Monday, January 29, 2007

In True Colour

I've finally updated my 365 Project and have realised it's going to look a lot more like a 133 project if I don't ACTUALLY put the effort into taking one every day.

I took a look at a few other people's and feeling a bit do you say...I SUCK AT TAKING PICTURES!!! I've only just realised that this whole project is probably mostly for arty good-picture-taking people but in the end, as any good kindergarten teacher would say, if I've had fun, that's all that matters

I'm getting ready to head home in TWO DAYS and I can't believe it. I seem to be having a mix of different emotions about the whole thing

A - I'm so excited to see all my family
B - I am only going home for really, 4 full days
C - D will not be with me
D - I'm so excited to be in an environment that feels more like what I'm used to
E - I'm so scared of what will happen to me when I have to come back

E is the one that is actually niggling away the most. When I would leave Ireland, it was different. There were things that I was able to go back to - like pubs and Marks & Spencers - that I didn't have in Canada/US and I was able to look forward to.

I don't know whether I've been here long enough to find things that will get me excited about coming back. YES PEOPLE I GET THE OBVIOUS THAT D IS A GOOD THING TO GET EXCITED ABOUT but I'm more talking about once that inital burst of glee in seeing him wears off, how will I react?

I'm really trying to love this place. And there are many things about it that I really do. Sauna Sundays have become a favorite hobby - there is nothing more relaxing than a hot sauna after a proper scrub down and a dip in a warm pool. I love the norebangs (singing rooms). Who would have thought you could jsut have your OWN ROOM to sing in, a machine ALL TO YOURSELF to sing away until the wee hours of the morning?

But I'm slowing realizing that this is a place of inequality, of Confucionism at its best, a place where you HAVE your place, you KNOW your place and you don't allow yourself to get caught up in the injustice of it all.

And anyone who knows me well, knows that's one thing about me that I have trouble with. I'm happy to follow the rules, as long as everyone else does too.

I should mostly stay in the moment, be excited right now for the anticipation of the trip and deal with the aftermath...well...AFTER.

Looking forward to seeing all your family members really soon. All I ask is that no one suggest we go and eat any Asian food. Bring on the steaks, burgers and...well anything that you can BBQ or cook in an oven....

Oh ya, and of course my dad's chilli for Superbowl!! Go Bears!!!


Friday, January 26, 2007

Let's Make a Connection

It's rare these days that I'm able to simply communicate with the guy at the grocery store or the shopkeeper selling me ice tea.

And I suppose I've gotten used to being a waegook without words in most situations.

But last night, it just happened. And suddenly, it was like I had always lived here.

I hopped into a taxi after going to the gym (please SPARE ME the 'why-go-to-the-gym-only-to-taxi-home?' routine and YOU talk to my foot after I make it run much longer than it would like. I'm at war with it at the moment and sometimes I have to pick my battles)

So, I say the usual thing I always say when I get into a taxi:

Me: Annyonghaseyo
Taxi: (either) Ne (or) Grunt (or) *blink blink*
Me: **address in the best Korean voice** juseyo (please)
Taxi: (see above)
Me: Kamsahamaneeda

As we're driving, he wants to take a left down a small street to make it faster. Parked, perpendicular to the street is this Korean parking combined with the largest population of space cadets on the planet equals DUH this guy has just blocked the road way.

Taxi man starts sighing and tsking and suddenly I felt the need to validate his frustration.

There's a word I know, a word I ONLY know because if the kids call me it, I'm not supposed to let them get away with it. (Most days, my classes can be filled with Korean chatter, most of which I have NO CLUE about and so they try to test me, knowing full well that 'teacher' can be taken advantage of - she doesn't know the language).

The word is babo. I think it means stupid. Or idiot. Or something not very nice but not as evil as any swear word in English.

So I tested it. I threw caution to the wind and just thought, well, he'll either get it or he'll kick me out of the cab.

Me: Babo
Taxi: Jinja babo

And then I laughed. Because jinja happens to be one of the 10 words I know in Korean. It means really. Really stupid/idiot.

And I couldn't stop laughing. Because he got it. And I got it back. And suddenly we were just two people in a cab, shaking our heads at the 'jinja babo' in the city centre.

And as I climbed the stairs to my house, I couldn't help but think, what happens if I finally get comfortable, finally figured this whole Korea thing out, and then it's time to go? What then?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Random Thoughts

Is there anyone in Korea who knows how to flush a toilet?


