Friday, September 30, 2005

Long Weekend #2

It's Friday again. The days are going by faster now, like how they went by at eBay. It seems like it was just Friday. Every day feels like Friday.. perhaps because I focus on getting to that day and only that day. It's a long weekend again. We're going to Andong. Meeting our Seoul friends for a mask festival. This is one of the best maps of Korea I've found. You can see Daegu in the bottom right. Follow the light blue train line North and a bit West. There's Andong. You can see Busan in the bottom right coast. That's where Brent and Ryan are going for the film festival next week. I was going to go but now I may not, as all the good films are sold out.

Dooce's entry today was particularly moving.

I went to the doctor today, a different one, who spoke English. He started hitting on me and in the process gave me his homepage address . His photography's not half bad. I still didn't get the drug I want. It's called dextromethrophan and it's in every major cough syrup in Canada. It turns off the cough centre in your brain. He gave me a prescription for dextromethrophan pills after some persuading, but I can't find a pharmacy that has them.

Time to go for all you can eat galbi. Anneyongi Kyeseo. (I still can't say goodbye in Korean.. such a mouthful).

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Sweet Potato Farm

We went on a field trip today, picking sweet potatoes on a farm 40 minutes away.

The farm was nestled in the mountains. They had some livestock (which we heard but didn't see up close), and their main crops appeared to be rice, green onion, peppers, eggplant, pumpkins, lettuce, sweet potatoes. These were surrounded by some trees that had what looked like small oranges on them.

That post where I wrote about the butterflies being extinct here via the pollution? I take that back.. we saw butterflies there. Small yellow ones. Ryan said he saw a beetle the size of a mouse.

Anyway, we got there and they loaded up the kids on a wagon, and carted them away.. forever!!! Yayy! No, they dumped them out 100 metres downhill, in the sweet potato patch, and handed us some metal hand spades to dig up the sweet potatoes. We teachers ended up pilfering through the dirt for the potatoes while the kids stood around watching, not wanting to get their hands dirty. It was cute. Here's Iris doing the grunt labour for Adam:

To see all the pictures from the trip, click here.

Someone's playing cool, really loud music outside. Most importantly, it's western. They've played 80's, classical and now they're playing something alternative-punk. Gonna go off and head-bob now...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Our House.

In response to a request, I made a tour of our apartment here in Daegu. Enjoy!

Friday, September 23, 2005

The post of evil.

Sometimes I hate this godforsaken third world country. Like now. I'm sick again, with a cough, sore throat, headache and runny nose. I occasionally feel like puking. What I'd give for a good western doctor now. One that would prescribe a FULL dose of antibiotics, not a half-dose, coupled with pointless tylenols, anti-inflammatories and stomach-protectors. I heard a rumor you're supposed to go back to the doctor after 3 days for the 2nd half of the prescription. I'm not going back to the doctor though because it would be impossible without a translator and I'm not asking my director to take me again, as sickness is, as Dave in Japan puts it, a 'slap in the face to your employer' in Asia.

I'm sitting up now with the light on waiting to kill a mosquito. Last night the weather turned cooler and as soon as I turned my airconditioning off, the mosquitos came out. I woke up at 4 am with two throbbing, itchy feet and couldn't sleep for an hour. So I turned my a/c back on and tolerated the cold in favor of no mosquitos. The weather's been weird here. It was in the high 20's when we got back from Seoul; how it's in the high teen's. My body's lost track of what temperature it's supposed to keep itself at. Sometimes I'm freezing, sometimes I'm not; but it doesn't have any relation to what the actual temperature is. Something in my room is rotting - a wall perhaps - the smell comes and goes. My windows rattle and bang when a butterfly flies by - oh wait, no butterflies here, they all died from the pollution.

