Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Never Ending Quest to Save the Planet

This is a picture of our sink.

It's quite large in size and is actually much better than two sinks beside each other. (A's Kitchen Remodelling Tip #1.)

This is what you would assume is a garbage disposal - and what we assumed the first day we moved in. You should have seen how apprehensive we both were to put our fingers near it. Suddenly turning into one of those bad sitcom jokes where the dumb dude puts his fingers directly in the sink only to have them sliced and diced by the disposal.

Ah, but presto as in the magic world that is Korea, things are not always what they seem.

TA-DA! It's a removeable basket. So the food can collect and get all gunky in here as opposed to the pipes. Just another way you can SEE and SMELL the way you are making a difference.

You cannot see from his picture but the deep cylinder in the sink has two holes along the side to let the water through. Well, that's after the water gets through the mesh.

This is a must for the lazy cooker. Potatoe peels? Just wash them down the sink. Tops of carrots, tomoatoes, peppers 'insert any other vegetable here'? Just push it down the sink!

Okay, so I suppose this is how a disposal works but what fun is it when you can actually BRING UP all that food all over again? Just so you can see how much food your wasting?

Here's another angle, sans basket:

And here's a closer look at the basket:

And once the thing has been cleaned - again, notice the soap suds - it's time to replace the disposal-looking top to its rightful place.

As good as new. Ready to scare the next foreinger into sticking their hand in and mashing it up.

Monday, September 25, 2006

This is the Way Spa-ing it is Done

They have places here called jjimjilbangs that are essentially a little piece of heaven and are exactly what spas were meant to be.

Imagine 5 different whirlpools, all with different temperatures, a hot sauna, a wet sauna, various 'vanity' sinks at which you can sit and groom yourself and to top it off, two ladies at the back giving the best scrubs, rubs and massages you can imagine.

Massages and rubs that cost LESS than 3 gin and tonics at Morrisons in Belfast. That's only 2 hours worth of drinking...

Okay, now suspend belief a little while longer, try not to get weirded out and just simply take all your clothes off.

Then, just walk around like it's totally normal, because everyone else there is naked so there's nothing really to the fact that you're naked.

I'm think this may actually beat out Body Pump at the gym. I never thought I would say that.

But skin has never looked or felt better. I was so relaxed and yesterday, I could even feel the toxins leaking out of me.

Belfast had the 'work less, party more' attitude. Korean has the 'work like you've never worked before' and then go and relax in a hot sauna, with a bunch of other ladies you don't know but who will see more of than most of your close friends in your lifetime.

I am imagining some of you reading this and I'm imagining myself reading it before I actually came here and thinking, 'are you nuts?' but I guess, as the old V joke would go, 'it's a location thing'.

Get here and you'll get it.

Now, if I could just figure out this whole working culture thing...maybe I could mash the Belfast work culture with the Korea relax culture and just create my own island somewhere.

Friday, September 22, 2006

What 5 Minutes is Worth

I decided I would begin to write a blog exactly when the class bell rings just to see how much I could actually write in 5 minutes.

We are now being told that as of November, we will have the same schedule every day and it won't include any breaks from 2pm to 7pm (or roughly there about). This is not including the two hour long kindergartens classes we have to teach in the moring. I guess we do prep time in our sleep????

But we WILL be given 10 minutes in between each class.

This is 'a lot of time', as per the new manager that started when we did at the school.

I'll be interested to see if this makes me more tired or if 10 minutes is really enough time to regroup and get your energy back in front of kids.

As usual, we weren't going to be told until the last minute. It was only because we asked for a meeting and because we impressed the importance of us having input into the schedule considering we do teach the classes.

Korean culture is very much 'do as your told' and I've been fairly good at that my whole life, as long as I'm being respected and what I'm beign told makes sense. It's a bit difficult for us to know what makes sense if we only find out about massive changes to the school the day before they're about to happen.

all in all it was a good meeting and we made some progress. Still learning the politics of the wholething but there's politics in any job isn't there?

There goes the bell. So, according to the new schedule, I should be able to write twice this amount.

Lucky you.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

This is the Way We Compost our Food, Compost our Food, Compost our Food

(facinating how teaching kindergarten gives you this 'gift' to turn every normal sentence into a song. Sing it with me now people....early in the morning)

I thought I would give you a little glimpse into the Korean proceedure for disposal of your food garbage. When I first arrived from un-green Belfast (yes, I said it. Belfast is not green. I don't care what the leprecauns told you! them or Westlife!) I was at a loss to figure out just HOW I was going to manage all the extra time and effort it takes to actually NOT BE A TOTAL WASTER.

