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Moving day is a very dangerous day May 29, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 7:08 pm

Today I moved from my first, small and scary apartment to my larger, scary one.

The first thing I would like to say on the matter is that owning less is far better than owning more. It took maybe 2 hours of effort to throw everything into suitcases. Packing up our American apartment took weeks and we left it unfinished (thanks again to our parents for cleaning up after us). I look forward to going through the things that I packed up and stored when we finally make it back State side and getting rid of even more stuff. How many pairs of socks does one person need? How many pairs of pants? How many cardigans? OK, that last one is a trick question. You can never have enough cardigan sweaters. Of all the things that this first month in Korea has taught me, the thing that will become habit for the rest of my life is that less is more.

The second thing I would like to take note of is English teachers’ habit of leaving a mess for the next guy to clean up. I don’t know who started this tradition, but I don’t care for it one bit. The girl who moved out of this new apartment so she could teach in Seoul left us a full house. I don’t know what is staying and what is going and though she isn’t here to ask, her cellphone is. No way to call and ask if she’d like us to take the sheets off the bed. We cleaned up so that the new teacher could move into the place that we are leaving. I’d be embarrassed to let her walk into the mess we’d been wallowing in. Anyway, I’ll have to pack up someone else’s things so she can get them out of my home please. I’ve already resigned myself to the idea that I will be doing her dishes for her.

The new place is much bigger. I can see that past the mess that needs to be tidied there is a cute apartment underneath. It’s really large by Korean standards. There are two rooms, and I’m not even counting the bathroom, which doesn’t have a sink. I’ll still be using a mini-fridge, but the king of all mini-fridges. My living room, kitchen and laundry room are all one in the same. The place comes with an inflatable Carona bottle that’s as tall as me. I don’t know what about moving to Korea puts teachers back in the collegiate spirit.

Fortunately, the new teacher, even newer than we are, is a dream. Her boyfriend came in from Seoul and they helped us move our stuff down the street. Amber is the new, and only other, girl instructor at our school. She is sweet and outgoing. I’m one lucky Yankee to score such a cool Kiwi.


Cast my vote for the ajumma May 25, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 11:04 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

South Korea has a phenomena called ajumma. An ajumma is a middle-aged woman who dresses in bright colors, wears a huge visor, perms her hair and doesn’t take any shit from anyone. A lot of foreigners don’t care for the ajummas, maybe because they will push you out of their way, yell at you, or even lean on you in the subway.

I however… love ajummas. I want to be one when I grown up. They are bad ass ladies who could eat you for breakfast. As a washed up roller girl, how could I do anything but admire these 5 foot towers of awesome?

That said, there is an election going on here in the land of the morning calm and campaigning is done a little differently than it is at home.

They have trucks with pictures of the candidates on them that drive around and park on busy street corners and blast K-pop so everyone in a 3 block radius can hear. Better still is when trucks from opposing candidates park across the street from one another.

But wait, it only gets better. The campaigns are full of ajummas in uniform. Outside of E-Mart there have been yellow, blue, and green ajummas all week. If you walk by they smile and put a card in your hand. If it rains they put on parkas. There is no stopping an ajumma, so seeing gangs of them is thrilling. The best part is… they dance! The most rhythmically challenged dancing ever. Picture your white family at a wedding then take away the alcohol.

So far nothing has made me happier in Korea than dancing ajummas, dressed the same, pushing for political action. It has taken every ounce of restraint not to ask for the picture and autograph.


I’m afraid of Americans May 23, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 11:38 am

After I posted yesterdays blog, I realized that my “how dare you insult me because I am a woman” sensors are out too far and my “how dare you insult me because I’m white” sensors don’t exist. I encountered racism for the first time. The guy who oinked at me, apparently spit on the ground as my husband walked by.

The kids we teach, who are smart, and funny and great know that racism is wrong, but they have a hard time recognizing it when they see it. One kid said, “The Chinese are racist because they think that they are superior to us.” Yes! That’s right! Good job! “But really, we are superior to them.” So close, but so far.

As a white American liberal, I’m not used to people looking down on my race. When I do encounter racism at home, it is from people who aren’t white so it comes with a complimentary feeling of white guilt. How can I stay made at you for thinking everyone who looks like me is out to get you when everyone who looks like me has been out to get you for 300 years?

I don’t know if it’s a white thing or an American thing. More people here ask me if I am Canadian, so I tend to think the former, but its hard to say. It’s a little frightening because I can’t say anything to them. I can’t ask them what their problem is. I can’t tell them to go to hell. I can’t tell them to leave me alone.