After much preparation, we're all set for what our Korean manager is calling 'Memory Pen' days - a Thursday Friday extravaganza - which, after it was finally translated from the calendar for me, essentially means get the kids to highlight important parts from the book over the past month. Sorted


If we teach at an English school, why are all the notes on the large board calendar in Korean?


My legs should be hurting more. I went to the gym on Tuesday and they are just..not..aching..ENOUGH!...although, my foot, perhaps is doing all the aching for them


How many flashcards CAN I find, download and print? And how long can I allow them to sit on my desk, waiting for me to laminate (YES YES I GET TO LAMINATE!! SEE THIS TEACHER THING DOES HAVE PERKS!!) until eventually, I just start using them as scrap paper


oh my god oh my god oh my god this time next week I'll be home!!


oh my god oh my god oh my god how the HELL am I going to come back?


Could I get an extra waegook baggage allowance just so I can bring back all the things I want to last me and D for the next 5 months?


oh my god oh my god oh my god what ARE we going to do after our 5 months is up..


And there it is. The bell tolling, tearing me from my own thoughts. Never thought I'd be happy to hear that sound.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Just Do It, As Nike Says

Since back on my feet, from breaking my foot, I have been mainly focussed on getting my foot back into running shape.

Many of you who know me will know I have turned into, over the past 5 years, one of those people who is addicted to the gym. Not addicted in the 'oh my god, I have to get that new outfit, so I can show it off to the new cute towel boy' but addicted in the REAL sense. That it is like a drug I cannot do without.

I would be called what I would consider 'hormonally challenged' although, since I'm pretty sure 51.2% of the world's population probably is (are ya with me women?) I suppose that's not really that challenging.

Since I began regularly excercising when we moved to Belfast in 2004, I just suddenly always felt better.

In the past, there were certain times of the month when I would simply have to just deal with the 'oh-look-at-that-milk-commercial-I'm-going-to-cry' and the 'I am so ANGRY THAT YOU HAVE PUT THE FORK AND KNIFE ON THE SAME SIDE OF MY PLATE YOU MORON!!!!'.

There was also the anxiety, the worry-about-everything, the not-sleeping, the I-feel-like-a-martian-among-these-people.

It was all part of the ebbs and flows of a 'woman's journey' and I suppose I just go used to it and carried on.

But then something strange happened. I began sweating my ass off in the gym and suddenly, I was not irrational and weepy during certain times, I was just me. The me you would find during the not-so-mood-swing weeks.

And it was great. And then I forgot what it was like to be a hormonal doofus. Until of course, I broke my foot and stopped exercising.

As if living in a foreign country wasn't challenging enough, I had to re-learn how to put up with the old-anxious-ridden-tear-jerky me. And so did D. And I suppose new people I met just assumed that's the person I had always been.

Well, not anymore.

After a good chat with D about when I should head back to the gym (my foot still aches most of the time, which leads me to believe the muscles are STILL learning how to work and you know my patience...)

I thought I would wait until after my sister's wedding - off to Chicago a week today and really looking forward to it - but D made the point that if I thought it was really important for my mental well being, why didn't I just go first thing Monday?

Okay, it was Tuesday night but I tell you, I had a better sleep last night, I felt more productive in the house, at school and just generally great. My foot even hurts less today then it has over the past few weeks I've been babying it.

It's good to be back people. Real good.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Stupid Waegook

I was out with a couple of girls last night, enjoyed some dinner and then we decided to head back to one of the girl's houses for a few drinks.

As we entered the convenience store, I, said as plain as day and as loudly as any waegook can,


which means thank you.

What I meant to say was


which means hello.

And the girl just smiled. You know that tolerating-you-because-you-don't-know-the-language-you-dork-face.

And me and my two friends burst out into laughter.

Because all we could think was imagine, being back in England, or Ireland or Canada and working the night shift at a convenience store and some stupid foreigner comes in and just yells

"Thank you!"

And I decided what would make it better was to try and EXPLAIN to the girl that I MEANT to say ANNYONG HASEYO but what I SAID was KAM-SA-HAM-A-NEED-A and like I totally DO KNOW the language and...

that just made my friends laugh even more.

Because that just kinda made it worse. Cause this poor girl who makes minimum wage and gets even LESS holiday probably then the no holiday that everyon else gets DOESN'T REALLY CARE what I say. She just wants me to buy something so the store makes money so she has a job....

And even though it was a stupid thing to do I hadn't laughed like that in awhile and my gut was happy that I was a stupid waegook.

THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Chat n Fat

I would love to take credit for that title but alas, it was not me but a lovely lady friend I have met here named E, who has done more interesting jobs in her 59 years then you could imagine. What's worse? She doesn't look a day over 40.

