Spring Is In the Air…Along With A Coating Of Yellow Dust

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Well, I’m sitting here on Thursday night, contemplating the fact that another week has gone by here on Jeju. I’ve been feeling a bit tired lately, and so I stayed home during the week. Which could also be a way of saying I’ve just been lazy.

I’m not sure whether my persistent sore throat is due to a cold or constant yelling. It’s getting to the point where I have to decide during class whether getting the kids to do what I want is worth the strain on my throat/voice. I’ve been experimenting with different vocal ranges and trying to use different parts of my throat to produce the desired shouting effect with limited success. I’ve also been drinking lots of tea.

Today was cookie-making day. I am beginning to dread these “immersion days” since they invariably involve a lot of chaos, mess, shouting, and confusion. Apparently Koreans don’t really make cookies, so the school’s kitchen didn’t exactly have an excess of baking supplies. We only had 4 pans, a few sheets of wax paper, 2 rolling pins, 6 cookie cutters, tables that are 2 feet high to work on, about 40 kids, and 40 minutes. Also, the lunch ladies needed us out of there and the place had to be clean for snack time, and THEN we had to take turns going back in and baking the cookies in one tiny oven with one rack and no way of telling when it was preheated. Does baking with kids still sound like fun? When the kids weren’t looking, I just cut out as many cookies as I could.  At the end of the day, each kid got a little baggie with 2 little cookies in it. We kind of shortchanged them on the cookies, but there weren’t enough of them that had been baked yet.

One of my kids threw a completely irrational temper tantrum when it was time to go home. You may be thinking “aren’t temper tantrums irrational by nature?” Nope, sometimes they make sense. In this case, Andrew (the biggest kid in class, which makes me forget that he’s only five) stole Megan’s fuzzy animal that she brings every day. It obviously belongs to her. So he took it, she (of course) cried, I told him to give it back, and he proceeded to wail and scream at the top of his lungs and refuse to get ready to go home. I decided that not putting up with his ridiculous behavior was the way to go, so I told him that if he didn’t get OFF THE TABLE and go home, he would have to sleep in the school all night.

Apparently hearing the ear-piercing screams coming from my classroom, Agnes came and at least got this kid to go home. My co-teacher Caroline told me that working at Bambini is a very effective form of birth control. So,between the three of us, we are probably saving the world from at least 6 babies.

Now about the Yellow Dust..supposedly Jeju doesn’t have as much of a problem from the dust as the mainland, but I could see it all over my scooter the other morning, so it’s definitely in the air and is probably what’s irritating my throat.

I’m pretty excited about research for my first Jeju Weekly story. I’m going to the Geomunoreum Lava Tubes on Saturday with a translator to get a tour of the tubes and interview a geologist and the village leader, who is an expert on the lava tubes.  

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A Few Interesting Things About My Room At The Sakura Hotel

  1. 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.  

Week Three

Monday, March 22, 2010

I would say that it’s hard to believe it’s been three weeks, but it’s not. It feels like months…in a good way. Spring is here, and the island is getting beautiful. Teaching is becoming easier, too. I’m finding a lot of things to do on the weekends, and I started taking a yoga class during the week. I’m not sure if I’ll even have time to do all the things I want to while I’m here.

On Saturday, I took a bus to the southern end of the island where there is a town called Seogwipo. It’s a lot smaller than Jeju City, and easier to navigate. The bus ride went over the mountain. It was a pretty ride, but the weather started getting bad so I wasn’t able to get a lot of pictures. I went to see Jeungmun Falls, which happens to be the only waterfall in Asia that falls directly into the sea. The next day I went hiking on an Oreum with a group of Koreans. It was interesting to hang out with some Korean people, because I haven’t really spent time with anyone other than the teachers here. My new friend Tim, another American from Minnesota, was invited to join the hiking club by one of the teachers at his school. At the top of the hill, we had a lovely little repast of kimbap, fresh octopus that one of the hikers had caught the day before, tofu and mageoli (sp?), a Korean fermented rice wine. After the hike, we went out to lunch (yes, lunch again) and then Tim and I spent the rest of the day exploring Seogwipo. The weather was perfect for a change, the blossoms were blooming, and we went to see another beautiful waterfall and then walked along the harbor and out to a small island.