Now, it seems a bit like second nature.

In every household in Korea (or at least every KOREAN household as the foreign one we moved into was NOT equiped with the following device giving me an ever needed excuse to A go shopping and B spend money) the following bucket.

This looks like an ordinary bucket but I can assure you my friends, it is not. Watch as the magic unfolds:

There's another bucket inside! This smaller bucket is where the food sits. Scraps from dinner. Food that has gone off. Any item that can be composted.

And here is where the magic begins:

We have a special colour coded handle which allows us to lift out the black bucket when it is full. Let me clarify here that while you're in the house, you RARELY keep the lid off the bucket for very long. These pictures were taken AFTER I had gone outside to the green compost bin to dispose of the daily food waste. It's amazing how DISGUSTING it smells when there is rotting food in it so I avoid at all costs opening it for more than the millisecond it takes to put the food in.

(yes, you read right MILLISECOND. Amazing how fast you can master something when gagging comes into play)

So, as I was saying, when you are OUTSIDE you can easily lift the black bucket out to dump the garbage in the compost bin.

And here it is. All squeakly clean. And dish soap smelling. It's hard to tell from this image, but it's built a little like a colander, with net-like holes for the liquid to drip out. The liquid then runs into the main bucket - here's what the bottom looks like, again, freshly washed:

I haven't quite figured out why the liquid needs to drain out. I just end up pouring the liquid in the compost bin as well. Perhaps, just like laundry, the Koreans like their dirty things separate. Dirty food. Dirty liquid. Separate containers.

Once you're finished, the black bucket fits nicely back into the green one. (notice the soap suds on the metal sink - this blue bucket wouldn't be withint 100 feet of that thing if it hadn't been disinfected)

And finally, the lid retuns to it's rightful place, ending the daily ritual in a effort to keep the earth clean.

Doing my bit for the environment. One rotting apple at a time.

Tomorrow: the SINK compost and the story of how what we thought was a garbage disposal on our first day in the house, turned into just another way to have rotting food lying around.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Little Bit Fishy

We spied this beauty in a fish market near our house. I don't know if it really illustrates just how weird it is to walk along a vegetable market and come across this. A squirmy, squiggly, live octopus. Just out there. To be bought.

When I took this picture, the woman who runs the stand came over and started speaking to me in that-language-I-cannot-speak. My instinct was to get scare, as I always do when I 'get in trouble' and apologise for taking a picture of her wares.

D pointed out that perhaps she just thought I wanted to buy it. Umm ya, well I guess that would make more sense.

What brings me to finally post it today is that we have not only witnessed an octopus-to-eat live, we've EATEN it. Okay, well when I say 'we' I me D but since we do the highs and the lows together, I might as well take credit for his bravery.

We were out with the teachers the other day for a much needed bonding eating session. They took us for sashimi, kind of like sushi but without the rice so as one of the skinny-weight-conscious Korean teachers said 'it's not as many calories'. Nuff said.

The fish was absolutely delicious. The best full I've ever had.

But before they busted out the pieces of fish, there were many courses of things, things which we just dive in and try most of the time and which brave D can say he ate all of.

It was when they brought out the 'live octopus'. People, understand this. IT IS LIVE. IT IS MOVING. IT IS TRYING TO LIVE.

In a little dish, tiny pieces of the octopus squirmed and squiggled around.

'Live octopus' one of the teacher said.

In my most polite - although high pitched - voice 'Oh, so they are live?'

'Yes' he nodded in the same way one might confirm that one would in fact like cream in the coffee.

And, since in comfortable company, I felt comfortable saying I would pass.

What I would have liked to say is that if that squirmy thing passes my lips, all those other wonderful fishes and vegetables and who knows what I've just eaten will most certainly come right back up. And then I will ruin everyone's meal.

But there was D. After struggling with his chopsticks, he finally nabbed one and threw the slimy sucker back.

After it was in his mouth, the aforementioned teacher let us know that sometimes, you can be 'suffocated' by the suction of the octopus. SUFFOCATED??? WHY DOES THAT SOUND WORSE THAN CHOKING??? ANYONE WITH ME HERE??

And so he chewed. And chewed. And chewed.

And I did a quite side 'how is it?' to which he simply nodded, as he was still chewing.

He didn't get sick. He was in great form all night. And I'm sure he didn't give a second thought to the little guy he 'killed' in his mouth.

Braver than I. Although, I'm not sure he'll try it again. One of those 'only live once' moments.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Rainy Sunday

The weather gave us a gift this weekend. It was horrible.