I hate how simple things are so hard to find here. They don't sell women's shaving cream.. just men's. A product of the patriarchal society I guess. Can't find any wax strips either. I guess because Koreans are hairless sphynxes and I'm a hairy western monkey. I can't find lemon around here for my throat, or cough medicine / sore throat lozenges for that matter. I know they must exist somewhere; I'm just having a hell of a time finding them. I haven't seen a 'non-prescription medication' area in the two major stores in the city (E-mart and Walmart). Every task is a headache because of the language barrier. I'm procrastinating getting a haircut because I dread trying to explain with my limited Korean vocab, am partly afraid of coming out with a bowl cut or no hair at all, and could stand to do with a few less stares. Speaking of which, the people stare shamelessly as white people are still pretty rare around here. It's rude, annoying, and prohibits me from enjoying my food.

While I'm at it, I might as well bitch about everything else. I hate how I have to squat to pee at work. It's the stupidest invention ever. Your nose gets so close to the ground and you smell everyone else's pee that has missed the hole.. ugh, it makes me want to puke thinking about it now. I'm drinking tons of water now to help my throat, so I have to use the 'hole' about 10 times a day. Second, the vibe at work is rather lacking. I admit I'm not a total cheerleader bunny at work but after meeting the other teachers in Seoul, who were interesting and somehow more 'alive,' our hogwon just seems so bleh. Not to mention, in Seoul, the Korean teachers aren't afraid to hang out with the foreign teachers! Here, there is a distinct divide. We four 'weigooks' go do our own thing, and the Korean teachers go home every night and... do who knows what. They won't hang out with us (I've invited them out) unless it's an official dinner the whole school attends.

I just caught the mosquito now.

Die, stupid Korean mosquito.

While what I've vented seems like a lot, it's not like it all just happened at once. It's just some of the ongoing stuff that's always in the background here. Some days it all gets to me more than others. It's a vast improvement to how I felt the first 3 days I got here. I wrote an unpublished entry back then that reads like devil spawn.

Now I have to wake up in 8 hours for a Saturday morning district-wide school meeting. And another mosquito is now flying around. Wonderful.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Haircut post

While I was in Seoul, Rob (Brent's roommate) went to Beijing, and Brent went to Japan. Check the latter's blog for some interesting insight into Korea's neighbour and polar opposite.

I really appreciate living here after hearing about the food prices there (Brent saw a $16 apple!). As well, although it would be an interesting place to visit, I don't think I'd be able to appreciate the seizure-inducing stimuli and craziness on a daily basis. Hooray for conservative, no piercings or tattoos, cheap food, left-in-the-70's Korea!

In other news, I ate 'grass,' 'dirt' and 'earthworm' flavoured Jelly Belly's today. What the..?! Thankfully I managed to avoid the 'vomit' and 'earwax' flavours.

Last but certainly not least, I wuvvles and miss my family, and I wuvvles and miss my Moolz!

Muah! ><

Monday, September 19, 2005

I've got Seoul, but I'm not a Seoul-dier.

This is the Seoul we were first greeted with: grey, smoggy and almost completely shut down for Chuseok. We walked along the stretch of this canal looking for Dongdaemun market, which, along with most restaurants in the city, was closed. To our delight, however, a street devoted entirely to pet stores was open. The roommate fancies acquiring a chipmunk.

I think an opossum would look nice on our foyer table.

Not long after, a torrential downpour sent us back to the hostel in Insidong, where we sat around for a few hours slapping mosquitos, and talking with other travellers. The tone was sombre, and we were informed that the city would completely shut down the next day due to Chuseok, and that we should stock up on food while some stores were open. Mild panic began to set in: how on earth would we entertain ourselves this weekend? Luckily, I had made previous contact with another English teacher in Seoul who, like myself, is an SFU grad who has been in Korea for 3 weeks. We headed down to meet her and her coworkers at the Micro Brew Restaurant, which is in the Hyehwa subway station / University district. As soon as we surfaced to ground level, vibrant city life lifted our soggy spirits.

Compare this to the first photo. Ahh, this is the Seoul we were looking for.

