--I'm afraid that I was too hard on them. That I wasn't enough for them in some way--whether lacking in games or compassion, etc.
Regardless of the reasons, this is another class coming to a close. My brightest student is leaving. There are more personable students, ones who don't radiate displeasure at being in school, but I've really enjoyed watching Sean's mind work. He comes up with some of the funniest stuff, and remembers the most random. One day, for whatever reason, we were talking about fried chicken. KFC is actually kind of common here--Koreans love their fried chicken--and he made some crack about how it's made in Tuckey. "Kentucky?" I tried to correct. "No, Made in Tuckey," he was absolutely certain. I was practically doubled over laughing. Another day, my absolute quietest student confessed *gasp* that she had a boyfriend. She wouldn't tell us his name, so I named him Kimchi. A few weeks passed and for whatever ornery reason I remembered she had a boyfriend again, and Sean was the one who remembered his fake name. The look of horror on the poor girl's face... (Gee, I don't know why my classes are shrinking...)
Another favorite is Matt. Matt's been a long-time student at ECC. He started with everyone's favorite, Gavin, at one of the very early levels, and progressed all the way up to the point where he tells me about his tests and sometimes corrects my spelling. (I get rushed!) He has a great imagination, and when we're practicing past tense and writing a class-wide story, he always comes up with the best plot twists. Today, we were talking about famous people and their autographs, and one of the workbook questions was, "Whose autograph would you like?" He wrote, "Big Bang and Kate Teacher." I am going to miss him so much.
And that, Charlie Brown, is what Teacher Appreciation Day is all about.
This week, as I've been walking around my little corner of Daegu, it's been really warm and I've been reminded of my firsts--first trip to Home Plus, first time getting lost finding my apartment, first time realizing my apartment is too bright to sleep in, etc. etc. I've also been remembering what I ate that first week: nothing but popsicles.
This week I've managed to get in a very Korean lunch: bibimbap, ramen, rice, but breakfast and dinner I've chosen a fascinating triangle popsicle instead. It comes in both coffee and strawberry. This morning, though, I woke up and there's a new popsicle wrapper on my floor. I don't remember eating it, and it wasn't there when I went to bed.
As I sit on my bed post-taekwondo with a box of waffle cookies, I ponder, while biting into the buttery, almondy goodness, something I find odd--yet delightful--about Korea. They thoroughly embrace other cultures, but on their terms. For instance, because of the abundance of American presence post-Korean War, there is English everywhere. It is often misspelled, and if you try to speak English, people usually tell you--in English--that they do not speak English.
Another example are these waffle cookies. I could walk into Home Plus (aka Tesco, the British WalMart I'm told) and buy three or four different types of waffle cookies. They also sell waffles folded in half and filled with the most fattening icing you've ever tasted (see post about cake mania in kindergarten for its pants-staining potency). These waffle carts are literally everywhere; typically I find one on a ten-minute walk in any direction.
Despite the abundance of waffles in this manner, I have never seen a waffle iron. Nor have I ever seen a breakfast restaurant, i.e. IHOP. (Thanks to being part of the Apple generation, I almost spelled that iHop, ha.) The irony makes me smile and pause--but not until after I ated my cookie.
My little girls in Dove class love announcing that I am a princess. They also like to joke, though, and say, "Kate Teacher! Prin.....cess." Then erupt into a fountain of giggles. The boys, however, have figured it out and go "prince....ss" as soon as they get the eyebrow.
Yesterday was a genuinely exhausting day, to the point where--despite a full night's sleep--I had to come home and take a nap after Korean class today. Imagine, if you will, 16 4- and 5-year-olds. For all sakes and purposes, you could consider this a child's birthday party. Now, in your imagination, add seventeen sponge cakes, four bowls of pink and white frosting, and endless decorations and you have a recipe for good ol' fashioned, destruction-induced fun. With pink frosting on one leg, and white frosting on the other from the knee-high counters, I can deduce that despite 3 of us taking 30 minutes to clean up the disaster, it was a success. No one cried. Everyone liked their cake. And we all got on a massive sugar high.