We had planned to head straight from work on Friday to take in some sights in Busan, but the rain poured down and threats of a typhoon kept us away from the seaside town.

It was a blessing in disguise as what we both really needed was to do nothing all weekend. We are still covering off shifts which means we are working a lot longer with a lot more kids and that means more energy and time spent not only teaching but perparing.

By Friday, we were both so wrecked. We made a pact that there would be no negative school talk - sometimes we can't resist telling each other what our little ones do like when James tried to eat paste or when Alex kept 'cheating' all the other students - but it was more to keep the negative vibes of the politics surrounding the current work environment.

It amazed me how on Friday night, after a couple of glasses of wine and a hour of no negative work talk (NNWT), we felt refreshed.

For the next few weeks, our weekends will be our peace time. And, as much as I'd love the weather to explore, what I needed were two days of crappy stuff to regroup.

I keep telling myself this week will be better. It's only Monday but I'm not feeling AS drained as I did last Monday. Fingers crossed.

I'm also struggling with the culture shock side effects I think. We were listening to a Westlife song on Saturday night and I burst into tears, thinking about everything and everyone in Belfast we left behind. I was homesick for a place that I only called home for 2 years.

And, as nostalgia always is, I was forgetting all the reasons we wanted to leave. The monotany of drinking every weekend. The frustration of work life in a place where innovation is slightly lacking. The lack of ANYTHING to do but go to the pub. The costs. The weather. The feeling that if I'm going to simply set up a life, why am I not setting it up near my family? All these things escape your mind when you're looking back fondly

Culture Shock hitting me harder this time then it ever has before. I suppose on one hand it's good that I can recognise that this is what's happening.

I have a friend from university who has lived in much more exotic places then I - Rwanda, Papua New Guinea, China and most recently Kuwait - who I've had conversations with about the culture shock thing.

Although hers has been much more extreme, I feel like I can relate to a recent email she sent me, saying that she was having culture shock worse then she'd ever had it before. I can only imagine the differences in living like a place in Kuwait but I also feel like we're in a similar position.

You start to think it gets easier. You've done this more than once. And then it hits you like a brick wall. And you feel al bit helpless because you know how long it's going to last. And you know the types of things that will fix it. And you know how long it can take to make those things happen.

So just in the waiting game at the moment. The change is what makes it hard and I'm sure it will change all over again once the new foreign teachers arrive.

So I know this isn't over yet.

As a little hero I used adore once said, 'The sun will come out tomorrow'

Let's just hope I'm not in need of another vegging weekend when it does.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Let's Lighten it up, People

So, I've had a few intense blah blogs and thought I'd lighten it up a little with these pictures:

Nothing says hot holiday like a tank top. This was in a historic village in Seoul. I could have hung out here all day. It was so peaceful.

Sleeping area - hmmm..not quite sure about that. Bascially a gym mat on the floor. No wonder they drink so much Soju here. Makes it easier to just pass out on the floor.

A little proud moment - our Canadian representation in the Korean War. This was at the War Memorial in Seoul. Such a fantastic museum.

The gate of a tomb of some famous dude. I find the wood work facinating. After seeing it in pictures so many times over the years, it is quite surreal to actually see it in person.

The birthday boy's food spread. I'm telling ya, I'm getting to love all this food. And the whole chopsticks thing? Well, it feels TOO WEIRD to even use a fork now. Although, the Koreans are still kind enough to always bring them to us.

No Sleeping, Just Teaching

Well, it has been a busy week for the A-D team. We are now covering all of the morning classes as the two other foreign teachers have left.

We will be paid overtime, although I'm not sure it will do us any good if we are dead from exhaustion by the end of the month, which is when we're being told we will have new teachers.

There are many more thing that have taken up the week but it's not appropriate to go on and on about it here, at least not until we have new teachers in the school.

The snakes have shed their skins and we're are being treated pretty much like gold, as anyone who can read between the lines can imagine.

Without us at this stage, there really isn't anything 'foreign' about the hogwan.

We're hoping to also push for a full week off in October as opposed to the Tuesday, Thursday Friday that we were supposed to get off for the Korean Thanksgiving, Chusok.

I think we'll need it after the next couple of weeks.

To top it off, the strange hayfever-ragweed-grass-allergy thing that I seem to get EVERY SEPTEMBER no matter what country I'm in is hitting me now. My sinuses feel like there are screws in them and my head is in a ...what are those things called that you crank and crank to make smaller? We used to use them in wood shop? To hold our crappy ash trays or wooden bowls or whatever? My brain is mush.

