Archive for January, 2008

There : English Camp Completed

January 26, 2008 3 comments

Well, this Friday marked the end of English camp. It went really well. It was significantly different from last time, but I was able to get some great teaching experience. False confidence works wonders. Students were fun, and tried really hard. No real gems of wisdom here.
For our last trip we went to KyungJu World, which is a small theme park about 30 minutes from Sunlin. For anyone from the Kansas City area, it was about 1/8th the physical size, and had about ¼ the rides of Worlds of Fun. But that’s pretty big, for Korea (remember, size is the primary commodity). We ran around and had fun. It was a good time to get to know the students.
And for the last day of class, we had a Picture Scavenger Hunt, in which students were given assignments, and they were to get pictures of themselves doing it. That’s what will make up the bulk of this post. The pictures are way more interesting than I am.

Biting a Chinese Person. More Biting. Poor Chinese Students
Pouring water on the class leader
Making an American Teacher try Dried Squid. She really didn’t like it
Giving people candy on our behalf. More gifts that we didn’t really give
Giving us food
Painting Toenails (Jared’s)
Holding Hands with a Guard. Guards need friends, too
Punching the English Contact for the International Department. He had it coming
Feeding Jared DukkBoki
Giving me flowers, Because I love attention.
Giving People Gifts They Didn’t Want
Giving Secretaries High Fives
Gratuitous Silly Hats. Too cute for TV. Dangerously Cute. Scary cute. Tragically Cute. Cute to the Max. Mind Numbingly Cute. Sorta Cute. Really Cute, again.
Pulling Hair
Rocking out
Eating bugs (BonDaeGi). I hear they aren’t that bad
Holding a Fish
HaeJong is Scary. Most Korean Girls Are.
Petting animals
Washing Jared’s Car; too bad I don’t have a car here
Gluttony, and simulated gluttony, and the good old fashioned kind
And cross dressing, And more cross dressing, And more still more cross dressing, Even more cross dressing

The End

Categories: Being There

There : Aquariums and English Camps

January 14, 2008 Leave a comment

There : Camp and Aquarium

Regarding the lack of updates since I got here, sorry. It’s been really busy. As you may have guessed, I’m no longer in Inchon Airport. I’ve been back in Pohang for a while now.
I’m sharing an apartment with another English teacher at Sunlin, and that’s going well. We found Dr. Pepper and Tortillas at a local grocery store, so there was much rejoicing. Living outside of the dorms is a little less exciting, but it’s also a lot more comfortable. I can cook, sleep and shower when I want, and I am less worried about people going through my stuff.

English camp started the Monday after I got back. We’ve got 30 students, most of whom are in the nursing department, which I rarely interact with. This is good, because I can meet new people, but it also means a lot of new names to remember, which I am doing poorly. We also have two visiting professors, both from Colorado, to help with the English camp. They are lovely ladies who seem to be doing fine here. It’s, once again, nice to be reminded of how far I’ve come. They don’t speak any Korean, and I got to take them out for dinner one of my first nights back. This might seem like a small thing, but it was a big step in being more useful, and in feeling more “grown-up”.

With so many of my skills relating to the English language (like my strange short stories and my even stranger book), I feel torn between feeling smarter than I really am, and more stupid than I know I am. Here, where my language skills (not the ability to learn new languages, which is NOT one of my skills) are so specific in their use, most of the time I can’t really communicate what I want. I feel like I’m a small child, angry that people don’t understand what I want from them. Then I step into a class and it’s my job to tell people about an equally complex and confusing language, which I have mastered. It’s a bit like being a language centered idiot savant. Most of my other skills aren’t that in demand in Korea. They have lots of computers, but most people don’t seem to know much about what they’re really doing. They have art, but it’s barely important. My skills in singing and playing music are non-existent, but are very much in demand and respected here. Teaching here is based on memorization, but my learning is based on logic.Etcetera.

This isn’t intended to be sorrowful. I’m really happy to be back. It’s just good to point out that this is how I, and I’m sure others, feel from time to time. I imagine it’s true for anyone in a foreign country. Equally, it’s a dangerous trap to associate language skills with intelligence. I have to constantly warn myself that just because someone can’t communicate their deep ideas, doesn’t mean they don’t have them. It’s something that’s really obvious to say and hard to practice fully.

