Tuesday, December 28, 2004

My First Day in Korea: Early Days Part 3

I woke up at about 11 on my first day in Korea. What woke me up was yelling through a loud speaker.

"Panana, panana, panana. Ee chon won. Ee chon won," it said over and over and then cycled on to a similar repeated message. There was an urgency in the voice that worried me. Was there some sort of disaster that I didn't understand? I wondered.

The guy was just selling bananas, but I would't figure that out for a few days. "Bananas, Bananas, Bananas. 2,000 won. 2,000 won," is what he said.

I got out of bed and headed to the bathroom. This was the first time I used it, and I have to say, I was a little confused. Was this tiny tile room really our bathroom? Was this nozzle hanging off of my sink really the shower?

Unable to find another shower in the place, I used the nozzle hanging off of the sink. It was awkard, it was weird, but I made it through using my entire bathroom as a shower.

I got out, dressed and looked around. Everyone was gone....except some man on our floor who was still asleep. I assumed that he was Kevin.

Luckily, I still had an energy bar in my bag, because the cupboards had nothing I could eat. I looked in the fridge, and there was only one small thing of water. I'd better not take that, I thought, and just lived with being thirsty. I had already been warned about the tap water in Korea. That stuff's not for drinkin'.

Growing bored with reading, I headed outside to check out my neighborhood. It looked a lot different in the daytime. Behind me was what I considered at the time to be a small mountian, but is really just a big hill. In front of me was a small river (that would swell to a huge river in a couple weeks). And all around me was city.

I walked up to Toy Toys, the store I had passed about five times the night before. Luckily after some sleep it was funny again. I stood on the corner for a while. Across the river were big buildings with huge buildings right behind them. I didn't know it then, but that was downtown.

I looked to my right, and there was a bridge with a huge dragon sculpture on each of it's four corners. I didn't know it at the time, but Korean roads don't names (well, they technically do, but no one uses them...most Koreans don't even KNOW them because they aren't on the signs). Instead, Koreans navigate by landmarks. Each bridge had different sculptures on it to tell you where you were in town: down the street was a sculpture that looked a little like Mickey Mouses's head. Near the soccer stadium, there's the fish bridge. And near my house it was the dragons.

I looked to my left, and saw what I thought was a park. My recruiter had told me over the phone that my apartment was near a park. I wanted to check it out, so I decided to go that way.

I was terribly unimpressed. What I thought was a park turned out to be just a ten foot wide stretch of trees and grass that ran beside the road for about a block. Truthfully, it wasn't a park of all. It was only a ten foot wide stretch of trees and grass that ran beside the road for about a block. The park was that big hill that I mentioned earlier, but I wouldn't know that for a few days.

I kept walking and came to an intersection. I decided to turn, and check out all the buildings up the hill to my left. I'd like to say they were interesting, but they turned out to be pretty boring, just shops. Some of which were even American: Seven-Eleven, Baskin Robbins.

I was thirsty, but I realized all I had was American money on me. How would I buy anything anyway? I thought. I didn't speak Korean.

By this time, I started to get worried that I'd get lost. I couldn't even ask for directions if I did. I decided it was time to turn back.

Still thirsty, still bored, I came back into the apartment hoping that "Kevin" would be awake. He wasn't. It was about another hour before he did wake up.

"Hi," I said when he came out of the bathroom. "I'm Ryan. Are you Kevin?"

"Nope," he said. "I'm Bart. Kevin is on his way to Thailand by now." A little confused by the strange man in my new apartment, I had to ask why he was there.

Bart, it turned out was a friend of Chris. The night before, he had gotten a little tipsy and lost the keys to his new apartment. He didn't have the phone number for his new landlord, so he had to stay over at someone's house until he could ask a friend for that phone number. Luckily, he stayed at our apartment, because I would have been screwed without him.

I told Bart how hungry and thirsty I was.

"There's water in the fridge," he said. "Why didn't you trink that?"

"It's Chris's, isn't it?"

"So," he said and poured himself a glass, then poured me one.

I drank two or three glasses as we talked. Bart had been in Korea for almost two years. He just quit his job to try and teach only private lessons. Something that is illegal in Korea, but much much more lucrative. Bart soon found out that this wasn't feasible, because his visa expired two weeks after he quit his job and he couldn't get a new one without having a legal source of income. He found a part time job to make himself legal and piled on what private lessons he could.