Still have breaks tomorrow so hopefully will be able to come up with something a bit more interesting.

Life's just a bit swirly right now. I feel like I'm never going to stop saying that.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Snakes in the Grass

Yes, you may have forgotten this popular saying with the Snakes-on-a-plane talk going on all over the internet - and I can only assume it's in the papers and on tv, some new thriller with Samuel Jackson and the craziest gimick title ever.

Yes, the oringinal snakes in the grass has been coming to my mind over the last week.

To coin another movie phrase, Houston, we have a problem.

Living in Korea can sometimes make you feel like you're trying to avoid a snake in the grass at all costs. Or maybe it's more a wolf in sheep's clothing.

On the outside, all Koreans are courteous nice, polite and welcoming. Always wanting to make you feel at home and shower you with hospitality.

I've read to be careful of those wanting to give you something as it's never something for nothing. So, I know, free dinners, free drinks, free anything is not actually free.

This is true everywhere, but there just more subtle here.

And that's not to say they are insincere. Sometimes by just being a good English teacher to someone's child deems you worthy of a gift.

There is a bit of drama going on at work and I'm beginning to see the true colours of a few Koreans. This is not a lovely rainbow people, this is black black black.

It's actually not to do with gifts but with promises or what in North America we like to call contracts. Yes, we all know that when we get a job, we sign a contract, we are entitled to what's in the contract. That's the whole point of having them.

I have read that Koreans put contracts together for the foreigners, to make them feel better, to lull them into a sense of security. To make them think they are being valued in a way that they are used to being valued at home.

And sometimes, they are followed. And sometimes there are no problems.

This week, we're having some problems and I worry that this will taint my experience of this country.

I just want the drama to be over so I can get back to my quirky observations and interesting insights (insert smirk here).

Note to family members: no need to panic. Just unloading some thoughts swirling in my head. All will be clearer next week.

A bit of a downer but no point in painting this experience in pink just because it sounds nicer.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

There is a Season Turn Turn Turn

I got my house back! I finally live again in a house. There are multiple rooms.

I was so excited about this fact that my body actually woke me up AN HOUR EARLY which enabled me to sit in my LIVING ROOM leisurely reading my book.

I don't know how people live in bachelor apartments. I really don't. I have lived in a very small one bedroom apartment (with another person, so this goes to show you how close we were, also considering people were taking bets on how long we'd be friends after squeezing ourselves into the place for a year).

Yes, so small tiny apartment is one thing, one room is another.

We're also getting set to go through another adjustment. Our American friends are going home. Their contract isn't up until February but the girl, L, has serious back problems and they're just not going to get better on the old beds provided by the school.

So, we know their leaving and now we must wait to see who the new teachers will be.

We've kinda gotten into a good groove with them. They like the same things we do. Hanging out, in pubs not clubs. Buying DVD box sets and trading. Drinking games and cards, at home.

Who knows what the new teachers will be like? And really, they're our only friends.

In all my other adventure, I never had it so easy when I arrived. House. Job. Friends - I mean, who else would the other teachers talk to? They had only been here 3 months longer than us.

Now, I've got this gittery feeling in my stomach, like I'm arriving all over again and having to go through the culture shock 'i'm-a-big-loser-no-one-likes-me' phase. I was just getting near the end of it but I'm worried it's about to hit all over again.

Part of me is excited - it seems a bit like a new adventure, one where our weekends will need to be structured as we don't have our friends to just call up and go out with.

Maybe we'll see more. Maybe this will force us to learn Korean. We can't rely on them to help us with the language any more.

Part of me will feel better when they're gone. Not that I won't miss them, I just hate the lead up to missing people. I don't really like the lead up to leaving somewhere either - kinda of like a band-aid, I just want it ripped off.

On a positive note, I have lost a class (yes, this is positive) which means I have about 3 less teaching hours a week. I was getting into the groove of doing it but I can't say I'm not happy to not be working after 630 every single day - only on Tues and Thurs now.

I'm sure it will change again so I need to enjoy it while it lasts.

On a final note, I wanted to send out a big contgratulations to two of my dearest friends on the arrival of their little miracle.

Z. J. M. was born happy and healthy a couple of weeks ago.

You can read about them previously here and here.

And here is a shot of the bundle of joy quite a few of us from our graduating high school class have been waiting a long time to meet.

Welcome to the world Z-man. It will be great to meet you someday. You are one of the most desired little people on this planet.

When I saw the pictures of your mom and dad holding you, I could feel their giddiness all the way in Korea. You're a very special and lucky little guy. I would have said that even if you didn't take too many years to arrive.