I took a walk around Jeju-Si.
Sitting tonight in my favorite make-your-own bibimbap place on a rainy night. Rainy nights seem to be good for reflection. Maybe it’s the meditative rhythm of the raindrops, or maybe it’s the underlying metaphor of the world being washed. I think, for me, it has more to do with childhood walks in the rain, deep in the woods. Rainy days used to be an event- rather than staying inside, I got to put on my rubber boots and coat and wander through a world made new by water, looking for bright orange salamanders.
So, I’ve never disliked rainy days like some people do. They’ve always seemed a little magical to me.
They play very interesting music in this bibimbap place. When I walked in, the little old lady and her husband were listening to ragtime. I picked a table right next to the toasty woodstove and stood with the old lady, who smiled with me as we rubbed our hands together over the stove. Soon, they started playing old American folk songs, starting with “Clementine.”
That got me thinking about being a little kid again. Growing up in a succession of rambling old farmhouses around the country with no TV, I found a lot of other ways to amuse myself. My father had this small paperback book called “The Backpacker’s Songbook” that I used to pore over as though it were a storybook. I knew every one of those songs by heart. My father would get out his guitar and we’d sing them, too, but I liked to just sit and read the lyrics. They always started off sort of sad and pretty, but by the third verse or so, some poor girl was getting dragged down to the river by her one true love.
As I sat there in front of my tray of neatly arranged Korean dishes, I began to wonder how much those tragic songs planted seeds of mistrust in my child’s brain. I sure didn’t want to end up like Clementine or Little Maggie. Even “Beautiful Brown Eyes” turns out to be a tale of woe. But on the other hand, I wondered what it felt like to “lay ’round the shack till the mail train comes back, a-rollin’ in my sweet baby’s arms.”
Those songs taught me a lot.
Willie, my darling, I love you, Love you with all my heart. Tomorrow we could have been married, But liquor has kept us apart. Chorus: Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes, Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes, Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes-- I'll never love blue eyes again. Down through the barroom he staggered And fell down by the door. The very last words that he murmured: "I'll never get drunk any more." (Chorus) Seven long years I've been married, And I wish I was single again. A woman never knows her troubles Until she has married a man. (Chorus)
I finished moving all the old entries from my mobileme site. They go back to last February, when I first came to Korea, but I couldn’t find a way to import the blog and keep it archived by month. So, all the posts are in “November.” You can go back to the beginning by clicking on “November” and then a list of entries should come up. I had fun reading through them and re-living the first couple of days on Jeju.
Side note: One of the little things that I really love about Korea is that you have the option of smoking in the bathroom.
By that I mean on the toilet.
Most bathrooms have a thoughtfully-placed ashtray (which is often a beer can with the top cut off) right there at seat-level. I don’t actually smoke (at least not anymore..not for five or six years) nor have I ever wished I could smoke while sitting on the toilet, but it’s so nice and accomodating.
That just kills me.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
The rain continues this weekend as it has throughout the week. I honestly can’t believe I’ve only been here for a week and a half- it feels like it’s been a month. I really got thrown into a whole new life here pretty quickly without much of an adjustment period, but I’m kind of glad that it worked out that way. I’m finally getting into a routine at work (or at least getting a sense of what my routine will by like. My kids are adorable and, for the most part, pretty well-behaved. And if they aren’t then well, I have to remind myself that they are only five years old.
There is a nice view of Mt. Halla from my classroom window. Going to stores and restaurants and finding what I need is getting a little easier. I discovered Kimbap (kind of like Korean sushi). I can get it at the corner store for about $.80! Teaching is so much easier than I expected- all I have to do is follow their workbooks and make sure they do their homework (that’s right…the kindergartners have homework! Their constant need for attention and sharpened pencils is the most demanding aspect of my job. I love the small classes, though. A lot of other teachers here have much bigger classes (my biggest class has 8 students).