"All I have is American cash," I said. "I need to get some Korean money to buy some food."

"I'm heading downtown anyway," he said. "I'll just take you to my bank."

And he did.

The bus to downtown was packed. "Hold on tight," Bart said. "These drivers don't seem to remember that there are people standing back here." I got jerked around for the ten minute trip, almost falling a couple of times. I still haven't gotten used to the way the bus drivers drive, but then again, everyone drives like that in Korea.

Downtown was overwhelming up close. Lots of neon and lots of height, but the strangest thing was the depth. After walking a block or two, Bart ushered me to a stairwell.

"We have to go underground for a few blocks."

Under the street was an entirely different street. There were shops and fountains for blocks and blocks. It was like a hidden city under the city.

We came back to the surface right in front of Bart's bank. He changed my money for me. While the cashier was counting out my money, Bart turned to me.

"Notice anything weird," he said. I hadn't. "Look harder."

I looked around. "What's with the glasses?" I said. Right in the middle of the bank on the little counter that's usually used for filling out checks and such, there were several pairs of glasses chained down.

"They're for reading. Most older Koreans don't bother to buy reading glasses, so the bank provides them," he explained. "Notice anything else."

"What's with the booth in the doorway?" I asked.

"It's a guy selling cell phones. The banks just let those venders come right inside and sell things."

I got outside and counted my money.

"Quite a stack, isn't it?" Bart said.

It was indeed. The highest denomination in Korean currency is 10,000 won, which is only about $10. I had just changed in a little over $400. I felt loaded, and quite frankly, a little uncomfortable carrying around such a big stack of cash.

I was starving at this point, so I asked Bart where we could eat.

"What do you feel like?" he asked.

"Well, I'm a vegetarian..."

"Man, Korea's going to be rough for you." He was right. Korea is heavy on the meat. I soon found that it was much harder to avoid it than in the US. Still, I've had very few slip ups since I've been here. My first day here was one of them. "So anyway, what do you feel like?"

"I don't know, maybe some noodles?" I said remembering that Korean noodles were vegetarian.

Bart took me to a little noodle place nearby. Sure, Korean noodles are vegetarian, Korean noodles: Nang-myawn. What we had were Japanese noondles: la-myawn (or Ramen as we call it back home).

I wasn't too keen on the egg in the noodles, but I picked it out. I wouldn't have eaten it, though, had I known at the time that la-myawn is made with beef or chicken stock, which made for a nice stomach ache that I blamed on the spiciness at the time.

Bart had to teach a lesson, so he took me back to my apartment after stopping me off at a grocery store to pick up a few things. Grocery stores are generally much smaller in Korea. The American type food is in the international section: foods such as baked beans and peanut butter and olives.

I thanked Bart and headed back up to my apartment for the map. It was only about 4 by then, and I thought it would be nice to check out the school before I had to actually work there the next day.

The map Chris had drawn me the night before got me to the intersection of the school. My problem was that I was looking for an American school there, not a Korean school. I saw nothing, and turned around to make the mile walk back to my apartment. Turns out I was standing nearly right under my school but didn't think to look for it on the sixth floor of an office building.

I cooked myself a dinner of rice and vegetables: a diet that would cause me to lose ten pounds and nearly go crazy in my first week in Korea. It wouldn't be for about a month that I really understood how to eat here.

Chirs came back to the apartment at about six. He showed me around the area a little more. We had a few beers, and then I went to bed, trying to rest up for my first day at Swaton. I fell right asleep again, even though I was nervous about my first day of teaching.

Introductions: Early Days Part 2

When I rang the intercom, there was no answer at first. I opened the door, which he had left unlocked for me. Just as I did, out walked Chris, my new roommate. My first impression of Chris as he stood there in his underwear was that he looked like someone who had once been in very good shape and then tried very hard to go out of shape quickly. I'd later find out that this wasn't far from the truth.

"Oh, hey man, let me get some pants," he said.

I should mention at this point that there are several Chrises in my Daejon life. This is Chris #1, or Classic Chris. He was my first roommate, and he and I still hang out sometimes. I'd meet Chris #2 in a few days. He's a co-worker that everyone calls Logan to differentiate him from Classic Chris. Logan is also a Hoosier, by the way. He's from Logansport, but that has nothing to do with his nickname. Chris #3 is an English major that I sometimes talk to at bars. He's usually Chris with Glasses, or Book Chris. Chris #4 is my current roommate. There's a whole post somewhere in my head just about him. I usually call him Wichita for reasons that will be apparent later.