The frosting brought back memories from Monday night--memories I forgot to chronicle here. At around 1:30 in the morning, after massive amounts of alcohol, Chris commented that he'd really like to see someone's face shoved into one of my birthday cakes on the coffee table. Before I even realized what was happening, Arthur smashed the cake into Chris's face. Oh. my. God! Soon it was returned, smashed into Arthur's face! I was completely sober, but so tired, I realized too late that Chris had started balling up the remaining amounts of cake and started passing it back and forth between his hands. All of the girls went screaming out of the apartment at that point. I thought I was going to be clever and run into the elevator, not realizing Arthur would follow and tackle me into it. I tried to get out on the right floor, but it had already started moving. We went down to the first floor, looking rather sheepishly at the older Korean gentleman who got on with a disdainful look--he probably wasn't impressed with the frosting smeared across the door. ... I still have frosting on my pants, even after going through the wash.
This week, I have been suffering from a plague. A plague I like to call my EPIK application. EPIK is the Korean government's program to bring foreigners into public schools for the purpose of teaching English. The application is pretty long, and ... invasive (they ask for your weight!), but it was no problem. I got through 7 of the 8 pages. Unfortunately, one of these was, "write a personal essay of 300 words or more." There was no guiding question, just "personal essay." Today, after the 3-hour nap, I woke up, realized it had to be done, and here it is, 588 words, submitted for your approval.
Love One of the first things I noticed about Korea is the abundance of pink and heart. There are heart stickers, hearts on T-shirts, heart-shaped pencils, and people continually make hearts with their arms and hands. As I learn more about the culture, I understand most of the songs are about love, and that there are essentially two Valentine’s Day—one for girls, and then one for boys! Over the last year, I have developed three of my own loves: languages, children, and travel.
Since my father brought me a copy of Aschenputtel, the German Cinderella, I have loved foreign languages. As I started high school, I began learning German and can remember my teacher unfolding this new world of grammar for me, teaching me as much about English as she did German. She made learning fun, and I went on to study French, Spanish, and now Korean, too, applying the same basics. Now, when I am at the head of the class in her shoes, I try to apply some of her methods. She was good at encouraging us to use our imaginations for conversation drills, making them fun instead of just another page in the book. This love of languages has served me well in Korea, because as I study object and location markers, I understand more of my students’ difficulties and why they make the mistakes they do, which has added to my effectiveness as their teacher.
In addition to languages, I love children. My first day teaching in kindergarten, the teacher I replaced showed me the building, my classes, and introduced me to my students. I fell in love with them immediately—well, almost all of them. I soon learned that each class has its own troublemaker, and that some are simply mischievous, while others act out because of a problem. One of my 7-year-old boys had such a hard time in classes; he could not stay on task, and he was habitually distracted. As I read through the previous teacher’s notes, it seemed it had been going on for some time. After observing the class’s play time, I saw that there was a certain girl who always chased (and tormented him). After stepping in and separating them, the boy’s performance soon went to the top of the class, and he was much happier. Out of my love of children, I find myself drawn towards spurring them on to be the best they can be—to the point where half of my students have been promoted to elite classes, if not to higher levels altogether.
Finally, I have renewed my love of travel and have fallen in love with South Korea. Living in the United States, I have a lot of opportunities to travel around Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. itself. In high school, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Europe to see Germany, France, and Austria. Nothing has satiated my desire to travel like moving to South Korea and being allowed to experience life here hands on. Every day I get to go to taekwondo, or to Korean lessons, or out for galbi, or to visit a shrine or palace, I feel the honor of being in such a historical place.
Over the last year I have seen and done many things, from field trips of petting snakes to helping direct 13 7-year-olds in a graduation play, and fortunately nurtured my three loves of languages, children, and travel. I look forward to what the next year has in store!
