Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Vacation time, woohoo!!! I'm leaving for Busan today and probably won't be posting until after the 1st. Merry Xmas everyone!

A Christmas Poem:

Christ Climbed Down
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Green Eggs and Ham

In February we have 'Open Party' where all of the morning classes perform a play (or something similar) in front of an audience of parents. It's a huge event for the parents because they get to see their kids speaking English lines in a big performance complete with costumes, lights and choreography. Bert Class is my new class I just started last week and I decided for Open Party they could do Dr. Seuss's 'Green Eggs and Ham'. Today I made green eggs in our first class in hopes of getting them excited about the book and in order to do something besides sit in the classroom.




Sunday, December 18, 2005

Culture Shock n.

A condition of confusion and anxiety affecting a person suddenly exposed to an alien culture or milieu.

A Korean friend asked me a few days ago if I've experienced any culture shock since being in Korea and it made me question my personal experience with the elusive subject of culture shock. Culture shock should be easy for me to describe to someone who has never experienced it; I certainly should have encountered it somewhere along my travels. I should understand it in the way you understand an apple by biting into it, and not merely reading a description of what an apple is. But for a reason unbeknownst to me, I don't. I have experienced "the confusion and anxiety" component, but it has always come to me in terms of reverse culture shock, wondering and waiting in a place I've called home for the last 24 years for my next new taste of the unknown world. My paradoxical comfort zone appears to reside in places unexplored by my senses. Experiencing the world to it's full extent. Meeting passionate people. Enjoying unusual foods that soon become familiar. Watching the sunrise and sunset from a different perspective. Learning a new language. Embracing a different culture. Having intense friendships that can last forever based on a mere brief, chance encounter. Being recipient to the incredible kindness of strangers and doing the same to others. Removing the carapace of comfort to veraciously experience life. That's what it's all about for me and I can't imagine it any other way. Whenever I'm in a new place, my heart beats with excitement and curiousity of the unknown, not anxiety and confusion. I guess Culture Shock is a relative term that I fail to understand simply because I haven't experienced it firsthand. Maybe someday I will encounter an unforeseen attack of culture shock as described above and then I will really know what it's about. Until then, I live on, in the never-ending pursuit of understanding myself in relation to the incredible, diverse world we live in.

What I'm Reading...

Under the Banner of Heaven : A Story of Violent Faith
by Jon Krakaur

Into the Wild led me to crave more Krakaur. There is no doubt that he has an attraction to the extremes and this book is no exception, the topic being Mormom Fundamentalism. It was written in the same style as 'Into the Wild' with quotes preceding each chapter, detailed historical facts and Krakaur's captivating descriptions. I'm not quite finished but so far it's been very informative and quite disturbing. 'Into to Wild' is still my favorite.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Learning Korean

A few weeks ago a friend let me download his Pimsleur Korean lessons onto my iPod and I listen to it whenever I walk to the subway station. I probably have serious romanization issues because this is all from audio, but here is some of what I can now say:

Good morning/afternoon. How are you?-- Annyong haseyo?
It's nice weather.-- Nalshiga Chosumnida
I agree-- Crosumnida
Do you speak English?-- Yongarel ha shalsui sumnika?
As for me, I speak a little Korean.-- Chonnun, Hangukarel ha sui sumnika.
But I don't speak very well yet.-- Hajiman, ajik chal moteyo.
It's here/Is it here?-- Yogi-eyo.
Are you from Korea?-- Hangukeso oshasayo?
I'm from America.-- Mikgukeso wasumnida.
Have you had lunch?-- Chamchim tushaseyo?
Thank you-- Kamsamnida
Goodbye-- Anyonghi kehsayo
I'm a teacher-- nanun san sang nim ida
Be quiet-- Choyonghi hara

It may not sound like much, but it's a big improvement from what I knew when I came! When I hear conversations I actually recognize words now and have a partial understanding of what is going on. When I first came here I never thought I would be able to do that. I can read hangul much faster now that when I first came but usually have no idea what it says (except when I'm reading menus). My goal is to be able to keep up with the hangul when it runs across the bottom of the screen in a noreabang when a Korean song is playing. We'll see how that goes though.

Menu written in Hangul. Kimchi jiggae is the 6th one down...yum.