I realized this week that being here just doesn’t feel as strange as it should. Maybe it’s because I have access to almost all of the same things that I did at home. I even watch the Daily Show every night and listen to NPR. I’ve been thinking a lot about how the internet is changing our conception of home and making it more difficult to actually separate ourselves from it. If I cut the cord and really disconnected from my life in the US, I think I would be having a much different experience. In a way, part of me is a little disappointed that the culture shock has been so mild, but there’s also no way that I’ll fight the natural impulse to make my life here as similar to my life in the US as possible. In a lot of ways, I’m better off here. I have healthcare, access to extremely low-cost dental care, and an easy job that pays well. I’m also a lot more active- I’ve been walking everywhere (except for when I take dirt-cheap cabs) and I climbed a volcanic peak yesterday to take a few photos despite the rain. Oh, and it’s also beautiful here (as soon as you get out of Jeju City). I also have time to focus on photography and hopefully writing this year. So….mission: make life in Korea like life in Vermont. Step 1: while at home, subsist on a diet of yogurt, cereal, toast, egg whites, and coffee. Step 2: acquire Golden Retriever. Yes, you read that correctly. Following the spirit of quickly jumping into life here, I have decided to adopt Goldie, a poor lost Golden Retriever who happened to be at a local shelter. I still haven’t met her since the shelter is only staffed once a week for 2 hours, but she appears to be a Korean mini-Finn. I think she might still be a puppy. I’ll find out next Saturday! I think Finn will be psyched to meet the new addition to our golden retriever family (John, if you’re reading this, I hope you are, too!) She needed to be rescued quickly, as she only had a day left to live when I read about her and quickly emailed shelter volunteers. No time to consult! It just felt like the right thing to do, and I was happy that fate seemed to have tossed me a new dog. If I see any other Goldens at the shelter(which is unlikely) there’s nothing I can do. I’m not planning on starting my own chapter of Golden Retriever Rescue of Korea.
Today, I’m off to the Five Day Market with one of my co-workers. It’s still drizzling, but I plan on taking some photos there and hopefully acquiring some cool stuff for my apartment. I’ll add photos to yesterday’s (March 6) album. I’ve been listening to Johnny Cash American III: Solitary Man and IV: The Man Comes Around all morning, which I haven’t listened to in a long time. It’s hitting me in a whole new way. Somehow it all seems sad, tearfully beautiful, and yet not morose. I am oddly uplifted.
Today I made some extra money by appearing as Resident Native English Speaker (I actually did nothing except listen to kids stumble over books in English in front of a crowded room and stamp these little booklets) at another English school. At this particular school, teachers go tothe students' houses for lessons, so the annual Market Day gives them a chance for them to get together and pretend to buy things with fake $1 bills.
I was planning to head down to Seogwipo (“Soggy-po” as the locals pronounce it, which has a distinct flavor that suits its southerly locale) this afternoon for a vigil/information session about a proposed naval base on Jeju (bad for coral, bad for “peace island,” bad for lots of reasons), but I was too exhausted to make the trek down there and then get back in time to watch the World Cup game at 11. Korea has been doing well and it’s sort of an event to go watch the games, even though I am normally the world’s least enthusiastic sports fan.
Koreans are just so proud and excited, it warms the heart.Well, that and the free-flowing soju.
I’m making a lot of progress with Korean. I don’t think I’ll try and learn anything more than some basic vocabulary words while I’m here, just because I’m not sure that the time and effort is matched by its general usefulness outside of Korea. I have managed to learn how to read, though, which is helpful since I can at least pick out words that are English cognates. Ahh, and the other reason that I was so tired today….Jeju mosquitoes! They seem to have a magical and devious ability to invade my apartment en masse even though I have screens.
My fan is equipped with a 2-hour timer to prevent death. There is a theory widely accepted as fact in Korea (and nowhere else in the world) that a fan, left running all night as they often are by reasonable people wanting to be nicely chilled or at the very least not stifling hot in a nearly-windowless room such as mine causes certain death by stealing all the oxygen from sleeping people. Here are just a few theories as to exactly HOW fans pose an imminent threat:
- That an electric fan creates a vortex, which sucks the oxygen from the enclosed and sealed room and creates a partial vacuum inside. This explanation violates the principle of conservation of matter, as indoor fans are not nearly powerful enough to change the air pressure by any significant amount.