Anyway, back to camp. I’m teaching 3 hours a day plus some random study hall hours late at night (7:30-9:00). I teach speaking, which is probably the easiest subject. Most of my time is spent thinking up what I should do for a given day. Things like slang, idioms and speeches are easy to relate, but take a lot of practice and explaining. Most of the students try really hard, and it’s exciting when they can figure out what “having a bun in the oven” means, or when they say “hey, what’s up” instead of “hello, how are you doing?” outside of class. It puts me into the strange position of both teacher and student, which I like, but which is hard to manage.

We went out on Friday, as a group, and ate octopus and went drinking. Soju still tastes bad. Korean beer isn’t very good, but there is worse than “Hite” and “Cass” (like Natural Light). I’m not a drinker by any means, so it was interesting and fun, but not really comfortable. On Saturday we went to the Aquarium in Busan. THAT was a lot of fun. It was my first time in Busan (Korea’s second largest city). It was also my second trip to an aquarium (the first being in Louisiana). The aquarium in Busan was a bit smaller, but still a lot of fun. They didn’t fall into the habit of lots of big, mostly boring fish displays. There were lots of weird and fun things to see, and you could touch starfish and such. It was really fun.

But it was also strange. Koreans don’t seem to like animals. At least not at all like my family. There was a magic show. And a dancing show. They didn’t have anything to do with fish. It was because people needed more entertainment. There was also a place to stick children where they could watch movies (like “Madagascar”, not even “Finding Nemo”), because I guess it wasn’t that engaging. I know a lot of the people I was with enjoyed looking at everything, so I am making generalizations about the whole, not the individuals. Additionally, while I’ve only been to a few aquariums, I’ve been to lots of zoos. I love zoos. Korea has very few, and they’re tiny. They have things like chickens and turkeys. I remember being disappointed when zoos only had elephants, lions and other “normal” things, instead of various toads and honey badgers and such. Korea has few zoos because they are so large, the cost would be tremendous. At the same time, Koreans seem to know very little about animals, even their own. I asked some friends what animals were native to Korea, and basically had to list animals I thought might be native and have them confirm or deny them. They couldn’t think of any on their own. That’s ok, except that I’d expect a random person from Kansas to be able to name at least a few native animals, like deer, foxes, bobcats and the like. This is probably because we see those animals, and they just stay inside their cities, but I’d still expect someone from Kansas City to be able to name a few.

That observation aside, they seemed to really enjoy looking at the fish. The sharks, being large predators, stole the show, and were pretty cool. They had some sea dragons (extra freaky looking sea horses), which were very cool, as well as lots of things dubbed “cute”. I was interested in pretty much the same things as them, but I knew about as much, or more, than the information signs beside the exhibits, so it was much more a looking than a learning experience for me. Even with my complaints, it was really great, and I enjoyed my time with the students. Afterwards, some of us went and bought some groceries and ate blood sausage, which is better than it sounds.
Goldfish in a car

Categories: Being There

There : Adventure

January 4, 2008 Leave a comment

Well, the flight to Korea was long. It always is. This time it was even longer, because it was from Detroit to Japan, instead of LA to Seoul. Actually, I was on Northwest Airlines the whole time, so I had a lot less layover time, and in the end, it actually took a bit less time. But making the 10 hour flight a 13 hour flight was not a good change. Maybe it would have been, if it had been Korean Airlines.

Let me explain: Northwestern was just fine. It was a lot cheaper and a bit easier than Korean Air. But for most of the journey, it wasn’t as nice. Maybe Korean Air’s economy flights are more like other lines’ deluxe. I don’t know. But on the Korean air 747s, you got more stuff (like a toothbrush and tooth paste), more meals, more choice in your meals (by the end of the NW 747 we had no choice in what we got, because they ran out, and they fed us about 30 minutes before landing, which seemed odd), and a lot less entertainment. For the flight, there were 3 pre-chosen movies that played at set times on a distant projector, and about 10 channels of music. On the KE (Korean Air) flights, we got maybe 30 movies on demand, 10 educational shows, 5 sitcoms, huge amounts of movies, and you could watch the airplane’s progress and conditions. This isn’t groundbreaking, but I think each person would have to decide for themselves how much of a value it is. For me, I’d put it at being worth at least $50, but probably not over $100. That seems a bit high, now that I write it down, but you’re stuck in a seat for sooo long. The trip back to the US, for example, I watched maybe 3 movies. I don’t even like movies that much.

The exception was the hop from Tokyo to Inchon/Seoul. It was awesome. Best flight ever. It had video on demand, despite being NW and economy class, just like the other flights. I was on a DC40, a 747-400 and a A363 (maybe, my memory of the Airbus model is fuzzy), in that order, so maybe the Airbuses are nicer for NW. Who knows. Anyway, it was mostly awesome because it was almost empty. There were 2 seats between me and the next guy, so I laid down. THAT would be worth $100. The food wasn’t very good, though.