Chris did get some pants but didn't bother with a shirt. He should have.

Classic Chris and I chatted as we headed down to get my luggage. I really wouldn't know much about him for a few days, though.

"How long have you been here, man?" I asked. I knew nothing about him up until this point.

"A little over a year."

"Do you like it here?" I asked.

"Yeah, I do. I only with I had come here sooner." This was surprisingly apt. Classic Chris is one of those people that likes Korea more than home. He'll probably stay here for years, maybe forever. He loves the place despite the fact that he can't really speak any Korean.

We got out my luggage and my bike and took it all upstairs. My bike was a hassle getting upstairs just like it was a hassle during every other part of the tip: getting on the plane, finding it when I got off the plane, getting it in the taxi, and now getting it to my apartment. A hassle that was expensive ($130 to bring with me) and a hassle that would only last me six weeks until it was stolen.

My new apartment was tiny, but everyone told me it was going to be tiny, so I was surprised at how big it actually was. We had two small bedrooms, a small bathroom, a decent sized kitchen, and a nice living room to share. Considering most Korean apartments just have two rooms (one that's half kitchen) and a very tiny bathroom, we actually made out alright.

"Want a beer?" Chris asked. "We saved on for you."

"Sure," I said. I actually did, even though I'm not a huge beer drinker. It was the best beer I had ever had in my life. I didn't realize how thirsty I was.

"Kevin's in the other room," he said. "He's the guy you're replacing. He's a good guy; you'll like him." I did like Kevin, but I don't see how Chris could know that. All he could possibly know about me so far was that I liked to bike.

I wouldn't meet Kevin for several weeks, though. He went on a tour around Asia the next morning before I got up, and I didn't meet him until he got back.

"Tomorrow, just sleep in," Chris told me. "Rose said you don't have to come in to work if you don't want to, unless you just want to check the place out." I did want to check the place out and asked for a map. He scribbled one out quickly for me and tried to explain to me a city that I had yet to really see (aside from the same stretch of road about five times on the way in).

A wandered into my room after he went to sleep thinking I wouldn't be able to sleep in my new room. I was wrong. The bed was small, it was hard, and the sheets were itchy, but damned if I didn't pass out the moment I hit that hard itchy surface.

My Arrival: Early Days Part 1

I was sitting around just wondering what to write about now that I have all this extra time. Korean Food? Done that. Beautiful Korean Women? I can't stop writing about that. Traffic? Boring. What I'm doing today? Very boring.

Then I remembered: I didn't start this blog until I was here a few months. Sure, I sent out a couple emails before that, but there's a whole lot that I left out about my first few months in Korea, a whole lot.

So anyway, welcome to the first installment (of who knows how many) trying to remember back about when I first got here. Luckily, I took notes and have already written stories about what happened way back then, so it should be easy. Anyway here it goes:

Korean Ryan Arrives in Korea

It was about 12 when I stepped out into the hot, muggy Korean night. I had just spent 22 hours on a plane or in an airport. Then I spent another hour fighting for my luggage, getting my passport stamped, and trying to find my recruiter. I was exhausted.

CJ, the recruiter, had already flagged down a cab for me and paid for it. She helped me load my luggage and then said goodbye. I'd never see her again.

As soon as we pulled away, the cab driver tried to start a conversation. Cab drivers often do this. Now-a-days, I love cab drivers, because they give me a good way to try out my Korean. I'm stuck in a tight space with a guy who almost never knows any English for 15 minutes. I've probably spoken more Korean with cab drivers, store clerks, and waitresses than I have with anyone else in Korea...including co-workers and my Korean teachers (they all know English).

"Hang-gungmal hey-yo?" he said. All I knew how to say in Korean at that point was hello, and I wasn't very confident in saying that. I didn't learn how to say "I don't understand" in Korean for a few more days.

What is said was, "do you speak Korean?" Which was what I suspected at the time, so I shook my head no. What he literally said was "Korean language do?" That's how you ask it in Korean.

"Ah," he said in a distinctly Korean way. I doubt I could replicate the sound if I tried.

The cab driver tried to speak to me a bit more. He used a lot of hand gestures (something most Koreans don't do) even though he was driving. It is amazing how much you can communicate with hand gestures. I got very good at it in my first few months here.