Now, this may come as a shock to you, but in high school I was a nerd. (And middle school. And elementary school.) I got good grades, participated in every extra-curricular that didn't involve moving (drama, two math clubs, FHA, band, orchestra, choir, etc), and spent an awful lot of time on the computer.
As I was walking home from taekwondo today, I started to wonder, "when did I get so cool?"
Not only have I done away with the good grades (haha, sorry dad), but here I am, 26-years-old, living out one of the coolest possible jobs. I roll out of bed at 8:30 to loaf around before work, go color with kids and exchange various insults using the only words they know ("Nu uh, YOU'RE a monkey princess!!"), then after all of that hard work, take a 2-4 hour rest. Then I put in another two hours ("She totally sprained her ankle, and I totally burned my hand!!"), and take an hour rest before heading off to taekwondo. At the end of the week, I go to study Korean, then hang out with the girls until some ungodly hour on Sunday morning or whisk myself off on a weekend adventure.
Actually, that sounded a lot cooler in my head, and now I realize that there are in fact nerds everywhere I go. Going with the idiom involving birds of a feather, maybe I am in fact still a nerd.
But one of the more blissful things about being a nerd, as learned by Sheldon, Raj, Howard, and Leonard, is that you can be one and enjoy it.
The breaks between classes are 10 minutes, now, in kindergarten, which really just means I sit around on the super comfy chair for 8 minutes instead of 3, now. It's wonderful. Today I was settled into the chair, helping someone spell "stethoscope" (why 5-year-olds need to learn that word, I don't know). My wonderful little student David came up to me with a piece of pink and red origami paper and asked, "Kate Teacher name spelling?" I smiled and said, "K," and he ran off to the classroom to write it down, then ran back. "a," more running. "t," finally realized there's a table right next to me. "e." Then he looked up at Alex and asked, "How do you spell I love you?"
So I got a note, "Kateiloveyou David"
And bless his little heart, it's the first time all day he hadn't spelled it Davib.
and love me anyway. :) So I answer my phone on a day off...
"Are you showered?" "...No?" "What the hell, woman, it's 12:30!" "..So?"
No hello. No how are you. Hehe, just, "are you showered?" And not assuming that by 12:30 I would have washed off the previous day's cake war remnants. While I was but an innocent bystander, I managed to get yellow frosting on a good number of clothing pieces.
You might say, then, the Cinco de Mayo festival was a success! Everyone appreciated my fajitas, and finally!!!! I found unmoldy avocados. They were $15 for 5, and well worth it.
A few weekends ago, as I was talking about finding a job, someone asked me a question that has rocked my world. "What do you want?"
I've spent the last two weeks thinking about it, and I am pleased to announce that I have discovered an Albert-free answer. Last night I lay awake, not because of caffeine or because I watched a rowdy movie, but because I was practicing taekwondo in my head. I was going through the actions of the punches I'd learned, trying to keep them straight for my test at the end of the month.
I, Kathleen Elizabeth, was too excited about exercise to sleep.
What with being a closet morning person, I thought this over in the shower and just had an epiphany: what I want is to stay near my instructor and to have more vacation time so I can go see Beijing and Hong Kong and so on. Seoul was awesome, but it was really too big for me to live there. There are a lot of other cities on the beach and maybe with better offers and new and exciting things to do, but what I want is to be in a place where I feel encouraged to be healthy. There are other taekwondo hagwons, but I've already found what works for me.
So now I'm going to get together my resume, bribe Yuria with coffee to write a letter of recommendation, and set off for Korean Saga 2: The __________ Continues. (Adventure, Boy Crazy, so many options for that blank, so little time.)
This is the longest I've ever gone without updating--even longer than when I broke my leg. It isn't for a lack of things to say: au contraire, it is because of an excessive number of minute facets of the past week I wish to document but end up punking out.