A quick observation, which is more a cumulation of other observations: Asians, in general, follow the rules less than Americans. They smoke where they aren’t supposed to, speed because they can get away with it, run red lights, pirate software unabashedly, and they stand up on airplanes. The seatbelt sign is totally a suggestion. The call for landing is actually a call to get out of your seat and run for the bathrooms, seconds before touchdown, causing the stewardess to issue a hasty announcement that people standing up while landing will die (actually, I don’t know what she said, because she didn’t say it (or need to say it) in English). There were many many incidents of people just wandering around the plane, standing around, and randomly violating rules. It wasn’t anything huge, and I’m sure some Americans do it too, but on my flights, it was all Asians. They do it in their cars and businesses, too, so I don’t think it’s a language or process issue. But the Koreans don’t Jaywalk. Probably because the people in the cars violate their laws enough to kill people pretty regularly. Also, they don’t talk on their cellphones much when they drive, but that’s because people get money for photographing and turning in people who are doing so, and it’s become a bit of a mercenary business in Seoul, I’m told. The moral of the story is, only laws that immediately lead to death or fines are obeyed. Not that we’re perfect. I started driving well before the legal age, and I always got ~5mph over the speed limit. I’m a rebel and all that. It’s just interesting to see such a wide spectrum of people ignoring different rules than us.

So, I got to Inchon around 9:00, and once I got through customs and got my luggage, it was 9:30ish. Which apparently is when this place (I’m still here) shuts down. No currency exchange, most of the information booths were empty, most of the stores were closed, and all the buses had stopped. It was too late to get a bus to Pohang, so I went through my options with Jared over the phone. I finally found one lady (a very nice lady) at the motel booth. I told her I wanted a cheap hotel. She said I should get a “guest house”, that it would be about $50, they’d pick me up for free, they’d take credit card, and maybe some other stuff. I was barely awake. Anyway, she called some places and found me “Kim’s Guest House”. Someone came and picked me up, helped me with my luggage, and drove me about half a mile to the hotel. It was nice. I was expecting a hostel or something. It had two beds (I’m not sure if I was charged for the 2nd, or if it was just open to be filled if someone came; no one did come, so I don’t know). It had a full bathroom, a washer, a stove top, a TV, and lots of room. It was quite nicer than I needed, but that’s not really something to complain about. It ended up being $42, and I’d HIGHLY recommend it. It seemed like it was set up for longer stays, but the guy said lots of people use it for layovers. Anyway, there was a pickup for the free airport shuttle bus across the street, and I’m back at the airport, waiting for my 1:40 PM bus to Pohang. McDonald’s won’t serve me anything but breakfast until 11:00, and I hate McDonalds, so I’m using my time to write this.

It was an adventure. Most of the people around the airport speak English. Enough that you can get your point across without speaking or reading Korean. But it helps SO much to know a few phrases, the numbers, and how to read some of it. I think that if you learned your question words (where, who, what, when…how is kind of worthless if you can’t communicate very well), you’d be fine in almost every touristy area. But not everywhere in some places like Pohang or AnDong.

In the Korean airports, they have pairs of assault rifle armed guards patrolling at all times. Since guns are outlawed here (I don’t know if police have them or not, honestly), this is a pretty significant show of force. Maybe they consider it a legitimate vector for an attack.

The Japanese airport had free Internet. Inchon doesn’t. The hotel didn’t, but someone near it did. Kikiki. Stealing Internet may be an entirely American crime-that-we-think-is-ok-to-commit.

It’s good to be back. It’s exciting. It’s challenging. It’s unpredictable. It makes you tired, over time, but it’s energizing at first. It’s it’s own kind of entertainment, where your manners and your mind tend to determine how you do. I’d suggest studying abroad or traveling for an extended stay, away from tourist traps, to anyone who feels unsatisfied with day to day life, or get that rush out of being in an unpredictable environment. Going back to America was honestly a lot “easier”. Even though here, I’m much less independent, which I’m sure annoys people, the things I do on my own count for a lot more (to me).

And that’s where I’ll leave this, because I’m here and everything has been said.

Categories: Being There

There / Trip : Going Back

January 1, 2008 1 comment

I’m sitting in my parent’s house on the eve of my return trip to Korea and I think I’m more nervous than my first trip over.

