Hagwon? I hardly know won!

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Shots Fired and the Sun Still Shines November 24, 2010

Yesterday, about an hour before my classes started, while I was in a workshop to get ready for fall term, North Korea fired shots into a village on Yeonpyeong Island. Is this unsettling? Sure. Is it worth writing an e-mail home to worried parents? You bet. Is it worth changing my daily routine over? Absolutely not.

The first thing you should know is that while I am just northeast of Seoul, mere miles from the DMZ, Yeonpyeong is smack in the middle of the disputed border in the Yellow Sea. The island itself rests firmly above the 38th parallel, while I am snugly below at the 37th parallel.

Please keep in mind as you watch the news that every time North Korea shoots something or sinks something or bombs something the press claims it is the most aggression they’ve shown since 1953.

The chances of North and South Korea going to war with each other are exactly the same as the chances of the U.S. and China going to war with one another. With 30,000 U.S. troops enjoying the services in Ieteawon, there simply isn’t a way for America to not be involved in a war. North Korea knows it. If they don’t want to become a parking lot for the next E-Mart, they would need to be pretty sure about China’s readiness to pour across the Yalu once again. A fresh Cold War does not a thing for the Chinese economy. Communist they may be, but the Soviet Union they ain’t.

For you worry warts out there, worst case scenario: If a “foreign government” invades the Republic of Korea my contract is automatically null and I use the money I have tucked away to buy airfare home. Then, in a short 24 hours, I will enjoy a french dip sub from Tanks with hand cut fries and a cup of drip coffee.

As of this moment it is another sunny, fall day in Namyangju, South Korea. The kids are still playing at the elementary school across the street. Family Mart is still selling Pepero. The squids are still swimming in tanks outside restaurants oblivious to their imminent demise. And I still have a meeting to go get ready for.


And They Called It Zombie Love: Seoul Zombie Walk 2010 November 5, 2010

After missing out on a traditionally wonderful Midwestern Halloween season, I made up for all the spooky goodness in one glorious night. About 50 foreigners met in Seoul Forest dressed as zombies with the purpose of terrorizing the locals. After a week of searching and on-line homemade tips, I realized that I am a product of the only culture on Earth that has a demand for fake blood. Luckily expats are friendly people who are happy to share their painfully scored blood with one another. We then shuffled to Line 2 but made a few stops in convenance stores along the way. One Line 2 we walked from car to car, the entire length of the train moaning and laughing all the way. We got off the train in Hongdae, which is where Hongik University is located. This is my favorite area of Seoul because it reminds me of my time at Columbia College in Chicago. Artsy fartsy goodness everywhere. If there is any 10 block area that would appreciate our shenanigans, Hongdae would be it.

Koreans not only do not like to get involved, but they can be bound and determined to ignore. Even if you are the walking dead and demanding, “Brains chuseyo (I want you to give brains to me)”, they will text with persistence. When the inevitable zombie apocalypse does strike, South Korea is not where you want to be. Personal space in Korea is very different from in the States. We have plenty of room to roam. We all have our own cars to surround ourselves with. We live in houses with yards. South Korea has 48 million people crammed into a country the size of Indiana and a lot of that space is taken up with mountains. Walking is different here. You buckle down and get out-of-the-way. If someone dresses as a zombie and walks up-stream, well there is no response for such a thing. They would continue to walk straight ahead linked arm in arm (as friends often do here). This only inspired me to aim in between couples to force them to split up and giving me roller derby flash backs. “I don’t see you. You can’t bother me, if I don’t see you. Moan all you want, but clearly I am sending a text message so how can I be bothered that you are the hungry dead?”

Other, more awesome Koreans, were adorably afraid. Girls would put their hands to their faces and say, “So scary. So scary. I am scared,” while they giggled and backed away for safety behind an even more terrified boyfriend. The men would try to put on a brave face but then would run a few feet away. Many people seemed to have a really good time. I made three grown women run away by standing quietly in close proximity. When Koreans are afraid they feel cold. That’s why their horror season is in the summer. I scared one man who backed away, laughing and saying, “Cheu ey yo. Cheu ey yo. (I’m cold. I’m cold)” There are most certainly a lot of pictures of me on Daum Cafe, the Korean Facebook via cellphone updates with a caption reading, “I was on my way home from work on Saturday night and I saw 50 or so foreigners at once and they were all dead. Don’t believe me? I took a picture.” The comment will read, “Chinga?” The response will be, “Chinga!”

There are a lot of things you can get away with in Korea, public intoxication to the point of vomiting on the sidewalk, public intoxication to the point of bar fighting, public intoxication to the point of throwing a chair through a window. The one thing that is 100% not OK is speaking in English loudly on the subway. Needless to say, the cops were called. What to tell you about Korean police? They are… polite, very polite. They are the least threatening police force ever. Most are very young and in this Confucian society can’t really be authoritative with anyone older or in the military, which is pretty much the entire population. They also don’t carry guns. Americans feel very entitled to their guns. Other countries have gun control so strict that not even the cops have guns. So Grumpy McCrankyPants called the cops to complain about the noise. They told us to keep it down or for real or they were going to be really mad at us like for real. The best part was when one of the zombies was so terrifying that one of the police officers turned on his heel and ran away.

There are three kinds of Americans living in Korea: military, English teacher, and other. The military boys, let’s just say, have different priorities in their Korea experiences than English teachers typically do. Of the English teachers there are two kinds: the ones who came to Korea and the ones who left North America, G.B. or the land down under. By this I mean, there are people who signed up for this job because they wanted the adventure, they enjoy working with children and/or the English language, they soak up cultures, and they thought it would be fun. Then, there are people who signed up for this job because the job market at home was shit, they hated their job, they wanted to get away from their family, and they aren’t fans of their culture or any other. In short, they are complainers. No matter where they go or what opportunities are put into their hands, they will complain. They spend their time here teaching, sulking in their apartment, and sulking over beer at the Hof.

The later type of teacher does not leave their apartment, tear up their clothes, cover themselves in blood and terrorize locals. Lucky me ­čÖé This left me with a group of silly, adventurous, smart people. My advice to anyone starting this experience, get to know as many people as you can. The people who do this share some pretty important things in common. They are the kind of people you will want to stay in touch with. Walking through the streets and trains of Seoul dressed as the undead being silly and scary with people who are doing the same is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Sometimes I feel like my body is just a little too small to cram all the happiness inside and when there’s no more room in here, the happy shall walk the Earth.


Thinking Projects November 2, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 12:24 am

Part of our lesson plan is the Critical Thinking Project in which the kids are broken into groups and need to assess a question, form an opinion and give reasons to support their decision. Sounds great right? Wrong. The projects they give us tend to border on morose. My big kids had to think of ways that the human race would eventually meet its end (they chose flu virus and lack of drinking water). Once they had to pick which three things they would bring with them to the afterlife if they were to die tomorrow and write a song about it.

Today my 7 and 8 year olds had to determine who in their group would receive the only life jacket in a sinking ship.

Group 1 said Sara, because she is tall and smart.

Group 2 said Jessica, because Zeki and David are good at swimming, but Jessica is not good at swimming.

Group 3 said the boat. They would put the life jacket on the hole in the boat and the boat will not sink.


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