"Se she," he said to me and held up three fingers. He said, "three hours," (or three in the morning--it means different things depending on context, but here it had both meanings), but I had no idea that that is what he said at the time. The drive from Incheon (where the airport is) to Daejon (where I live) is about three hours. I had no idea that is was so far at the time and only had a vague idea what the signs saying 200 km really meant time wise.

He only said one more thing to me for the next few hours.

"Seoul," he said and pointed out his window.

"Ah," I said in a distinctly American way. I assumed this meant that what I was seeing was Seoul. It was big. It seemed bigger than any city I'd been to. And it wasn't even Seoul.

Seoul was just in that general direction. What he was point to was downtown Incheon. But Korean cities are built up, not out, so it was still impressive to me at the time. And I can't even begin to explain what Korean cities look like at night. They look like how I imagine Las Vegas to look: neon everywhere. I wouldn't actually see Seoul for a little over a month.

One of the stangest things I saw that first night were the neon crosses. The churches almost always have them on the top and all of them light up at night. They come in three colors: Red, white, and blue. I have no idea what the colors mean, but I imagines it's something about the church.

I could see the mountains off in the distance, and I was in awe, but I hadn't seen anything yet.

After we got away from the city and on the highway, I realized exactly how tired I was. I had been awake for about three days at that point. I was too nervous to sleep before I left. I couldn't sleep on the plane. And I was having trouble sleeping in the cab. I couldn't sleep mostly because of the speed alarm.

The speed limit was 100 km/h. The driver kept going over it. Ever time he did, an alarm went off and said something in Korean that I still don't understand (although I never hear it in the city). Every time the alarm went off, I jerked back awake.

The driver noticed this. He gave me what I thought was a caffine pill.

"Here," he said. "Drink up." It was the only English I heard him speak.

I looked at the pill in my hand. It was big. Too big. What the hell, I though. It would probably be rude not to take it. I gulped it back without water and felt a little better. I shouldn't have. I later found out it was gum.

In any case, the placebo effect kept me awake the rest of the trip. I tried to figure out the signs. I couldn't read Korean yet, so I had no idea what they said. I'd see a sign with one word in English and about 15 in Korean. I doubt the translations were literal.

After about an hour of trying to read signs and trying to see scenary in the dark, I realized that I wasn't going to make it. I needed a rest stop before we hit Daejon. I didn't know how to say bathroom. I didn't know how to say stop. I didn't know how to say break, or toilet, or pee-pee, or potty. I was tried to figure this out for about 15 minutes before I gave up.

I waited for a rest stop sign to come up. "Can we stop, " I said. "I need to use the bathroom." Nothing. "Toilet," I said and pointed to my crotch. Then he got it. My first restroom in Korea was nice by Korean standards. It didn't stink or cause me to wretch a little, so it was fine.

It wasn't too much longer that we hit Daejon. The first thing I was struck by was the urbanness of Daejon. It was mountains, then bang, it was urban. The outskirts look like Chicago...or at least East Chicago. I probably could have imagined I was there had it not been for the funny letters on the signs.

I knew there was a problem when the driver kept circling the same stretch of road over and over. The store "Toy Toys" was funny the first time, but not nearly as funny the fifth. Eventually, the driver pulled into an alley and got out. I came with him.

I looked around. The small three story apartment buildings looked the same, exactly the same. We went into the first one. We went to 302. The driver rang the intercom (Korean apartments all have intercoms instead of doorbells). A Korean answered. The conversation I didn't understand at all. I can only imagine what it must have been.


"Hi, does a foreigner live here?"

"What? No. It's three in the morning."

By this time, it was raining. Raining hard (it would for another month). We went outside and the cab driver motioned me to stay inside. I tried to follow again and he pushed me back in. I waited in the doorway while he must have checked all the other 302s in the buildings around my apartment. Eventually he found it, not because he rang, but because he found a not in English. He took me to it.

"Hi Ryan," it said. "We waited up for you, but we still have to work tomorrow. When you get in, wake me up to say hi. Chris."

Monday, December 27, 2004

Three Days into Break

And I've barely left my apartment. Damn this new computer and its wonderous computiness.

Still, I've got plans for later in the week. I swear, I'll leave for more than just the gym and grocery store tomorrow.