Later, we met other teachers and hung out before heading back over the mountain on the bus. I found out where the scuba diving classes are- I think I might take a course there later this spring/summer. Today, I’m off to the dentist after school. I’m actually pretty excited about getting a checkup for the first time in years (it’s ridiculously cheap here) See my “albums” page for pictures of Seogwipo…

Trip to Psyche World

Tuesday, March 30, 2010  

I think I've figured out that mornings are the best time to write. Speaking of writing, I think that using my blog more like a journal will help me keep to my more general yearly goal of developing a writing portfolio. I finally realized that putting off my writing projects because I need to create the right space is just another way of procrastinating.

I’ve been thinking that I need to turn my balcony/porch into an indoor garden with a table and chair before I can tackle any serious writing projects, but then I realized that it was just my sneaky subconscious creating another barrier to getting down and doing the work that writing requires. I’m glad that I brought my copy of “Writing Down the Bones”- I definitely need to re-read it, especially the part where she insists on the importance of writing every day.

Last week was rather uneventfully interesting. I went to the dentist, which was fun. The dentist was the only one in the office who spoke English, and I’m still not sure of the name, but I emerged with very clean teeth, almost no bill (thanks, socialized health care that includes dentistry!) and a huge amount of worry off my mind (I had been afraid to go since it’s been so long.

On Friday, my school took a field trip to “Psyche World,” a weird theme park that had dead butterflies, glass flower gardens, a hall of mirrors, a sad petting zoo featuring unneutered, smelly tomcats on leashes, and a whole room of diaramas featuring smartly costumed cockroaches enacting scenes throughout various time periods. There were Roman cockroaches fighting little lions in the Coloseum, Medieval cockroaches in little capes and suits of armor, and even Egyptian cockroaches busily building the pyramids. There were also modern cockroaches building things on construction sites. Oh, to have had my camera.

Then it was time for lunch. I truly had no idea that a Korean field trip is basically a feeding frenzy. The kids’ parents pack XL lunches, and the teachers walk around with chopsticks, hover above the students, and then swoop and nab whatever they want. I felt a little weird participating in this strange custom, but one of my favorite students’ mom had made a special lunch for me of delicious homemade kimbap and an orange so I didn't actually have to scavenge that much.  

Today after school I’m off to pick up my new scooter! I bought a used orange 90cc scooter. Now I have to learn how to ride it in order to get it home….  

Untitled Update

Wednesday, April 20, 2010

After a brief hiatus, my Jeju blog is again up and running with a new web address. The only feature that has been lost is the ability to RSS subscribe, so for my loyal followers, I will send a quick email to let you know when I’ve posted a new entry.  

I’ve been pretty busy in the last two weeks or so since I last posted an entry. I’ve really missed writing, and I plan to write much more often than I used to.The weather is getting warmer and I’ve been to the beach and frolicked in fields of yellow rapeseed flowers. They grow and harvest them here as crops, so this time of year the island is awash in beauteous flora with a distinctly practical purpose.

  I also got a phone a couple of weeks ago, which was a huge step. After living without one for a month and a half, this newfangled communication technology aka “talky-box” was a bit overwhelming, but I soon embraced the convenience of being able to, you know…make contact when not near a computer.  

This weekend I am going to begin research on my first story as a reporter for Jeju Weekly, the island’s only English newspaper. I’ll be writing an in-depth article about the lava tubes, which have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More on that later, as well as a web link so you can read my story when it comes out at the end of May. 

Monsoon Season Hath Begun

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

No. more. rain. I am melting into a sticky puddle. Only 3 more weeks of hot, humid rain. Side note: apparently I live next to a small pond full of insane frogs. It sounds like they live in my bathroom (all 500 of them). On a related note, anyone know how to bomb a frog pond?