- That an electric fan chops up all the oxygen particles in the air leaving none to breathe. This explanation violates mass conservation and well-known properties of molecules and gases, particularly that known breakdown energy of oxygen molecules lies in the ultraviolet range. It also ignores the nearly universal human tendency to wake up whilst being suffocated in a moment of sleep. Moreover, the theory makes no justifications for how and why a person will not suffocate whilst awake in a room which contains an operating fan.
- The fan uses up the oxygen in the room and creates fatal levels of carbon dioxide. An electric motor does not function by combustion; unlike a candle, the electric motor consumes energy supplied by the electricity, not from a fuel. The fan motor's commutator does produce a small amount of ozone during normal operation, however most AC powered fans use induction motors, whose brushless design eliminates any possible ozone production. Ozone can be fatal in high concentrations, but any normal room would never allow the gas to build up to lethal levels.
- That if the fan is put directly in front of the face of the sleeping person, it will suck all the air away, preventing one from breathing. This explanation ignores both the fact that a fan attracts as much air to a given spot as it is removing from it, and the fact that most people point a fan towards themselves when using one, which causes air to move past the face but does not change the amount of air present.
I would like to report I remain very much alive after several nights with my new fan.
It’s been a busy couple of days for me, so I haven’t been writing very much. I moved into my apartment (finally) on Saturday and went to the Jeju Fire Festival yesterday which was thankfully not rained out.
I took a bus there, which was an adventure in itself.
It was really exciting just to see more more of Jeju besides the city. As soon as I stepped off the bus and saw Korean military men controlling the throngs of people with incomprehensible shouting, I was overcome with a reminder that not only am I in a foreign country, but a culture that is completely foreign in every way. My walk to the festival was an immediate barrage of crowded stalls selling strange, previously unencountered (unthought of, even) food. Silkworm pupa, anyone?
I wandered around the festival all day, eventually making my way up to the hill to see the haystacks that were later torched. There were booths set up near the hill where people could write wishes on little flags and attach them to the haystacks. I wanted to make a wish too, but of since I can’t write in Hangul, I decided that it wouldn’t really fit in. I was taking pictures of the haystacks when I was approached by a woman who appeared to be trying to tell me that I shouldn’t photograph the people who were praying, but then I realized that she was asking me to pray! It soon became clear that some Koreans wanted me to enact the part of a praying and pious foreigner. I have to admit, I had trouble looking solemn as I clasped my hands in “prayer”while stifling laughter. Later, I met some other foreigners and went to get some squid- infused pancakes and soy/rice wine known as Mageoli. When it got dark there was a fireworks show and as they lit the haystacks, the smoke and fireworks merged spectacularly.
This is the summation of my thoughts tonight. Viva la blog.
Jeju Weekly…2 articles published.“Honoring Jeju’s Grandmother” http://www.jejuweekly.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=751 “Walking Through the Volcano” http://www.jejuweekly.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=773
Also…FIELD TRIP!! That means sleepy bus rides with kids songs on the radio, lunging at kids’ lunches with chop sticks, and hanging out with my favorite girls, who attach themselves to me like pigtailed barnacles and pretend to eat me because they are plants and I am a bug while I protest “I’m a TEACHER! Not a bug!” with the same intonations as “I am not an animal!” Today I bought a modest Korean-style bathing suit as I plan to start swimming laps in the community pool instead of going to the un-air conditioned gym, which has become unbearable and is akin to some form of torture thus I stopped going 2 weeks ago. My new bathing suit does NOT have a skirt (it was hard to find one without) but DOES have tiny molded cups in the chest that stick out quite perplexingly when placed on a non-Korean sized body. Need to alter it…but how?!