Chat n Fat was invented to describe a foreigner girls night we started a few months ago. It began when a group of us decided we were sick of drinking watery beer and soju (read: cheap vodka) and wanted a bit of a more 'civilised' night...(although, after looking at many of the pictures, I can't say that the whole evening turned out THAT civilised)

What we were after, dear friends, was WINE AND CHEESE. Here in Gimhae, and Korea for that matter, cheese is hard to come by and very expensive.

And although it may seem odd to have a dinner party and then charge people at the door, this is the way we do it here.

I was privelaged enough to host the second event, and was so glad to be able to HOST after spending 6 weeks as a hobalong.

So for about 6 bucks Canadian a head, we had about 10 different cheeses, bread and crackers. Grab yourself a bottle of wine and you have a night in.

What struck me most at the first one was how wonderful it felt to only be women in the room. There's nothing wrong with men and I'm happy to socialise with them most nights but the older I get, the more I seem to cherish time spent amongst the estrogen holders.

I'm not sure if it's that we feel we can be more open or just more silly but there is just...something...different.

There is also something about the social life here, just a sense of willingness to be around each other, that I'm not sure I will experience anywhere else I live. I've said this before, but as foreigners we are all isolated together. And that one thing in common makes all the other things that we don't have in common not really matter as much.

When we got back from holiday, I wrote an email on the Tuesday before I wanted to have the party on the Saturday to invite all the 'waegook' women. On Saturday, 14 ladies showed up.

I can't imagine anywhere I've lived, especially the Crack-berry-obsessed-give-me-a-month's-notice-Toronto world, being able to initiate an idea on a Tuesday and have everyone I emailed show up on the Saturday. Two girls even found out on FRIDAY. AND EVEN BROUGHT THEIR OWN CHEESE! (kudos, ladies. that German stuff was divine).

I guess out of all the amazing foriegn things I'm experiencing, I'm also exposed to a different kind of life among Western people like me.

And as much as I'm beginning to realise all the things I will miss about Korea when I leave, I'm also aware how much I'll miss the waegook interaction, especially the kind who understands WHY it's a Chat n Fat and STILL DON'T CARE.


Note: I hope to have some pics from the party put up soon...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Some LIght ESL Relief

Doing a bit of surfing this morning for 'extra materials' (read: any other games that ARE NOT HANGMAN) I discovered a site I had bookmarked months ago

After a bit of a sift through some of the pages, I was in stitches.

It definitely gave me a bit of a giggle, especially the 'satanic' section and the 'school life' bits.

Thank goodness the 'profession' does have a few nuts with a wicked sense of humour.


Monday, January 15, 2007

All In a Life's Work

I've been doing a little research (by little, I mean I've read through the Lonely Planet Korea Book) on Confucian practice and something struck me this morning as I got to the end of the page.

After reading through points that outlined the importance of 'honouring the family' and 'educating oneself being the sole purpose in life', the last line summed it up quite..well...frankly:

'Life is serious, it is not about fun'

After living in the 'the country that invented fun' (otherwise known as 'the craic') I'm beginning to understand why the transition has been such a challenge.

The Koreans do seem to have fun. But Korea is supposedly the most Confucius place in Asia. And it does seem that quite a few things that they do are to create the exact opposite of fun.

A bit sad really. But I guess old traditions die hard. And, if they feel as though their hardships and un-fun-ness will directly benefit something here on earth or beyond, they how can you really change that mindset?

Friday, January 12, 2007

More Pics...Cause Aren't They Worth a Thousand Words?

There's a lot of things I'd love to write but my energy is focussed right now on new books and new classes. I'm actually enjoying thinking of extra things for them to do, outside the workbooks, coming up with materials to further enhance their learning experience.

Hmm, maybe I am getting a hang of this teaching thing.

I am also trying to be diligent in my 365 project - you can see the link on the right - and although I'm taking pictures, I just haven't uploaded. January 1st is documented so I suppose if you wanted to check that out, you'd see what I'm hoping to do!

This wa show the holiday started off. No make up and after a VERY long day of travelling, we finally found a 'great wee pub' and I got what I had been waiting for - a refreshing G&T.
There were loads of food stalls like this one - B is getting some fresh duck from a friendly Tawainese dude. There are loads of these that are similiar in Korea but, this is the Tawain picture blog.

This was entitled 'The Peikenese Dog' and 'The Princess'. You can just make out the princess head but the dog is hard to see in this picture. I'm actually impressed that the breathtaking-ness of the place actually seems to come through in this photo.