Some Korean friends taught me how to say (among other things) "crazy" in Korean, which I found out is a very offensive term after I used it in conversation with some of my older students. The English words "crazy" and "silly" were banned from our vocabulary at school a few weeks ago because of the Korean translation into "insane" and "stupid". I use these words a lot in class and now I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying them, even though most of my students comprehend that I'm not calling them retards or sociopaths.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Vacation & Xmas Countdown

Only 10 days left before vacation! And only 11 days before Christmas, but it doesn't feel like it at all despite the freezing cold weather and the Christmas songs at school. In Korea, Christmas is more of a couple's holiday similar to Valentine's Day than the family-oriented holiday it is back home. The mass commercialization of the holiday hasn't yet reached U.S. levels but Christmas decorations and music can still be found at department stores and other places. There has been a dramatic increase in Christianity in Korea in the past few decades (which partly contributes to the decline in Buddhism) and I wouldn't be surprised if Christmas in Korea soon becomes more like the holiday it is in the States. (speaking of Christians taking over Korea...Does anyone else living in Seoul get approached by Christian missionaries on a regular basis or do I just look like an easy target?) The holiday should make next week go by relatively fast and then it's time to relax and enjoy a week-long vacation. I'm definitely ready for some vacation time, especially with the new schedule I started, and I will be appreciating the 9 school-free days very soon. I'm staying in South Korea but other than that I still have no idea where I'm going. I'll probably be jumping on a bus and heading South somewhere and see where I end up...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Last class, Movie and Costco

My afternoon class I'm losing...






















I had my last 6:00 class yesterday. We played Uno and a Korean game called kong-kong-chil-bang, or in English, zero-zero-seven-bang. In the last 30 minutes I took them outside and we ordered (in English) bowls of dukboki--rice cakes in spicy sauce-- from the friendly food vendor next door to the school. It's been fun teaching them and I'm sad to give them up but at least I'll still be able to see them all the time.

Dukboki














I start my new homeroom class tomorrow morning and I'm excited about teaching in a different classroom for 2 classes each day. It will be an interesting change from teaching (and living) in a cave of a room with no windows. I'll be missing my long break from now on though...and I have to be at work earlier, by 10:00 A.M. everyday (Okay, I'm sure all you 8 A.M.-ers are cursing me right now so I'll stop).

I just got back home from my first movie-going experience in Korea. It's not much different than back home, besides the dried squid for sale alongside the popcorn and the Korean subtitles . I saw 'Prime' (listed here as 'Prime Love') with Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep, which had a rather unexceptional storyline but wasn't bad for Thursday night entertainment. A much more exciting time was had on Tuesday night though when I made my first visit to Costco with a couple friends to stock up on some hard-to-find (or less expensive) food items in bulk. I now have granola bars, oatmeal, tortillas, frozen spinach and cheese ravioli, Monterey jack cheese (REAL cheese!) and a massive container of Barbecue sauce (BBQ tofu is the greatest!). I never knew Costco could be such a good time... the only negative aspect of the Costco adventure was carting the boxes of bulk items home on the subway.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Zen is very simple...What are you?

Meditation room at Hwagyesa
Last weekend I experienced the esoteric Zen Buddhist tradition of Kyol Che at Hwagyesa temple. This literally means 'Tight Dharma' and refers to a 90-day summer and winter meditation retreat when monks spend the majority of each day meditating. It is a very intensive retreat focused on meditation, chanting and bowing. Following the Kyol Che daily schedule we woke at 3:00 A.M. and started the day with 108 bows, chanting, meditation and breakfast. The rest of the day included several more hours of meditation, yoga, lunch, dinner and evening chanting and bed by 9:30 P.M. Over the course of two days I meditated for a total of 14 hours! Breathe in...What am I? Breathe out...Don't know. Zen meditation teaches to continually keep this don't-know mind. When eating, just eat; when teaching, just teach; when driving, just drive. It was a very new experience to have such intense, disciplined introspection. When I thought about long periods of meditation before this weekend I had imagined a rather undeviating experience of sitting and merely clearing your mind. The rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions I actually experienced was very far from that preconceived idea:

What am I? ...Don't Know. What am I?...Don't know. AHH! I fell asleep for 2 seconds and was dreaming! I was climbing up a stairwell in a prison and reached a ladder to the outside world but gravity no longer existed... Seriously, I need to wake up! I will NOT start snoring in front of monks trying to meditate! ... I wonder what my new schedule at work will be like? What should I do with my kindergarten class for Christmas? Okay, okay, stop thinking!!! What am I?....Don't know. What am I? ...Don't know....okay this is better and then several hours later... What am I? ... I don't know, but my right leg may need to be amputated from sitting in half-lotus position for two days!! How can these monks take it for 90 days??

Meditation is definitely something that takes dedication and practice and I realize it will not be perfected on a simple weekend retreat. Overall, this was a wonderful experience where the peaceful moments far outnumbered the excruciating ones; I would definitely recommend a weekend temple stay to anyone in Korea. I met the sweetest old Korean lady doing the entire 90-days and a young girl who was doing a few weeks and am looking forward to seeing them both again. As an added bonus, the temple food was delicious and meat free-- quite a rarity in Korea!


I woke at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and was surprised to see the first snow of the year!


