Thursday, April 01, 2010

Four Months and Counting

Well, I will be finished with my teaching contract and will be departing Korea in four months. Perfect time to start blogging again. haha I can't believe I've been here almost two years. It's insane, really. There's been a lot of good times and a lot of bad times. I have been more than frustrated at times...downright furious, actually. Well, time to take on the rest of my time here and make the best of it.

Tonight, I got a little haircut at a tiny place on the way home. I've been going there for a while now. I've always been fearful of getting my haircut (always meaning all of my life); you can imagine my fearfulness of going to a Korean barber. One time in the beginning, I went to a place recommended by another expat because one of the stylists speak English (actually lived in Canada for a year or so); however, they charged me about 25,000won (about $22) for a trim, and she constantly bugged me about my terrible scalp and kept reminding me of their treatment that cost $100/month. After that, I went to a friend of a friend for about 7,000 won ($5). I didn't really like that person's personality so I stopped going there. After that, I finally settled on this place. The owner knows a little English, and I can get by in Korean now to tell them I just need a trim. It's a good deal 8,000 won and that includes wash & shampoo. I seem to get the same guy every time, and I think he has been working on this English a little. He seemed to have more phrases to tell me this time. I thought it was funny to see my brown hair over the sea of black hair on the floor. Makes me feel unique.

In other news besides my hair (I hate talking about my hair...really, I do), the yellow dust season is in full swing now. That's when the sand from the deserts of China come blowing into Korea. In the past, it wasn't so bad, but deforestation has caused it to get worse every year. Like last year, I have so much mucus in the lungs (you're welcome). It's horrible. I actually went hiking a couple of weekends ago (pictured), and it happened to be the most hazardous days of the year. Our hiking leader is a determined one. This is one of the toughest parts about life here.  If you live in Korea, I would recommend checking out the yellow dust monitor operated by the US Army in Seoul and don't go hiking like a crazy man on bad days.

Monday, May 25, 2009

American Registry

It looks as though the government is starting a registry of American teachers in Korea. This person's school was phoned up by the Ministry of Education asking the owners to report any American teachers working at the school. Sounds a little scary to me.

Swine Flu & More Craziness in Korea

Well, the past week has been filled with activity here on the peninsula.

First off, the former president, Roh Moo-hyun, commits suicide while the government was investigating him for accepting bribes during his term. His death suddenly turned into a political ploy. Opponents of the current Korean administration (Lee Myung-bak) are using his death to blame Lee for employing harsh tactics and for basically ruining the nation. The day that he died an alter was immediately setup in front of my neighborhood metro station to allow people to bow and pay respects while someone on a loud speaker attracted an audience by denouncing President Lee. From what I hear, these alters are all around Seoul.

North Korea decided today to continue their craziness. They thought it would a fine idea to conduct an underground nuclear test while test firing some missiles at the same time. I think someone is just cranky they aren't getting their way. More here and here. Let's hope the place doesn't get nuked while I'm here. The Koreans don't seem to get too worked up about these things, though. The US Embassy did send me a notice about the test and reminded to always be prepared in case of a sudden evacuation.

Also, swine flu seems to be raging here on the ROK. More Koreans are being confirmed to have the virus. This past weekend, an American that recently came here to teach was confirmed to have the virus. Another American was discovered to have the virus today. That person also recently came to Korea to teach English. The school is a big chain here, and they send all of there new teachers to a big orientation/training session in Seoul. So, that person was in close contact with all kinds of other new teachers. That person has since been put in quarantine. Also, every Western that came in contact with that American has been rounded up in ambulances by the government and taken to a hospital so they can be isolated. People stuck in the hospital are blogging here, here, and here. An expat blogger in Korea gives a nice round-up of news regarding the situation here. News articles can be read here and here.

There are rumors in my town (Bucheon) that a foreigner at a big English school next to mine was involved with that week-long training session. The English school is big chain here in Korea and has decided to shut down for the next week to avoid more infections.

I'm a little worried about what the means for us foreigners. I fear that Koreans are going to get really worried by the "American sickness" and shun us in public. Maybe even the government will round us up and quarantine us or deport us; who knows. I heard that new teachers that has arrived after May 11 will have to undergo a home quarantine. If parents get really concerned, they will start pulling their students from our school to avoid the virus coming from foreigners.