First Day On Jeju

Wednesday, February 20, 2010

Was easily spotted (I was literally the only non-Asian in the entire airport)and picked up at the airport by Jimmy, who works for Jeju ESL Consulting. Flying in over the ocean, I could see a beautiful snow-capped mountain in the middle of the island which I correctly guessed to be Mt. Halla.

As I stepped out of the airport, I was greeted by sunshine, warm salty air, and huge palm trees!

I soon discovered that we were headed not for my new apartment, where I hoped to take my long-awaited shower and maybe a nap, but straight for the school. In fact, after helpfully unloading my bags and carrying them in, Jimmy left both me and my bags at the school.   Struggling to adapt to this unexpectedly rapid introduction to my new job, I tried not to nod off in the cute, colorful office where Agnes, the school director,  excitedly explained my teaching schedule, showed me where my university diploma now hung proudly on the wall, and beamingly asked me if I could observe a few classes today after meeting all the kids in the entire school. I explained that it was close to midnight in US time, and  she kindly postponed the class observation until early tomorrow morning (when apparently I’ll also be meeting all of the parents ).

I didn’t realize that I’d actually be going to the school on the pitifully few days that I have to adjust before I officially start work, but I guess it will be good to get a sense of what the school is like I start teaching.  

I was soon being ferried to my hotel room (I don't actually get to move into my apartment until Friday afternoon) by Lorenzo, a curiously Spanish-named Korean man who also works for the school.  

Later this afternoon, I went for an exploratory walk around Shin-Jeju. It’s not a very scenic town. The buildings are all very modern in a late sixties/seventies concrete kind of way. I think that in order to see the good parts of Jeju (i.e. something that looks like the pictures I saw) I need to get out of town. You can’t really see the ocean from this part of town- maybe you can from my apartment. I did see a tangerine tree full of fruit, though, and the ride from the airport was pretty.  

Korea seems to be full of pleasantly hot and spicy food. I ordered something from a streetside vendor that was a complete mystery (was it fish? Eels? Turned out to be thick noodles and some sort of tofu-like curd) in a delightfully hot, spicy broth. To my surprise, the soup was dumped into a bag and handed to me with chopsticks! So I touted my plastic bag of soup back to the hotel and funneled it into a a bathroom cup.  

Later, I ordered another mystery food at a cafe- it turned out to be cold buckwheat noodles in a *very* hot sauce. The cook handed me a pair of scissors to cut it with and a pair of metal chopsticks to eat it with, which was a challenge. It required a lot of snipping before I could adequately maneuver the chopsticks without sloshing wet noodles all over my face.  

I also attempted to find a power adaptor in a five story Korean department store…without success but with much aimless wandering and halfhearted questioning of salespeople, none of whom spoke English. I gave up after one misguided (by me)  salesperson went over to the store’s computer and googled the word “shape” because he thought that’s what the thing is called after my botched explanation….  

Less Squid, More Blog

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?!

48,796 Words To Go

Monday, November 3, 2010  

So, now that I've begun this month-long writing project, I think this blog will be seeing a lot more of me. You see, I am writing, and while I'm rambling on here, important ideas are brewing in my head that will somehow organize themselves. Or at least make someone out there laugh. That's all I hope to achieve, really. I hope that someday, one person reads something in this book that I'm writing and laughs as much as I did when I read the first page of  "A Confederacy of Dunces." Oh, wait… that's actually a pretty lofty aspiration.

I've actually gotten really, really productive since I signed on for this thing. Last night I created an entire new photo site and uploaded hundreds of pictures, cleaned my apartment, called my parents, and decided to join a gym.

Which is funny, because usually I procrastinate about going to the gym. And by procrastinate I mean….I think about joining one.

I did join a gym for a month this summer.