Saturday, December 25, 2004

Check out this sweet haul I got from my students (and other teachers). My favorite is the card from Amy: You open it and it plays a scary christmas song and is accompanied by the message, "To Ryan. I love you, teacher. Merry Christmas. From Amy." Ain't she sweet. Posted by Hello

Look at how dashing I look in my nice warm coat. Keeps the shivers away. Thanks Grandma Shepherd. Posted by Hello

Beans! Mexican food doesn't exist in Korea. Thanks Granny for this and the other food. Posted by Hello

Pants! No more burlap bags for me! Thanks Granny and Pappy! Posted by Hello

Yep, I still read in English. And you can't go wrong with Chuck Palahniuk and Elmore Leonard. Thanks Granny. Posted by Hello

A Christmas present to myself. Sweet Jesus this thing is nice. Quiver in envy at a meer picture of this wonderful beast. Thanks me. Posted by Hello

Why would I want comic books for Christmas? Because I'm a dork, that's why. Thanks mom. Posted by Hello

Yep, now I have actual traction when I climb mountains. You think I could climb before? You ain't seen nothin' yet. Thanks Mom. Posted by Hello

No more of those awkward moments when I'm teaching English and my pants fall down. Thanks Lis. Posted by Hello

Mmmmm, Christmasy. Thanks Aunt Lisa and Stacey. Posted by Hello

They sing. They dance. They make me breakfast. Thanks Aunt Lisa. Posted by Hello

Yahoo! No more getting lost in the mountains! Thanks Aunt Lisa (and also thanks for the candy. I took a picture of myself eating some, but I must have lost it) Posted by Hello

Probably the best picture I got of the couple Posted by Hello

A decent picture of the couple while exchanging vows. That bright light near their heads is the cameraman. He was rather intrusive. Posted by Hello

A crappy picture during the ceremony (it was hard to get good ones) Posted by Hello

A picture of the preacher (and cameraman) before the ceremony Posted by Hello

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Happy Holidays!

I know it's a little early for you guys back home, but tomorrow is Christmas Eve here. So happy holidays to everyone!

Thank you to everyone that sent gifts. I've gotten all of them that I knew I was going to get (thanks Granny, Mom, Alissa, Aunt Lisa, Stacey, and Aunt Beck). I've been taking pictures of myself openning them and will post them when I get a chance (probably not until my computer is working at home).

Anyway, I hope you all have a great holiday season, and I promise I'll be in the US for it next year.


The Explanation

Okay, so there's more. I've been telling you all in emails that I'll explain it when I have time. I have a little right now, so here we go.

Posts 1-4 are about my weekend, but that's not all the craziness in my life right now. There's also:

1) The fact that two people were sick last week and early this week, adding an extra few hours of teach a day for me up until now.

2) The fact that it's the end of the month, and I'm getting everything together for that (Swaton goes in one month cycles, so all grading and progress reports are done monthly).

3) The fact that I'm gearing up for next month. One foreign teacher is leaving (and not being replaced). Rose is leaving (and not being replaced). AND next month is intensives. Intensives are one month long classes for over the Christmas break. This was kids that normally don't have time to learn English can get a crash course. My work load is getting a lot bigger for a month (but then will calm down when the new foreign teacher comes--a month and a half too late--and when intensives end).

4) Then there's the fact that I'm poor (from the computer stuff and Christmas presents). The fact that I STILL am trying to get my computer stuff worked out (they internet isn't up yet and I have to meet with the tech again today). AND they fact that it's the holidays and I'm on the other side of the world from all my loved ones.

Well, it's not hell, but it been one hell of a couple of weeks. I'm so glad I have next week off.


Monday, December 20, 2004

The Teacher's Dinner Fiasco: My Weekend (Part 4 of 4)

This, my friends, is a true fiasco if there ever was a fiasco.

After the wedding, all of the Swaton employees headed over to the teacher's dinner. When I say all, I mean all but Rose. She said she just felt too uncomfortable going knowing that she wasn't really part of the team there anymore. Plus there was the tension with Mrs. Gu (and there was...and is...indeed tension). That should have been my first clue to back out. Rose is usually kind of a tone setter for these kinds of things.

Apparently, they have this dinner every year to thank everyone and just have a good time. And have a good time some people did.