Today, I told one of my classes that I was a little sick. They instantly asked if it was the "pig virus." I, of course, told them it probably was. One of the kids told me that I needed to eat lots of kimchi in order to get rid of the "pig virus." Another kid said it was the "America virus," and he then asked me if I was an "American people." Once I said yes, they all gasped in unison and pushed their chairs back away from me. That's just an example of what I think this might develop into. Koreans are already suspicious about letting foreigners into the country; this will only heighten their unfounded fears.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Galactic Center of Milky Way Rises over Texas Star Party from William Castleman on Vimeo.

Birthday Videos & Another Surprise

Here are some videos from my birthday.

This is Zoe wishing me a happy birthday in Welsh:

This video is as I entered the room to find all of the teachers from my school waiting for me:

Also, last Wednesday my 6pm Pineapple class had the lights off in the classroom. As I entered, the confetti was popped and soap-bubble spray was emptied. The kids started singing "Happy Birthday" and had a heart-shaped chocolate cake with candles that spelled out "Happy Birthday." Wow, I was so shocked. I never really expected these kids to do something like that. They spent their own money to pull this off and even bought me some pens and pencils as gifts. So sweet! They weren't that excited about starting our lesson, though, once the cake was finished.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Teacher's Day Birthday

May 15 is the day of two big events in Korea - Teacher's Day and my birthday. The day started out really nice. As I was walking into the teacher's room, the "Happy Birthday" banner was up and everyone had on birthday hats; then, they broke out into song. I was a little shocked. Actually, I was pretty dizy and tired because I had been up pretty late having a midnight birthday party. It was a great, surprising way to start off the day.

As the kindergarten kids started to arrive, the goodies started to roll in. All of my kindy kids brought me something in celebration of Teacher's Day. Here's a little list of some things I got: chocolate, Bennigan's gift certificate, aftershave, shampoo, a huge canister of soy bean sauce, cookies, men's cosmetics, and more. Actually, the most interesting gift was a box of 2 pairs of panties ("panties" is konglish for "underwear"); I never thought I would get some unmentionables as a gift from a kid. Our boss (Grace) decided to buy all of us foreigners a huge bottle of wine from France. I don't really know much about wine, but it looks quite fancy and expensive. I do know it came from an expensive department store in town. I was a little embarrassed that she only gave to the foreigners and not the Korean teachers.

I've got to explain that a couple of days before my birthday I was asking some Korean teachers (Erin & Elly) what they thought we should do for my birthday. I told them that I wanted to have samgipsal/galbi for dinner; they got excited and told me that knew the perfect place and would take care of all the details. I left it to that and asked them to invite all the Korean teachers/staff. On the day before my birthday, those Korean teachers told me that quite a few of the other Koreans couldn't make it. It was a little disappointing, but I still had a few others that said they could come.

Finally, my birthday came. People kept telling me throughout the day, "oh, sorry, Shawn, but I can't come tonight." People were dropping like flies. More and more kept canceling as the day progressed. It was rather disappointing. One foreigner told me he had to go help a friend in Seoul that was being kicked out of their apartment; the British couple left a note on my desk saying they had left and couldn't make it to the party because they were feeling sick. Even the girls that were going to take me to a special place left without saying anything to me. When classes were over, my good friend Joey told me that they couldn't make it. Elly sent me a text saying "oh, i'm sorry." That was really disappointing because Elly had told me earlier in the week that "of course" she would come to my party and mentioned it might be my last in Korea. By the end of the work day, only three others said they could make it. I was almost to tears, actually. Our kindy classes have a phrase of the day everyday, and we joked that "sorry, Shawn" should have been the day's phrase. I think Joey felt my immense disappointment, and he had us all have a group hug.