"Hi, my name's A. When taking pictures of things I think I might get in trouble for, I decide to go so quickly that it turns out crooked and only half taken." Please enjoy the mini buddist prayer hut. Only enjoy it not and focus and not totally there. zen of me.

"Hi, we saw you on the ferry. Now we're seeing you at the karaoke BBQ food place on the island. Oh, ya, and you're FOREIGN. Can we have our picture taken with you?" Yes, we're a bit like the main attraction at the zoo - something you want to take your picture with, feed and hope it won't bite. We don't bite. And we even do the Asian 'peace sign pose' for your picture viewing pleasure.

And look, this has taken up just as much time as writing. But technically with all the picture I've written THOUSANDS of words. Don't ask me how many. That would require me to bust out the A-Math.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Korea: Like You've Never Heard About Before

My buddy the Awesome Bringer has written a very good - (albeit slightly long but definitely worth the read) - post about 'the scene' here in Korea.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and though ya'll might be interested in hearing about Korea from someone OTHER than me for a change, although I wish I had the time to compile all the information.

A few good video clips as well.


A.B. - thanks for today's content steal..:)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Could I BE Any Busier? (in my best Chandler Bing voice)

...and so here's a pic...

Night market with the boys in Taipei

and the price of politeness...

I won't scare you with the after picture but yes, I did eat some of this...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Made in Taiwan

This was my first purchase on vacation, on the island of Green Island, in a little shop right by the beach.

Among other things such as t-shirts and bathing suits, it also sold dried deer meat. I decided that if I was going to come back with something that was truly 'made in taiwain' it was not going to be the super spicy raw hide I had been forced to try the night before.

Of course, that wasn't as bad as what can only be described as a 'pickled chicken foot' that both D and I politely agreed to gnaw on, if only not to offend.

So, amongst the other wares that I browsed through, I decided this bracelet would suit me just fine. Favorite color and all.

It was just one of the many things that I fell in love with in Taiwan.

Granted, I was on holiday, but the entire week I could not stop feeling relaxed amongst the Taiwanese.

The food was a treat - imagine going to an upscale Chinese restaurant and paying an exorbinant amount for tasty 'real' Chinese food and then, imagine paying a fifth of the price, the food tasting five times better and enjoying it amongst people who actually invented the tastes.

The scenery was spectacular - a 7 hour journey down the west coast of the country from Taipei to Taitung - was the perfect sightseeing spot for my achey foot. I took pictures from the window, of mountains, cities, coastal beaches, little kids waiting on the platform. It was like I had toured the entire country without leaving the comfort of my seat.

Green Island was an amazement unto it's own. We were able to tour the island on our little scooter in about 20 minutes total, seeing everything from white sandy beaches, to tropical forests, from towering green mountains to dropping cliff rocks along the edge of the water.

We were even treated to snorkeling - something which I sadly have to admit that I have never done - and witnessed, what were told by others, was a more spectacular underwater world than you could find in the great coral reef.

I suppose what surprised me most about the place was the people. I have been living amongst Koreans now for 6 months and have gotten used to the way they do things. Very formal. Very conservative. Very many customs and rules.

They are friendly, but not overly chatting or smiley in public. They have a tendency to be borderline kindergartens but that innocence is what makes them so welcoming once you've been formally introduced.

The Tawainese were so very different. Comfortable and confident would be the two words I would describe them.

D and I were in cities and small places and WHEREVER we went, if we stopped for a millisecond to simply get our bearings or decide what we wanted to do next, a Tawainese person would pop out of now where, ask us how they could help us. IN. ENGLISH.

They were just so helpful. Not to say Koreans aren't helpful. They are. But 'helpful' should really be defined as 'simply stepping in, when you can see someone needs it, and not expecting anything in return and not really having any expectations about what the person you are trying to help will do'. Long definition, but this is what I found everytime someone would try and help us.

There was no air of pretention, no walking on eggshells, no need to feel you were shaking hand the wrong way or giving money awkwardly or imposing some irritating Western tradition on these people.

It's possibly that I invented this insecurity in Korea myself, trying to be too accomodating instead of just being me: Foreinger.

But what I got most out of my vacation, if not only for some rest and relaxation, it that I'm not as isolated as I thought. I understand Koreans better than I thought. And living in Korea doesn't mean I'm living in Asia, experiencing everything Asia has to offer.

It means I'm living in Korea.

And when I stumbled back into our little flat at 9:30 on Wednesday after a long day of travelling, I realised that it was starting to feel every much like home as everywhere else I've ever lived has.

But Tawain was just the escape from it all I needed.