Last weekend was my big weekend in Seoul with Hannah and Mark. Hannah and I headed up on Friday taking the super fast train. When I say super fast, I mean over 300 km/h fast. I had a little pre-birthday celebratory bottle of soju while the rest of the crew got smashed and celebrated Jeff's fake birthday in Daegu.
When we got to Seoul, it was pre-rain muggy. By the time we got out of the station, it was no longer pre-rain. After a few dead-ends finding a hotel for the weekend, we stumbled across the "Forced Smile Motel," one of Korea's fantastically cheap, fantastically pervy love motels. After stealing random supplies from the completely unmonitored linen shelves (so what if I want four pillows?), we tested out the Beer Factory, finding some of the best chicken tenders I've had.
The next morning (Saturday) was supposed to be an early rise, but it turns out I twisted my bad ankle in the station the previous night and was not thrilled by the idea of shining. After some prodding (and an alarm that sounded like a bird was in the room), we made it out the door and onto the subway in time for Hannah to see part of Mark's first hockey game.
What I didn't realize (my ignorance seems to know no bounds) is that Seoul hosted the 1988 Olympic games. So Mark was playing in some tournament on the grounds, so I got to see my first Olympic stadium. It was really quite amazing, and I felt in awe of just being there. After the game, Hannah and I went for a huge, Western-style breakfast (with coffee!!) at Gecko's. Yum.
From there we hopped on the hop-on-hop-off Seoul City Tour bus. For $10, we got driven around the entire city and could get off to see any one of 30 destinations. Because someone was a little slow that morning (oops), we did get to see the whole tour, but we only got to get off at two stops: the Seoul Tower and Deoksu Palace. Because it was cold and rainy, visiting the Seoul Tower strongly reminded me of Seattle. It was cool seeing out across the city, though, and they had little markers to tell you how far you are from certain places. It turns out Seoul is 9927 kilometers from Denver. I thought it was interesting that I'm closer to Moscow than home. Deoksu Palace is one of four palaces in Seoul. The admission is well worth it ($1), and we got to traipse around soaked in the rain and splashing in puddles while running up to ancient buildings and snapping their pictures.
This was my favorite picture of the palace. I like that you can see the restored outside and the un-restored inside in the same picture. The government is working on restoring all of the palaces, which is a serious haul after what the Japanese did to them, and I find the progress interesting.
To dry off, Hannah and I saddled up to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, and it was delicious. It also opened up the night to drinking, and well, you all know what happens when Tequila enters the picture.
Something ironic about the day is I spent the day in the shadow of Luke's footsteps. He's a guy I met in my Korean class who also cut class to come see the wettest city in Korea. The next morning as we were headed to leave our stuff at the subway station, we ran into Luke and his friend! In a city of 24,500,000 people, I ran into one of the few people I know--from Daegu. Then twenty minutes later, I ran into other people from my Korean class! It was so crazy. In a five minute period I gave a blurry English lesson, ran into all of these people, and got a subway pass for Itaewon. Whew!
After another megabreakfast at Gecko's, the three of us (Hannah, Mark, myself) went for some shopping at Insadong, where I finally procured postcards. Expect mail, people! (Although not too soon; I did postpone blogging for a week, hehe.) After buying some interesting things to send to my grandparents, we set off for the main palace but got waylaid by the Lotus Blossom Festival.
It was a big festival for Buddha's birthday, May 2, and it was really impressive to see all of the lanterns. As I went through the news on Monday morning, I was pleased to see that I was finally somewhere that was in international news. Pretty cool! The incense got to me, though, and by that time I was starting to feel the cold that I'm still fighting. Fortunately for me, Hannah and Mark were okay with leaving Seoul after we consumed a massive (lethal, really) amount of ice cream. We got to the station with 15 minutes to spare before the next train for Daegu, and it was a pleasant, uneventful return journey.
Monday was (dun dun dun!) my birthday. I actually held off on opening my presents! My mom and grandma sent me more shirts, yay! The day was an average Monday, except I got four cakes. And Phil, the new male teacher, gave me nun chucks with a Jesus emblem. Then he wondered why I called him the strangest person of my acquaintance.