We finally left the school, and we rode away in Joey's car. He told me we were going to stop by my place and drop of all of my gifts and stuff from Teacher's Day. However, when we got near, he decided to wait until later because all of us were pretty hungry. He said that he knew a great place to eat around my place. We got there, and he mentioned going to a back room so we wouldn't bother others with our English. I thought it was a good idea, but I thought we couldn't have a room since it was just the three of us. I think the waitresses told Joey it was fine so we went to where an empty room was. As Joey went to open the door to the darkened room, I noticed a hand in the window. Joey opens the door and sure enough everyone is there! I was so shocked! As I walked in, the confetti poppers went off as they sang "Happy Birthday" and I blew out the candles. There was every single person from the office...every single person that told me that they couldn't come! I was so stunned and so happy! We had a great meal of galbi together. That's what I wanted for the night - for all of us to be together. Literally everyone was there from the school. The kindy manager mentioned how this type of thing never happens; it is almost impossible to bring everyone together. All of the foreign teachers, all of the Korean teacher, the receptionists, the help teachers, and even the boss. It was quite a feat! They've never done anything like this before - not for any other Korean or foreigner now or in the past. It certainly made me feel really special. The boss even gave me a pair of Nike sneakers and then paid for half of the total bill for the meal (that something that really never happens). I had always wanted a surprise party so it was great to finally have one!

After dinner, we then headed out to a pub/restaurant near the school. The boss (I'll starting calling her Grace 'cause the boss thing is getting annoying) took us there. She ordered all kinds of food and drinks for us. I had to cut the cake here; apparently, its sort of tradition that the birthday person cuts the cake for everyone. Grace decided that it would be best to put some of the icing on my face. I then had to give a couple of pieces to the owner, another Korean birthday tradition. My group applauded for my bravery. We then spent hours together hanging out and having a good time together. Around midnight, all of the Korean girls had to head home because they had to make it back home before their curfew. Us foreigners, Grace, and her kids stayed for a while longer. Grace was willing to go to a singing room with us (even though she really doesn't like it), but we insisted she go home with her kids since it was so late.

Us foreigners then went to another pub/restaurant. We went there just to hang out some more. They told the owner that it was my birthday so they played a techno birthday song and had lights flashing throughout the restaurant. The owner then brought us some free chicken, and he said "for your birthday." Joey then rejoined us after he ran a late-night errand. After a while, we all headed out. Joey drove me home, and he stayed with me for a little while so I wouldn't have to open presents from home alone.

It was such a great birthday, probably one of the best!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Teaching the Boss

So the boss has asked me to teach her and the receptionist/secretary/desk teacher/heart of ECC some English. She wants me to teach them everyday for 10 minutes. Of course, I couldn't say no to the boss, especially not in this culture. I'm not sure what I can teach them, but I'll try and give it a shot. It would really be better for a Korean teacher to do it since the two really don't any clue about speaking English. We'll see how it goes; I have a feeling their passion might die off.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

St. Patty's Day

Well, it's been a while since this happened, but I thought I should share. We had a hastily prepared St. Patrick's Day activity for our kindergarten kids. Decorations were put up the night before and papers were printed off for hours. The kids made cards, decorated, read stories, wore green, and took pictures.

Apple class (5-year-olds...3-4 in the US)

Watermelon class (6-year-olds...4-5 in the US)
We had to retake this picture a few times.

Here are more pictures.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Freebie Friday

I woke up Friday morning to the sound of the radio announcer talking about a contest for free tickets to the aquarium in Busan. I thought I would give it a shot since all I had to do was send in a text. Sure enough, someone from the radio station called me later that morning to let me know that I had won and that they would send me the tickets through the mail.

As I walking to my first kindergarten class, my 5-year-olds (3-4 in American age) saw me and ran out to hug me. Billy even gave me a sausage stick. I was then greeted by my 6-year-olds (4-5 in American age), and two of them handed me flowers that they had picked for me. Later, another kindy student gave me a pack of cookies. During the afternoon classes/elementary kids, a former student gave me a chicken-shaped piggy bank; he had gave me a music CD a couple of days earlier.

It feels kind of nice to know that my kids think about me outside of school and get something for me. It's so cute; I can't help but love them!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Positive Feedback

I was talking with my friend tonight about teaching at my school. He mentioned how the boss really wants me to stay longer (past my contract ending date_. He told me that I am the best teacher (foreign or Korean) at the school and that I am a "natural educator." Oh, that made me feel so good. Sometimes, I wonder about my teaching ability. I usually don't really get much feedback from the other teachers so I'm really curious about how I'm doing. It felt good to hear something so reassuring.

Tonight, we had a meeting of foreign teachers with the manager. He shared some complaints that our boss had about us. I was really worried what he was going to tell me. I was told to "calm down" because the boss is worried about my health; she's worried that I'm working too hard. haha

I want to do my best in whatever I do; it's great to hear such reassuring comments from others!