Happily satiated on dark beer, sausage, Szechuan noodles, and some new friends, we made our way back to the hostel. I slept the whole night with a blanket over my head. The mosquitos were vicious. In the morning, I woke up and found a door next to my head. I opened it and walked out to a balcony, where three smallish golden retrievers went ballistic barking at me. I teetered tauntingly on the edge of the balcony railing, and the dogs, frustrated I was out of reach, started attacking each other. I went back inside, and out the front entrance to Hyehwa again, where we scavenged for food. As predicted, 99% of the restaurants were closed. However, art, in the form of large installations,





Modern art was traded in for old architecture as we made our way back to our hostel to tour Changdeok Palace across the street. This palace was built by King Taejong of the Josseon Dynasty (1392-1910). It was burnt to the ground during the Japanese Invasion of 1592, and rebuilt in 1607, where it was used until 1868 (No I did not pay that close attention to the tourguide; I typed that off the back of my ticket stub ;)

The palace and forested estate were gorgeous, needless to say.

More photos of the palace can be found on my Flickr. Next, we hopped over to the Chuseok festival in front of city hall and watched a beautiful, goosebump-inspiring fan dance. Many traditional games were laid out around the grounds, and children dressed in traditional costume tried to emulate their ancestors' hobbies.

I stood behind an old Korean man and watched through his eyes as he watched people spin tops with leather whips, throw sticks in canisters, jump on primitive seesaws and thresh wheat by hand. I thought about civilization and how it is such a reliable constant. Wheat takes forever to thresh by hand now, but back then a wood bowl and stick were as cutting edge as an Intel Pentium 4 (Or Mac G5) today. Still, our goals are the exact same as they were back then. Nothing has really changed, except that we cover the earth in greater number. In the end, there is something awe-inspiring about a proud nation gathering to pay homage to its past and celebrate the present.

Daydreaming aside, we jumped in a cab that transported us to the Nanta theatre, and caught a very interesting performance called 'Cookin.' The plot was knit around four chefs in a cooking competition, and brought together Hapkido, suberb drumming skills, sharp-knife drumming skills, food chopping skills, extreme dinnerplate throwing skills, comedic talent, magic, and audience participation into one nicely packaged ball of entertainment. I bow to the ground in honor of the energy those actors possess.

One more mosquito-infested sleep at the hostel, and we were rewarded with a perfectly timed dash to the KTX (the highspeed train), cheered on by space crickets (I can't think of any other way to describe this intriguing noise) on the subway intercom.

Humble Daegu does pale in comparison to big city Seoul, and I have already been entertaining the thought of quitting my current job and moving up to Seoul. However, this may not be overly cost-efficient, so I may just remain here and appreciate Seoul in a similar fashion during future long weekends.

PS: For a good interpretation of a Seoul subway sign, click here.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Silk-clad mmmonkeys!

The preschool classes all wore their cute little traditional costumes today. It's funny because when I was in Romania, it annoyed me how people didn't learn the proper Romanian words for everything. Now I'm the one who isn't bothering to learn the proper Korean words for things like 'little white rice pastries' and 'tradtional costumes.'

Regardless what the above things are really called, the outfits were impressive. The girls all had immaculate, intricately done hair. Every costume was different. On the left are Joey and Christine. I think they are a couple.. lol. I heard that all the preschoolers have girlfriends and boyfriends.. for example, the girls in Brent's Y2 class are 'dating' the boys in Ryan's 'Y4' class. Ryan always has to 'shoo' away the girls from his Y4 class before starting.

Brent's Y2 class was no problem waking up early for. They were so well behaved and smart. One little boy, Richard, even took it upon himself to hand out all the books without being asked! Then they quietly waited for 5 minutes while I went to take pictures with Y3. I left them sitting at their desks doing nothing, and when I came back they were STILL SITTING AT THEIR DESKS DOING NOTHING! Brent, I want your class. Here they are playing the 'speed writing' game:

In general, teaching's gotten a million times easier than it was 3 weeks ago. It's still very challenging sometimes, like yesterday, when I taught a class I had never taught before, one that just opened last week, with the director observing. I planned the lesson to a ' T ' and then she handed me a book I wasn't planning on teaching, and told me to teach a certain page. So, my mind racing, I made up an activity on the spot, based on the page. And it worked! It's little accomplishments like that, that give me the most satisfaction about this job.