It is all a little disorienting. It lets you know, even if you are super liberal, just where you think your people are ranked in the world. It shows you that the world does not revolve around America and it does not revolve around white people. It’s something to say you know that because you donate to causes in Africa and you’ve read Three Cups of Tea, and it is something else entirely to be in it.


A Feminist Rant May 22, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 6:11 pm

I love Korea. I really do. I hate misogyny. I really do.

Women are not treated equally to men anywhere in the world, but it is a rude awakening to have to deal with the level of sexism my grandmothers had to put up with.

I had heard that Korean women dress conservatively by American standards. I even left some of my nice clothes at home thinking that they might be offensive. I don’t know who thought these ladies dress conservatively. I’ve not seen any cleavage, but I’ve seen nothing but legs and high heels. The skirts and shorts are short, really short. I see women at their jobs, wearing what is clearly a uniform. Think stewardess from the 60’s short skirts.

Women here are allowed to pursue an education, even a career, as long as they understand that they will need to settle down and raise themselves some kids.

Women are expected to maintain a high level of beauty. 80% of women in Korea have had cosmetic surgery. This kind of thinking makes women believe that the most important thing that they have to offer is how they look.

Don’t even get me started on room salons.

Then there was the incident that tipped the scales into big fat feminist rantville. As I was walking into my apartment, the men sitting outside made pig noises at me.

How am I supposed to respond to that?


Teacher Mary May 18, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 11:54 pm

I am a mean teacher. I give zeros to cheaters with vengeance. I take suckers out of mouths with extreme prejudice. I demand gum spit into my hand with gusto. I am not afraid of children.

Even my most giant classes are small. My biggest class tops out with a whopping 18 kids. I have a whole new appreciation for the prioritization of class sizes in public schools. I love my teeny tiny classes of 5 kids. I know when people are paying attention. I know when notes are being passed. I know who hasn’t answered a question in the last 5 minutes. I know who is learning and who is not. In my big classes it’s all I can do to keep up with the little buggers.

There is no such thing as sarcasm in Korea, so in order to crack a joke you need to set it up like t-ball. Here comes a joke. I’m going to tell a joke. I’m telling a joke. I just told a joke. I told one class that I had just celebrated my 80th birthday and a good 45 seconds later they figured out that I was being funny. I savor the delay time.

I enjoy teaching. I enjoy how quickly the time passes. I start my first class of the day at 4pm and then suddenly my last class is ending at 10pm. There is no time to count down the minutes as the clock hands spin.

I enjoy getting to know the kids. I like discovering which ones are full of smartness underneath their candy coating of misbehavior. I like figuring out what each student needs in order to achieve their best results. The kids are learning what I expect of them and to do what they must to avoid my wrath.

Most of all, I like that it is not boring. I like that I never have to think about how to fill up time. I like that I never have to come up with creative ways of making a 3 minute task take a quarter of an hour. I like that I never feel tied to a desk or a cash register. This is the kind of job a college graduate should have. It is cruel to force someone who is smart and hardworking behind a switchboard phone. My poor dormant brain is finally waking up after a 5 year hibernation.

I never dread going in to work. I never countdown the minutes until I get to leave. My dad always told me to find something that I enjoy doing and am good at and I’ll never work a day in my life. I can’t believe how much they are paying me to not work a single day in Korea.


Just another Saturday in the neighborhood May 15, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 10:57 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I made it all the way to Seoul and back today. Take that bus and subway system! Think you’re so hard and in a foreign language? You are no match for me.

I spent the day strolling through Seoul, passing street vendors and looking in shops. There is a fun store called Kinki Robot with bizarre collectible toys. They are like baseball cards, but figures and weird and now I have two Smarkin’ Labbits each in a different color.

Almost immediately after stepping out of the subway what did I see but a Burger King! You don’t go to Seoul and have street food. All I ever have is Korean food. A burger though, I haven’t had a burger in over three weeks. It was underwhelming. I mean after all, it was still Burger King. However, I don’t care how bad they are, french fries are comforting here. Wonderful, salty french fries.

An arts festival just happened to be in progress in a park. It was like the Yellow Springs Street Fair but with better artists (sorry Yellow Springs but this was amazing) People were hand painting t-shirts. There was really amazing wall art, handmade jewelry, and everything looked not handmade. It was as though my librarian chic heart had been dropped into a world of etsy and modcloth. The stuff that I crave but can only find on the internet at home. I only bought one necklace and used my willpower/husband to over look everything else that I so desperately wanted.