This week was week two of taekwondo training, and it went really well. I went, skipping only Tuesday due to illness, and I actually feel stronger. I feel more capable. I feel all of those good things I had hoped I'd feel. And tonight I learned the groin punch. Today, Daegu. Tomorrow, the world!
It's amazing how many muscles the human body has. It's also amazing how exercise makes us aware of each and every one...
Today I lay back to do another 30 sit-ups, I looked up at the beams of the ceiling and considered the fact that I had looked forward to class all day. That thought quickly fled as I lifted up for the first one, cringing and biting down on my cheek; it's still swollen.
After completing the warm up, I got to learn some of the basic moves. Mostly this involved my uncoordinated limbs flailing about in an effort to imitate my instructor, who is a year younger than I am and has trained for 13 years. There were lots of snickers from the black-belted boys, but really in a fight I could still just sit on them.
I had to do more ankle lifts, and the first few almost killed me. Yesterday I got a cramp in my calf, and everything still ached. My lower lip trembled, my eyes welled, but the favorite Konglish phrase (Konglish = Korean + English) "Fighting!" rang in my ears. Whenever something is difficult, you can count on someone to rally with a chorus of "Fighting!" Except, what with the lack of "f" in the alphabet, it comes out "whiting" or "pighting," but the sentiment is there. So I pulled myself together, and my instructor came over to talk to me and distract me to the point where I was able to do all 100 again.
I'm so glad I'm going to Seoul tomorrow. As much fun as I had today, I'm looking forward to blowing off my "becoming Korean" classes (aka taekwondo and language) to go experience the real thing with a friend. It's supposed to rain and be chilly, but I'll just remember: fighting!
In case you were wondering, taekwondo in Korean is: 태권도.
Today was day 2 of my new hobby, and according to the schedule we were practicing kicks. More important, though, I got my uniform! I put on the suit that had the school's name and everything, tied on my belt, and the transformation was amazing. I went from this out-of-place foreigner, clueless and filled with wonder, to this out-of-place foreigner, clueless, filled with wonder, and remarkably uncoordinated. But, I got to do what I came for: take a stance, kick a paddle!
I only got to do 2 kicks before I got sentenced to white belt hell. What with ankle limitations, I got to do something like 200 ankle exercises, which honestly hurt but felt good at the same time. I'm so glad to be working on fixing the atrophied muscles instead of just wondering what to do. I also got to do this leg-jiggling thing that makes my thighs burn. While I was doing the last 10 sets of ankle exercises, I got moved to a window so I'd have a breeze and a view. When the instructor came over to see how I was doing, I'd moved on to making sound effects and scoping out the foot traffic for cute guys which amused her. So, I practiced counting to ten in Korean (I can do Chinese numbers, but Korean ones are just hard). Looking forward to tomorrow...
Tomorrow's goal: help Emily learn how to spell her name. Poor little girl knows all of the letters, now, but it usually goes "Emliy." At least she's cute!
So today was it. I'm sure you've all been waiting with baited breath to see how the first day of TKD went. (I'm not full of myself, am I, hehe.) I survived!
Fortunately, Mondays are stretching. After faltering with jumping jacks (thank you, broken leg), I have been excused from all jumping-related activities. I have, however, been assigned extra strength exercises, but that's okay because I wanted them. I want my leg to be better!
We had a slight disagreement over my uniform. I think I should wear pants that don't show my butt, but the uniform is the uniform and I am to take comfort in the fact that the shirt is extra long. ... It brings back flashbacks of stretch pants in sixth grade, but I needed to get over that trauma anyway.
For the first time since high school, I did a series of sit-ups (real ones, with the instructor pinning my feet to the floor), and I managed 25 before shaking and needing help to finish the set. I kicked butt at stretching (maybe yoga would have been a good choice after all), and despite the pants concern, I enjoyed myself. I have to smile at my lack of belt, though. I think it's like the universe knows that I'm not even at white belt level and need to go a few times just to have the right.