Anyway, gonna go to bed soon, as it's destination Seoul tomorrow. Lonely Planet cautions one not to travel during Chuseok (Thanksgiving). Others have mentioned the same. EVERYONE is travelling back to their hometowns, to their grandparents, some even going to the mountains to have Chuseok dinner, so the roads/transit are going to be packed. Should be interesting!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Happy Chu Sok

< Ally and Alan making rice cakes for ' Chu Sok ' or Korean Thanksgiving.

Just a little entry here to add some random updates. We get a long weekend in 2 days due to Thanksgiving. So it appears I shall be spending two nights up in Seoul. The DMZ may or may not be visited. I may also have been dared to streak across the border. Due to recovering from my sore throat still, I may decline, as streaking could be a bit chilly.

Brent's going to Japan with his friend Riston. He left tonight and (crap!) I just remembered that means I have to wake up early to teach his preschool class tomorrow. Ah well, tomorrow's Friday!

Had 'cheese donkus' tonight. We stole Brent's roommate Rob as dinner buddy and translator, as he knows his way around the Korean language. This enabled me to try something different beyond my limited vocab of about 4 Korean dishes. Cheese donkus is a slab of mozza cheese with a meat patty around it, deep fried. It tasted more southern US to me.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Doctor's and the Contract

This past week, two main problems arose, one regarding my contract, and the other, my health. Last week, as previously mentioned, I had a sore throat. On Friday it felt like my throat was bleeding with every word uttered, but I made it through my afternoon classes. Friday night I went out for dinner, used my voice a bit more, and on Saturday morning I completely lost my voice.

I stayed in all weekend, whispering only when needed. Sunday noon I started to become concerned about not being able to teach. Sunday night I had Ryan call our director (bless his heart!) to warn her. As predicted, Ryan was asked to wake up early to teach my first preschool class.

While he did that, our director took me to the doctor, which turned out to be a stone's throw from the school. I handed the receptionist my 'insurance booklet' and we sat down on some orangey-brown leather cushions. The room was quite 'stately.' A round mushroom-couch sprouted from the centre of the white marble floor, though nobody was sitting on that one. The wood cupboards and trim were of three dark shades. The door looked mahagony.

My director and I sat silently, not talking. She picked up a newspaper to read. Upon calling me in, they ushered us to a second marble-floored room, the same size as, and in plain view of the main waiting room. Around the large room were small doorways concealed with beige curtains. The doctor had a desk; beside it sat a dentist chair surrounded by a plethora of unidentifiable tools, and some more easily identifiable bandages, gauze, and the like. The tools were almost all long metal rods and large metal pliers. I went to sit in the dentist chair, but the assistant waved us to a secondary orangey-brown waiting couch in the corner. The doctor followed up with the patient before me and did some probing in her ears and throat, discussing her problems in front of my director and I.

Then it was my turn. The doctor was in his early to mid 30's, a little on the plump side, and pleasant. He spoke a little English. He checked my ears, and that was the end of the similarity between Canadian and Korean clinics. He then took one of the long metal rods. I opened my mouth, but he shook his head and instead inserted it up my nose. "To take a picture," my director translated. Behind me, a large, clear picture of my nostril appeared on the monitor. In it was a bump. "This bump," said the doctor via translation, "is blocking the air passage. Thus you breathe with your mouth and this can dry your throat."

Funny, I never knew I had a bump in my right nostril, and I hardly breathe with my mouth. Perhaps this occurs when I'm sleeping. Next, the assistant pushed me forward a bit and had me open my mouth. Then, to my dismay, the doctor picked up one of the longest metal probes (about a foot long) and pushed it into the back of my throat while I gagged. The doctor was smiling, the assistant and director giggled in sympathy, and I smiled as well, to ensure my love of this newfound sport would be conveyed through language barriers. The doctor had to try three times before he got a photo. Lucky I didn't eat breakfast, or he would have been wearing it.