It was in the Vegas Casino, which is also a hotel. The lobby is an assault of gold and glitter, and the elevator to the gym is paneled in fake velvet. In order to get to the floor with the gym, you have to walk right past a bakery, which wasn't really a problem since I'm pretty safe from baked goods as long as I stay at least 50 feet away from them. I joined the gym because it has a pool, which immediately presented a problem.

You are required to shower before and after using the pool, which means increasing my agonizingly uncomfortable public naked time from the 20 seconds it takes me to  change while crouching behind the door of my locker to MINUTES before and after the shower.

I embrace nudity at home. I don't mind being naked in front of one, or maybe even two people. But being naked in a roomful of matter-of-fact strangers really freaks me out. People were just going about their business, heartily slapping on lotion, drying their hair, and happily chatting away while I darted back and forth from locker to shower, clutching my possessions around me like someone in a refugee camp.

I was sure that any minute, my deepest fear would be realized and I would run into one of my students' mothers. So, the gym turned out to be kind of stressful.

I haven't been back since my month ran out. But if I do join tomorrow, I'm going home sweaty.

this is me..don't I look stern? look, there's the computer I should be working on.

 

Marado

Thursday, June 3, 2010

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?!

” Bad Teacher! “

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

All right, so I’ve been very lazy concerning my blog lately. I do remember making very strong promises to I would write every day, no matter how mundane my activities appear to be. I guess I’ve been sort of afraid that my daily life here won’t be interesting to anyone, so unless I do something special, I haven’t been writing. Then I remembered that the primary reader is most likely my mother, who is the only person in the world who wants to get daily updates about buying weird Korean toothpaste and daily escapades with Korean schoolchildren.

They are quick to notice when I do something wrong, and I am swiftly reprimanded with a chorus of “BAD TEACH-AH!” I usually beat them to it, pointing to myself and saying it in an exaggerated accent. Yesterday I scolded them for forgetting their books, took butterflies away from almost the entire class, and even had Agnes give them a stern talking to. After class, I saw the books neatly stacked on a table near my desk. Bad teacher!

My classes are falling more of a rhythm. Afternoons are easier because the kids are a year or two older and discipline is less of a problem. They stick to their workbooks, and I am basically there to explain how to get through the books. There isn’t enough time for me to present the information in a lesson; they barely have enough time to get through the units on the schedule. My morning reading classes revolve around a reader that is so easy, the kindergartners finish it in less than one class period. I’ve been having them read it over and over all week, working on pronunciation. I realized yesterday that there is room in that class for creativity and lessons that I can plan, so reading class might be my chance to be a real teacher and create some lessons of my own.

This week, I’ve done a few things that are completely uncharacteristic, like play soccer and join a volleyball team… I felt pretty out of place and useless on the soccer field, so I don’t think I’ll go back, but it was fun to check it out. There was only one other girl, so I was also afraid of the ball since most of the guys were very, um, enthusiastic kickers.

Those of you who have been reading my blog may also notice that there aren’t any pictures of Korean Finn. As most of you know, her owners came and found her at the shelter. I was disappointed all day, but then I realized the perfect circle of action that had occurred. It would have been very hard to have a dog here, but I wanted to rescue her. I saved her from certain death long enough for her real owners to find her since the shelter was keeping her alive until I could come get her. It was the best resolution for everyone. 

I stayed at the shelter and ended up helping to walk the dogs- it’s kind of like giving them their last meal. Sad, but they get one last walk or two with a nice human before they meet the end.

Afterward, I went out to lunch with some of the other volunteers at a small restaurant that serves temple food. It is near a Buddhist temple. The food was very light and delicious, and the restaurant itself was beautiful inside, with hand-carved wooden tables and handmade earthen dishes. It was a nice antidote to the sadness of the shelter.   All of the food in the picture, plus tangerine tea and fresh local oranges afterwards, cost about $6 a person. The plate in front is my lotus rice. It came in a bundle with the leaf tightly wrapped around it.   On a final note, I spoke to Agnes about my return flight and the train trip is on!

buddha, wedding, dumplings

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

 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.