I sat down at a table with all the male staff of Swaton. This was mostly just the foreign teachers, but also Smith, the one male Korean teacher, and Kevin, who's job I don't really understand. Kevin seems to do pretty much everything at Swaton--everything but teach. He's a great guy and whoops my butt at Starcraft. We're friends, even though we can barely communicate (his English is about as good as my Korean).

Well, the guys like to drink, and the booze was free. I could probably just leave it at that, and you could pretty much imagine the rest, but I'll keep going. Darryl, Chris, and Logan had started drinking early in the evening at Darryl's house. I was with them but decided to abstain. Logan, in particular, had quite a bit before we even made it to the wedding.

Having their pre-party buzzes going, they kept them up with an endless steam of beer and the infamous soju. If you haven't read my earlier post about soju, just know that it's potent stuff, deceptively potent stuff.

I kept my drinking to beer and am glad I did.

Before dinner even started, Logan was getting loud. By the time dinner was over, all three of the other guys were whooping it up. I decided to head on over to the ladies table and chat with them, but even though I was about 20 feet away or so, I wasn't left out of the conversation.

Now here's where the fiasco really begins: they expected us to sing. Darryl had selected a song before we even got to the party. It was some remake of a pop song by Wham. Now, I'd like to say that I've kept up on my Wham song bibliography over they years, but I had never heard this song before. I don't even remember the title, all I remember is that the first line was "Last Christmas I gave you my heart..." I'm not sure where it went from there for two reasons. 1) Because they may have dragged me up on stage, but I sure as hell wasn't singing. Apparently they didn't realize that I wasn't drunk too. 2) I had no idea what they were singing: Chris was mumbling quietly. Darryl was only saying a word here and there. And Logan was belting it out, but I'm not sure he was singing in English.

They dragged me back to the guys table when we were finished.

"Fiasco!" Logan yelled and slumped into his seat.

Points were given out after other people were given an opportunity to sing. We didn't do well. Logan was particularly mad about this.

"We were robbed," he yelled and then made it clear that he was leaving soon.

By leaving soon, he must have meant stick around for another half hour and talk about leaving, because that's what he did. But when he finally did go, he took the other two with him.

"Ryan, come on," Darryl leaned over and said. "Let's get out of here."

"Where are you going? I don't have cash to do anything." This was an excuse, but it was also true. See my computer post.

"I don't know yet, but we'll cover you. You need to come out with us."

Well, I didn't. One by one they went outside and never came back. Things got quieter, but not necessarily any more sane.

The singing continued. Then dancing. Then parodies of game shows. And lots and lots of talking...all in Korean, so I had no idea what was going on. No idea what was going on for at least another hour and a half.

I stuck it out, but I was bored as hell. I caught Rachel on the way back from the restroom.

"Are you having fun?" she asked.

"Not so much." I said.

"Me either," she said and headed back into the dinner. I was thinking of ducking out, but I figured if she could do it, I could.

I signed when it was all over and went straight of the elevator. It was packed in, mostly with people from other schools owned by the same people that own Swaton, but Smith was also in the elevator with me. He didn't have the headstart that the foreign teachers had, but he was still a little tipsy.

"Ryan, I'm so impressed you stayed."

"Nah, it's nothing." I said.

"No, I mean it. You got to see me sing, and you stayed. I'm really impressed. It means a lot to me."

"Okay," I said. "It's really no problem."

Then he said something to everyone in the elevator in slurred Korean that I didn't understand. Apparently it was about me because the other elevator riders all started clapping and patting me on the back. I'm not exactly sure why.

I talked to Smith for a second when we got to the bottom and then walked home, still bored and a little out of it for letting my mind wander for a few hours. I walked home even though it was cold and nearly a two mile walk. But then, these things happen.


The Wedding Fiasco: My Weekend (Part 3 of 4)

Okay, it's not a fiasco, but I've got a theme going here.

Weddings in Korea are odd in that they're mostly the same. It's those little differences that get you.

The clothing is the same: Gal's all decked out in a flowing white dress, Guy's in a tux. There isn't a wedding party (so there isn't a wedding procession), but the mothers DO go up to the front and light candles (they, however, are in traditional Korean clothing). At the wedding I went to, there was a little slide show before hand that showed the bride and groom at more and more recent times until there was a picture of them together...then a picture of them together in their wedding clothes.

The ceremony started out pretty much the same (or I can assume it did because it was all in Korean)...but here's where things got a little odd. About half way through the preacher talking (and yes, preacher is correct. It was a Christian wedding) one of my friends from work tapped me on the shoulder.