A photo of my larynx, deemed 'swollen' and 'pale' appeared on the monitor, and the doctor presented me with a long list of what to do. It was all in Korean, but just so there was no mistake, he explained it to me (in Korean). Apparently I needed an anti-inflammatory shot. The doctor asked if I smoked, had allergies to shots, was diabetic, or heart palpitations. I said no (even though I do have a slightly irregular heartbeat). The assistant then took me behind one of the curtained rooms and gave me a shot in the derriere. I paid about $10 at reception; my health card covers half.

Then, as if that weren't already over-medicating a lost voice, we went to the pharmacy to get me pills (about $2). They come in little packages of four. I am to take 12 pills a day (!), for three days. As we walked back, my director told me that sometimes female teachers do lose their voice in the first few weeks, and acknowledged the first few weeks are tough (A big admission, if you knew what she's like). We returned to the school, where Ryan had just finished teaching my Y5 with positive results and Brent was about to teach Y3 (thank you guys.. next dinner's on me!)

I opted to take a sick day today, but not before spending an hour writing the day's lesson plans. I may need to take another sick day tomorrow, as my voice shows no signs of returning right now. My stomach also hasn't been digesting properly since last week, and I feel mildly feverish at times, but I'm not as concerned about those as they don't interfere with teaching as much. I was very worried about how my director would react to me being sick, and that she'd force me to teach with no voice, so this morning has been a relief.

Before I left for my sick day however, my director wanted to discuss my contract with me. Last week, she had privately asked me what my remuneration was. I told her 1.95 million won, as stated on the contract I signed and mailed in. She insisted it was 1.9 million and that Ryan’s was 1.95 because of his English major. Before we left Vancouver, both Ryan and I initially were going to get 1.9. Then, I asked for a raise. This was considered, and it was decided I would get still get 1.9 and Ryan would get 1.95 because English was his major. However, suddenly, near the deadline, the HR lady agreed to raise me to 1.95 and sent me the final contract which I signed and mailed in.

Last week, after my director approached me about this, I brought my copy of the contract and pointed to the 1.95. I also forwarded her my email from the HR lady that stated she was changing it to 1.95. Brent advised me to kick up a fuss and possibly threaten to leave. My thoughts were as follows: the contract stated 1.95, so they should be adhering to the contract due to principle. If they chose to change my contract, I wouldn’t push the matter, as the onus would be on the school to treat me better, knowing they screwed up. If they chose to adhere to my contract, that would be an extra $700 for me, for the year. Win/win situation.

“Oh no,” said my director today. “It is a mistake.. I made sure you would be getting 1.9.” She checked with the HR lady, who stated she had emailed Ryan AFTER our contracts were mailed in, to let me know mine had changed to 1.9 again. I had been in Tofino at the time, and she expected Ryan would tell me. I asked Ryan today and he never heard a word about this.

My director then took out the copy of my contract she had. She showed me how she had ripped out the page with my remuneration on it, changed the amount, and stapled in a new page with the lower amount. She had already submitted this new contract to immigration. My signature remained the same and I did not re-sign the new contract.

I was rather aghast at seeing my contract arbitrarily altered like that. I didn’t say much, but I made sure not to look very pleased. “Aw..I’m sorry.. are you disappointed?” she asked. I told her it was okay. There is now a mutual understanding that the school has done something illegitimate with my contract, and now the onus will definitely be on them to be nice to me. I will also feel less obliged to do unpaid overtime to finish up extra work.

To add hotsauce to the kimchee, I know that “1.95 for English majors, 1.9 for other majors” rule is BS. The couple we replaced were science and history majors, and they were both making 1.95. The school is just trying to save money, and used the rule as an excuse to pay me less. However, as stated above, my .05 million won of remuneration comes in the form of my director’s guilty conscience.

And now for my sick day.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

My Y3 Class

This morning we took pictures of the preschool classes. This is my Y3 Class, my youngest class. I share the class with Nina on the left and Sharon in the middle (who is moving to Seoul in a few days). I teach them every morning for 50 minutes before handing them over to the Korean teachers; they're the second class of my day.