Two monks were arguing about the temple flag waving in the wind. One said,
"The flag moves." The other said, "The wind moves." They argued back and forth
but could not agree. Hui-neng, the sixth Patriarch, said: "Gentlemen! It is not
the flag that moves. It is not the wind that moves. It is your mind that moves."

-Zen Kongan

What I'm Reading...


Veronika Decides to Die (Paperback)
by Paulo Coelho

I've been wanting to read this since I skimmed the back cover in a book store a few months ago and was excited to find a used copy in What the Book on Sunday. It's about a girl in Slovenia who decides to commit suicide with sleeping pills but wakes up in a mental hospital to find she's still alive and now has only days to live. I loved this book!

Monday, December 05, 2005

School today

Zack, Deborah and Shelby giving the obligatory peace sign

I found out today that there will not be a replacement teacher for Michael until March and as of Thursday his classes will be covered by existing teachers. Because I currently work the least amount of hours I will be inheriting his home room morning class. This means that I will have to go to work an hour earlier everyday and I will lose my 1 hour 15 minute break. To compensate for the added hours (and so the school won't have to pay me as much overtime) they are giving my last MWF class to a different teacher. It will be nice to get off work by 5:50pm on MWF but it's my oldest class and I really enjoy teaching them! My paycheck will also be a bit bigger each month so I won't complain about that. I'll see how it goes after next week...



Today in my first class:

Shelby- "ALY TEACHER, ALY TEACHER, ALY TEACHER!!!!".

Me- "Shelby, WHY are you screaming?? WHAT do you want???"

Shelby (comes up and whispers in my ear)- "Aly Teacher is...um, Aly Teacher is a...beautiful, cute princess!"

What can I say to that? Damn she's cute!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Korean Children's Museum

Stella is looking very interested at some spinning wooden display.

Amy's trying on one of the interactive displays. And yes, it was a children's museum, despite how much she resembles a very young guest at a fraternity party. (OB is the Korean version of Nat light)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

"The Sickness"

This has been a very interesting week at the hagwan: one teacher is moving back to Canada, his replacement started today and another teacher... got fired. The drama began 6 weeks ago when Michael came here to replace a teacher that had been here for 2 years. The rumors started flying almost immediately, fueled by our director's curiosity and indirect questioning of Michael's sexual preference. How the "situation" was handled gave me insight into another significant cultural difference between Korea and the States. Before this happened I was already aware that mainstream Korea is generally quite homophobic-- in fact some Koreans will tell you that there's no such thing as a "gay Korean"-- but I certainly didn't know how a hagwan would react when they unknowingly hired a gay man. It started out with our director asking the foreign teachers if Michael was gay. No one confirmed her suspicions, so after class one day she finally approached Michael and bluntly asked him if he was gay. He responded that yes, he was and from there she went on to tell him he needed to cut his hair, get rid of his highlights and start "dressing like the other guys at work". From that point on he was having almost daily "warning meetings" with our director about various problems and complaints.
On Tuesday night after work he had another meeting with the owner and director and they told him he was fired but assured him it had nothing to do with "his sickness". They said he was getting too many complaints from the parents and it would be more cost-effective to fire him and take a loss on his flight and recruiter costs than lose the money from drop-outs. The school was worried that the parents would think they hired inadequate teachers after the same class got another new teacher after 6 weeks. To get around this problem, they had a doctor friend of the owner's write up a document saying that Michael has throat cancer and has to move back to Canada! Our director is supposed to announce the tragic news at next Friday's staff meeting. (We were thinking of making up an obituary in a few months and leave it sitting around the office to see the reaction it would cause.) Michael objected to outright lying to everyone (especially the co-workers he was friends with) but they told him, "this is how we do things in Korea" and that settled that. They told him if he goes quietly and doesn't make a scene he won't have to pay back his recruiting fee or plane ticket and they will recommend him for another teaching position as long as he never shows his face in the neighborhood again. I'm curious how many laws were broken in that process... It's amazing the cultural differences you experience when working in another country as opposed to merely traveling. Some differences, such as this one, can be quite difficult to endure...

***UPDATE***
Michael had a private meeting with the owner a few days ago after the school heard he was staying in Korea to find a new teaching job. The owner told Michael that the only reason he was fired was because he was gay and the parent complaints were all fabricated as a cover-up. He told him this because he didn't want Michael to think that he was a horrible teacher. In a twisted sort of way I think it made Michael feel better.
Then, our director had a meeting with the female teachers to discuss Michael's termination. She wanted us to know that Michael was not fired because of his ....(she couldn't even say it) and it was only because he got "very serious" complaints. She said if any of us have a problem with this she can "make it fair" and fire us as well. I can't believe the LIES and threats going on here.