The trip back to the US was long…really long. Something like 30 hours from getting up at 5:00 AM in Pohang and getting home at 8:00 PM the same day. The layovers are what really killed me. The flight from Seoul to LAX was nicer than before because there was an empty seat between us. Korean Air seems to be a really nice airline, and I’d recommend them. This time I’m flying all Northwestern. We’ll see how they do. Also this time, I’ll stop over in Tokyo, if only for an hour.

The big chunk of flight is an extra 4 hours this time. Joy to that. I hope the NW Air 747 has the cool little built in entertainment computers. Those are great time wasters, and I feel more at ease being able to watch the slow march of the airplane across the faceless ocean. And watching lots of movies. Can’t forget that.

I’ve now flown enough to have opinions about Airports. Opinions I feel are worth something, at least. LAX sucks. It’s big, uncomfortable, confusing, and feels like a bunch of smaller airports duct-taped together. Denver was nice. Inchon is nice. I personally love MCI (KCI to you mere mortals), with it’s delicious free wireless Internet and omnipresent flight boards. LAX seemed really, really light on the whole “presenting people with information” front.

Getting through Inchon solo was fun. It wasn’t hard. I got to use some of my Korean. The stewardess would ask the Korean next to me (in Korean) about what he wanted to eat, then me in English, so it was fun answering in Korean. Lets see. Did I mention that it was a longggg trip? It was also my first solo run, and it went off mostly hitch-less. Praise God for that, because I draw critical failures to me like they were going out of style.

Flying isn’t nearly as stressful as I figured it would be. The seats are cramped; it’s hard to be comfortable. They pretty much micromanage everything on the cross-ocean flight, manufacturing a night cycle to help you get used to the time zone changes (and the fact that it will either be totally night or day on your trip over, even if it lasts 10 hours). Jet lag going there was nothing. It was cake covered in more cake. Coming back was brutal. I am just now getting over it. Turbulence is common but rarely severe. The movies make it seem rare. I’ve had it on basically every flight besides the ones from KC to Denver (and maybe I won’t have it on the KC to Detroit one).

Here’s some advice:

Plan something besides sleeping for the trip. If possible, something besides sleeping and reading. Even people who like to read rarely like to do it for 13 hours straight in an uncomfortable chair.

Have all your ticket information where you can get to it fast. People need your passport and ticket stuff constantly.

Pee frequently. Especially about 2 hours before you land. Last time, they had to circle for over an hour, in which we couldn’t go to the bathrooms. Get it done when you can.

Wear shoes that are easy to take off and put on. Don’t wear a belt.

Be prepared to take your laptop out, constantly. Have your carry on bathroom stuff figured out. It has to be travel sized liquids in a small ziplock bag.

Keep that disposable toothbrush Korean air gives you.

Here’s what I’m worried about: getting a bus from Inchon to Pohang at 9:45 PM+. Also, there are only 1 hour layovers on all my flights, which is awesome, if there are no problems. Again, I’m solo this time. I pray my Korean cellphone’s extra battery works, or I have some place I can charge it (LAX has charging stations, which is the nicest thing I can say for it).

Some observations on Korea I only noticed once I was in the US:

We don’t have cellphone charms. Koreans buy numerous things to put on their cellphones, which have little rings, kind of like a key chain. I got a cellphone charm in KyongJu, so I showed it to people, and they were weirded out by it.

Some people are actually morally opposed to eating dogs bread to be eaten. People I respect. Sure there are a lot of “Meat is Murder” people out there, but these are people who will eat any kind of animal they are used to, but can’t make the leap of eating dog. People have pigs for pets, and eat pigs, but dogs raised like pigs are sacrosanct.

You feel smarter when you speak the language.

I start a lot of stories with “In Korea…” now. It’s pretty much all I have to talk about.

The air is dryer here. My skin is dry and it effects my sleep. But my arms and legs fall asleep less.

My small Korean church isn’t much different than my small American church.

Even though it’s colder here, we complain less about the cold. We also stay inside more.

There are a lot of accents we take for granted as understandable, even if they’re quirky. Like Texas accents.

Driving is easy to pick back up after 5 months of not doing it. I missed the freedom.

There are a lot more public trashcans in the US. Many times more.

Our Internet isn’t THAT much slower than Korea’s. But theirs is cheaper.

We never wear those SARS masks. They wear them all the time in Korea. I stand by the statement that if they wear them in the US, we’ll think they have a highly communicable disease and avoid them.

There is more to talk about, but it’s late, and I have to get up at 5. Again.

Thanks to everyone for your help, for your prayers, and for reading this thing.

Categories: Being There, The Trip