Today I woke up bright and early at 4:30 am (not my choice) and jumped right into life at the Bambini School.
Lorenzo picked me up at 9:30 and we headed to the school, where I met the other teachers and helped them get ready for the Kindergarten Graduation. I have to say, it was cute overload. These teeny little kindie kids wear special cap-and-gown outfits, and are handed portraits of themselves in their graduation caps after they each give a little speech in English and bow to everyone.
There were also a lot of well-heeled Korean parents there (I learned today that this type of small English Kindergarten costs more than a typical college…) Most of the private schools are much bigger and the kids don’t see the same teacher more than once a week. The public schools are even less personalized. The kids at Bambini receive tons of personal attention from the teachers, who get to know each kid’s quirks and talents, as well as any issues they might be having. On a sad note, I took a walk with April, the teacher that I’m replacing, and we passed by a dog farm. I don't think I would have known what it was if she hadn’t pointed it out. It was just a fenced-in area with a whole bunch of wooden shacks and a lot of barking. We turned around before I was able to see very much, which was good because it was hard enough just listening to the dogs howling.
We also walked past a beautiful tangerine grove framed by a small wall made of black volcanic stone. I wish I’d had my camera but I will be here all year, I suppose.
At 4:00, it was time for my health exam at the local hospital. It turned out to be a full physical exam, complete with urine and blood samples, chest x-rays, etc. The doctor didn’t speak any English whatsoever, so I had to figure out what she wanted me to do. It went pretty smoothly, except for when I thought she wanted me to emerge from the changing room once I had my hospital gown on. With a stricken look, she gestured me back into the dressing room. I thought it was because I was slightly indecent in my gown (but I had to get from there to the x-ray room somehow) but it turned out that it was because I was barefoot. Once I had my shoes on everything was cool. The whole shoes on/off thing is confusing. Apparently shoes on inside is bad, slippers are the norm, and barefoot is horrifying. My question is: what about barefoot in slippers? I need to figure this out before summer arrives. Based on the weather today, it isn’t far off. Oh, and the little boys want to call me “Sereni T Rex” because they learned about dinosaurs recently….and just because they are little boys and they love dinosaurs.
I went to a huge Korean store that is right next to my hotel to get some dinner tonight. I was feeling adventurous again and went into a few Korean restaurants, but had no idea what to order and am now afraid of accidentally ordering dog after I saw the farm today. Also, the first place I went into had English translations on the menu, which consisted of “oxblood hangover stew” along with some other odd choices…so that, coupled with the confused stares of everyone when I wander in to these places, made me head for the grocery store. It was enormous, fascinating, and full of strange things- especially the seaweed department, meat on a stick department, and a few department that remain a total mystery. There were heaps of things covered in red goo. Meat? Vegetables? Sea creatures? Still not sure. So, back in my room, very tired, think it’s time for a movie.
*Update: I have since discovered that it is impossible to "accidentally" order dog. It is served in very specific restaurants and is quite a pricy item.
The last few weeks have been a continuation of this strange, exciting new life I’m finding myself in. I played in a volleyball tournament last weekend (my team came in somewhere in the middle, amazingly. I’m not very good- surprise, surprise. But I at least I can serve the ball…kindof ). My first article was just published in Jeju Weekly, and I spent yesterday (we had the day off for Election Day) on a small islet off the south coast of Jeju called Marado.
Marado is home to 40 people and takes about 45 minutes to walk around. It has a Buddhist temple, a Christian church shaped like a submarine, a chocolate shop, many, many noodle shops, a rock jutting out into the ocean that the locals used to perform sacrifices (of what? still a mystery) on, and a field of solar panels (very cool, I assume it makes electricity so the islanders can be somewhat self-sufficient). Last week I also had to write evaluations for all the kids…..glad that’s over. I only see some of them twice a week for 50 minutes so assessment was a bit difficult. Others (the evil misbehavers) are quite memorable. Looking forward to this weekend and a quadruple birthday party/camping on the beach. June already?!