Look at Adam in the top right! Isn't he cute? We ask them what shapes they want drawn under their names.. you can see he asked for a big circle. Adam's really easygoing and never cries. That's Jenny in the bottom right. She keeps almost completely mum.. it's hard to get her to talk. The first time I got her to talk was a few days ago when I pulled out the infamous 'octopus puppet.' I think Jenny's just 'cool.' She only talks if there is something worthwhile to talk about, or participates if it's something exciting. The second from the bottom right is Joey. He's probably the smartest kid in the class. He's very well behaved too. His two front teeth are kind of tartar-covered though. I don't know if the Korean parents are lax when it comes to dental hygene. I noticed a girl in my other class, about aged 4, also had almost all silver molars. Who gets that many cavities so young?

Emma's pink and white tights kind of defeat the purpose of school uniforms methinks. Emma is quiet and not as advanced as the others. She still sucks her thumb and the past week she would cry and pretend she was sick. However, it was revealed later she was crying because she feels she is not as knowledgeable as the other kids. So we're focusing on praising her and giving her more attention.

Bottom left is Alan. He reminds me a bit of Gareth Keenan from The Office. (Alan looks a bit zombie-like sometimes). A more serious kid. Top left is Ally, and to her right, Christine. They are both very smart, VERY vocal, and in constant competition with each other to be 'teacher's pet' which sometimes bugs me. They like to cry sometimes to get attention. I think the teacher I replaced probably doted on them a lot. The boy in the top middle is Danny. His parents are in the army, and he doesn't really know the difference between right and wrong. He sometimes punches people, but he's been quite good since I've had him.

All of the kids in this class are really good to teach, and it's easy to get them laughing.

And that's Y3!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

We have teh int4rnet at home!

Week two, hump day. This week is definitely going by faster than the last. However, we seem to be working 11 to 12 hour days. I get to work around 9:30 am and leave at around 8 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and around 9 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as I have four 'telephone teaching' classes those two days. Telephone teaching basically consists of calling each student's house, asking their parents in very broken Korean to summon their kid, and asking said kid 5 questions.

Today, I seem to have come down with a sore throat and low fever, which is what I usually get when my immune system decides to play games. I came home at lunch to gargle with salt water and take a Tylenol, and also take over supervision duties from Ryan, as the internet hookup guy was at our house (YAY!). It went something like this:

I walk through the gate and shut it and a voice shouts, 'hey!' Nobody's on our balcony. I walk up one stair and the voice shouts 'hey!' again. I look up and a Korean guy is above me, precariously clutching the hydro pole. Some cords appear to be going down and out the gate. I open the gate again, and go inside. Two hours later, the guy is still here. He speaks no English. We have plugged in the wireless modem but it does not power on.

Ryan tries plugging in a powerbar so that we can plug in the router. The powerbar blows up.. sparks and a bang. Smoke wafts through the room. Ryan has to go back to work so I stay. A lot of sign language takes place. I try typing out "We can get a new router. Do we need to know the IP address?' in my handy widget translater. He reads it but has no way to type back as my keyboard isn't in Korean.

A flash of insight! My Korean friend Sera is online and I madly type to her, asking if she can translate. My computer savvy friend Ross is also online, and between the two of them, there is hope! Ross tells me that the router and powerbar have blown because we needed a step-down converter for them. Suddenly, net hookup guy notices none of the lights will turn on. I assume it's just a delay.. as most of our lights take a good couple of minutes to rev their engines after you hit the switches. I point to my watch and at the lights to signify 'delay.' But alas, no power anywhere. A fuse has been blown. Crap. The guy disappears somewhere (fuse box?) and light returns. I am almost ready to call Sera, when..

The net hookup guy picks up a network cable and gestures towards our bedrooms. I point at Ryan's room and dance exaggeratedly toward it, saying 'hana!' (one) and towards mine, saying 'dul!' (two). So, three hours later, the guy stapled the network cables along the floor to our rooms, and all we need to do is go buy a new router.

And Brent said his internet hookup took 5 minutes. Pssh.