The instructor was very encouraging, and while I feel like the dunce of the class (possibly because I am), I made it without further injuring myself. I left feeling like I could do it. I left feeling like I'm looking forward to tomorrow. And that's a pretty big deal.
Before taekwondo, my day went just fine. Kindergarten was what I can expect, now. My precious baby boy David was all full of cuddles today, so that was fun. I tried to teach reading (gasp) and it didn't go so well, but I got to sit each of them on my lap and try to get them to say at, cat, hat, mat, pat, sat. The memories of some of these kids are so precious, I hope they're what remains in the sieve of my life when all of the bad stuff has been washed away, and I'm left with gold nuggets.
I know I'm cheating 2 posts in a row using lolcats, but honestly.. this is exactly how today went. I just couldn't get it right today, and so I'm going to throw in the towel, eat some galbi, and look forward to tomorrow being a new day.
Once my dad decided to see how long it would take our dog to get tired of having his head pet--his most favorite thing in the world. All it took was 8 minutes. I wonder how much of my attention each of my students would need to feel fulfilled, happy, and like I can stop petting their heads.
I'm pretty sure whatever it is, it wouldn't be enough for me.
After a year of living in Colorado, I grew accustomed to living in the sunniest city in the United States. Now, the rainy days just bring me down. I think it affects the kids, too.
1) Aidan cried for the second time ever. :( 2) Julia broke her 3-day streak of no crying and gave into temptation. 3) Emily tripped me. 4) Terry keeps shoving his hands in my butt. 5) Helen rammed her toothbrush into my butt. 6) Ben has been carrying around a note from a girl (Bella) for two days that literally only says "Thanks, Ben," and talks about her (in Korean) ad nauseum, but it's cute because he whispers it all in my ear.
And that was all before lunch. Today was watching pomsae for the taekwondo. It made me really look forward to Monday.
Here's hoping tomorrow's post is more interesting. Too sleepy, but wanted to put something up. ... Seriously, what's the obsession with my butt?
In Daegu, there are tons of hagwons. Hagwons are private academies, like the one I teach in. I teach at an English hagwon. On average there's three per block, and that's just English. There's also math, computer, art, taekwondo, and so on. Today, Hannah and I went around to some of the schools in our neighborhood and found one where the instructor is female, and has good time slots. She spoke a fair amount of English, and the floor is padded.
She had us sit and watch one of the classes, and I was really nervous. She told us ahead of time that everyone was a black belt and that they jumped rope 1,000 times. So I sat, quivering, sometimes grabbing for Hannah's hand, while some kids played around--kids younger than my afternoon students but older than my kindergarten kids. As 8:30 rolled around, I realized they were going to be my classmates. It's a lot less scary when you can easily protect yourself by tackling and sitting on your opponent.
Some of the stuff honestly looked difficult, but it was all very interesting. There were two kids with purple belts, and they got to sit out for the harder stuff. I'm looking forward to joining them. To be honest, I think this is going to be a great next step in the adventure. Learning taekwondo in South Korea? Oh yeah, babe. BAM!
As written at 4:00 p.m. from my physical therapy table.
In getting mentally prepared for taekwondo, my mind has of course flooded with all of the negatives, a big one being, "What about my broken leg?" I know I've been walking without aid since Christmas, but is it okay?
I went to the doctor today, with a note in Korean asking if I was ready. This resulted in some ankle-groping and questions about pain and limping. With a warning to do it carefully and another set of x-rays, I got to see the bones.
This time there were only two--the two you should have. To my medically-untrained eye, I could see there is a mass of swollen tissue, but the bone itself looked beautiful.
After, they made me go to physical therapy again. (Two days in a row after skipping more than a week, oops.) As I sat thinking and listening to my purple iPod, I realized now that I am genuinely excited. In more ways than one I've recovered from the trauma of my life, and I am embracing this new step. This is going to be huge.