- My room comes equipped with the following:
one half-used tube of normal-sized toothpaste
one half-used bar of plain white soap
an economy-sized jug of shampoo/conditioner
a nearly empty bottle of aftershave
one bottle of “control lotion for man”
a pink hairbrush
a pair of brown pleather slippers
a small refrigerator with a set of chopsticks in it
2. The proprietors have thoughtfully provided a bookcase of porn (VHS tapes) in the hallway outside.
3. All of the towels are hand towels
4. The bed is quite possibly just the boxspring.
5. I have not seen a single other person since I got here yesterday morning…even in the lobby.
6. I spend a lot of time surveilling the streetcorner out the window (the only way I can get wireless is to perch my computer in the windowsill).
The end result? I feel a little bit like I’m in a spy thriller.
We had Friday off in honor of Buddha’s birthday (and according to her “weekend diary,” one of my kids met Buddha!) On Saturday, I went to the Korean-style wedding of two long-term Canadian expats. It was officiated by Koreans, and the bride wore a traditional Korean wedding dress. It was much simpler than most western weddings (except for the fact that it was in Korean, required a translator, and involved a complicated series of formalities that were never done at the right time during the ceremony, which led to the bride and groom being scolded, repeatedly. “Ok bow…”NO NOT NOW!”) and as per Korean custom, we sat on the floor. Afterward, the reception took the form of an open mike gathering, which took a hilarious turn when one thoroughly soju-soused guest, eager to share tales of burgeoning homosexuality run wild on an island of (apparently) closeted Koreans, seized the mike and regaled everyone with thoroughly explicit tales of late-night encounters around the island while everyone basically squirmed in their seats.
I also turned in my first student evaluations. I decided to be honest about some of my worse students. I get the feeling that I’m not supposed to actually criticize any of them, but some of the boys are really bad (evil, methinks), and that keeps them from doing well in class. Then again, they are 5-7 years old, as I keep reminding myself.
This weekend, there is a volleyball tournament that pretty much everyone on the island is looking forward to. It’s really an excuse to spend a weekend on the beach with a bunch of people and almost everyone plans to camp there. You can just throw your tent down anywhere you feel like it here. There’s a surprising amount of freedom on Jeju, and a lack of crime as well as drugs. It’s kind of like being in the fifities or sixties (well, the sixties without any drugs). I discovered a new favorite food last night as I was dropping my scooter off to get the muffler fixed- Mandu (Korean dumplings.). mmmmmm mmmmannnduuu.
1:51 am Wednesday (Asian time) 11:52 am previous day, Vermont time
Did I just lose most of Tuesday?
It feels very strange to be flying over China. So far we’ve flown (very) north from NY through the Arctic Circle, and are now heading down through northern China. It appears that we will be giving North Korea a very wide berth.
6:45 am Gimpo airport, waiting for the plane to Jeju.
Bus ride was much better this time, with a cheery Korean woman driver and a bus full of travelers all noisily watching Olympic speedskating. I have been so hot for this entire trip…I can’t wait to take a shower. So glad I didn’t wear a winter coat. It feels weird to be in Asia, but not as much as it probably should, maybe because I’ve been planning for it for so long. I’m not sure if I could get any farther from home, in terms of physical distance. In terms of information, communication, and the presence of American goods and services, however, I’m actually pretty close. I think this is one reason why I wasn’t filled with an overwhelming amount of excitement and trepidation upon coming here. When the first thing you see is a Dunkin' Donuts, it kind of takes the thrill out of culture shock.
Looking out the window of the plane as we start to fly out of Seoul. This airport isn’t close enough to see the city, but I can see clusters of apartment towers. There are so many of them! There don't appear to be any neighborhoods or other houses..does everyone here live in these huge, impersonal blocs? Korea is so densely populated I guess they don’t have the luxury of individual houses. The weird thing is the uniformity of these towers, and they way they appear in evenly spaced clumps across the landscape.