I went into a pub to use their bathroom and while he was patiently waiting, my husband/willpower, Doug found a bunch of incredibly rare records behind the bar’s dj booth. Like a first press of Elvis Presley’s first album, in Spanish. He called back his record store know how to place the value in something ending in ousands rather than undreds. Pretty cool find for a trip to the bathroom.

If you are looking for an American in Seoul, you will probably find them at Dos Tacos, where we had dinner. I haven’t seen that many white people in one place since before we got on the plane in San Fransisco. Doug got a burrito and I got… dos tacos. I must have looked like a well dressed crazy hobo eating those crunchy gems of chickeny goodness. I have never devoured anything like that before. Those poor tacos never had a chance. After I ate the debre off the plate with my hands, I stopped short of licking the plate clean. It was a tough call, but I thought better of it.

We hopped back onto the subway and headed for home. Our stop came and we got off, an hour later we finally got on the bus that stops 30 feet from the subway. We couldn’t figure out where the bus actually stops. We spent an hour crossing the street and walking a block and then crossing the street again. I kept looking through open bus doors and asking the driver, “Namyangju?” to which they would give me the arms in an x that so often means you are out of luck in jolly old Korea. We finally found our stop because we kept watching our bus pass us so we just walked in the direction that it came from until we found a stop. It was quite the feeling of accomplishment.

A word to the wise, if you are lost in Korea and need directions look for someone who appears to be under the age of 15, they probably speak English. As soon as we sat in our seats, the group of teenagers next to us all said, “Hi. Hi. Hello. Hi. Where are you from?” The question is where were you kids when we were getting run over by taxi cabs trying to find this stop? Oh, probably waiting at the stop, like normal people. Nevermind.

Now we are home and I keep trying to remember what I did with my time off at home. Then it comes to me, I’ve been working two if not three jobs at a time for the past two years. When I’d get a day off I’d go to the grocery, clean and get some rest. So this is what weekends are like. Oh, I could get used to this.


Hair of the Dog May 12, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 4:56 pm

In Korean culture, sharing is very important. All of the food is served family style. Even soup is served like a milkshake, one bowl, two spoons. It’s kind of nice. It’s like bonding over pizza and beer, but at every meal.

The bad news is, they drink the same way. The liquor of choice is soju, which is not terribly different from sake. It’s cheap, drunk by the shot, and shared.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m not a big drinker.

I drink my whiskey straight at home for a few reasons: One, it is delicious. Two, it is difficult to drink so it lasts longer. One double shot of whiskey is more expensive that one beer, but it’s cheaper than 4 or 5 beers. Finally, people assume that because I’m drinking something so hard to drink that I must be drinking a lot, so I don’t ever have to get drunk drunk. That’s right. I am rarely drunk. I get silly, but that doesn’t take a big push. Mostly if I have whiskey in my hand I can act like the ham I already am but with the scapegoat of drunkenness.

I hate being drunk. I don’t like feeling ill. I don’t like loosing my sense of balance. I don’t even drink enough to get rosy cheeks. I hate being hungover. I like a little buzz and I’m done. Just enough to be over the legal limit to drive. With my lie of drinking like a champ blown, I need to learn a new way to look like I’m keeping up when I’m really not.

The problem is that rounds are poured and it’s rude to refuse. So last night after my beer and a half buzz that I was perfectly happy with, we saw… white people speaking English. We introduced ourselves and were invited to sit and have a drink… five shots later I was drunk drunk. Not silly drunk, but sleep with one foot on the floor so the room doesn’t spin drunk.

I am anti-drinks that are easy to drink. I don’t support alcoholic milkshakes or drinks with decorative fruit on the rim, especially pineapple. I never, ever drink shots. In my entire drinking life I’ve maybe had the total of five shots, ever. Allow me to reiterate, I don’t like to be drunk. I like to go out dancing and also have a drink. Since there isn’t dancing here (shy Asians and all) there is only sitting and drinking. I’m not a sad person. I don’t need to sit and drink. I am a happy dork. I have ants in my pants and I need to dance.

The moral of the story is, I need to figure out how to look like I am politely accepting hospitality and generosity, while at the same time avoiding the belly ache and sensitivity to light I currently have. The only plan I’ve come up with is to make like Batman and keep a potted plant with me at all times.


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