"We have to go eat now," she said.

"What?" I said, "they're still in the middle of the ceremony."

"Yeah, I know," she said. "But it's our turn to eat."

See, in Korea, most people get married at what are affectionately called "wedding factories." The couple has a limited amount of time to get married, have a reception, and get the hell out of there before the next couple comes in. So there isn't enough time to lounge around just watching a wedding. Oh no, you have to go and take part in the reception right in the middle of the ceremony.

The buffet style set up was right next door. I casually ate and then strolled back to the ceremony. Korean weddings must be rather long, because everything was still going on...and people were still getting up and heading over to the buffet as they felt like it.

The ceremony ended and that's when the pictures began: Pictures of all the attendees, pictures of the bride with friends, pictures of the groom with friends, pictures of the bride and groom with friends. I ended up in all these pictures with my arms around people I'd never met before, and we were all smiling and pretending we liked each other.

And then, right when that last shutter snapped, we were ushered out. The next wedding party was already on their way up the stairs and the buffet was already being replenished. I could barely take all that romance.


The Boss Fiasco: My Weekend (Part 2 of 4)

As I said, Rose, my boss, disappeared in the middle of the day for several hours. No one knew where she went for sure, but someone seemed to think she was in a meeting with Mrs. Gu, the head of ths school. When Rose came back, she was visibly upset: crying, avoiding everyone, not like herself at all.

For everyone except Mom (who's actually met Rose), let me explain Rose a little. Rose is the supervisor at my school. She makes the schedules, she updates the syllabi, she fills in when people are abscent, and she helps whenever we need it (and all the foreign teachers need it a lot). She always does all this with kindness and a smile on her face. She really is a great person, someone whom I really like, and someone without whom I might have gone crazy when I first came here.

There were several teachers sick this week, so my day was PACKED with stuff to do. I never got a chance to ask Rose what the problem was before it was time to head home (speaking of which, the next month or so will probably be packed at work, so don't expect much in the way of emails during the day. Looks like I got the internet at home just in time).

Darryl and I were talking after work, and he decided that we needed to call Rose to make sure everything was okay. It wasn't.

Rose, who has worked at Swaton from the very beginning and essentially helped to build the school, was pretty much fired. Not directly, but pretty much forced to leave.

Here's that happened: Mrs. Gu calls Rose into her office. She just lays into Rose about what's she's doing wrong at school--most of which is exaggerated if not out and out lies. She tells Rose that she needs to work every weekend and stay until 10 every night to do her job appropriately, which is, of course, silly. She says that Rose's trip to Thailand over our Christmas break is "just an excuse to get out of work." And this goes on for three hours. It ends with Mrs. Gu saying that if Rose doesn't like it, she can leave. There's no other way to see it than that Mrs. Gu was pretty much forcing a resignation.

None of this is true, by the way. Rose is a great boss. I've never seen her NOT working. She comes in every day at 9 and stays until 8 at night. She only takes a 15 minute lunch. And she works most Saturdays.

The reason: no one knows for sure, but the school's enrollment has been down--not enough to cause much, but still, enough to be noticeable. Mrs. Gu is shifting blame and eliminating a paycheck all in one swoop.

And the worst part is, Mrs. Gu actually expected Rose to stay on another month at less pay help out during our intensive month (regular schools have a break next month, so we are teaching extra classes that are only a month long). Rose, of course, said no, meaning this is her last week.

The phone call led to Darryl inviting Rose to come over and watch the movie we were planning on seeing. She was in a bad way, that's for sure, but seemed to be better once she chatted with us about it for a little while.

All said, it's probably good for her. She gets worked hard at Swaton and can never travel (something she really likes to do). I'm sure she can get a much better job. Still, it's terrible the way it went down.

For us, it's awful. Rose is one of the people that makes Swaton great. We'll get by without her, sure, and I'm really happy that she can move on to better things, but I hate to see her go. I really do.

Believe me, though, I'm keeping in touch. Darryl and I are already have plans with her to have dinner next month, and she's offered to help us with our Korean once or twice a week if we'd like to meet with her. What a class act.

At any rate, the foreign teachers have conferred and decided we won't just let this one slide (which is the appropriate thing to do in Korea). We've asked for a meeting with Mrs. Gu and intend to tell her of our disapproval of what's happened. The meeting won't be until Friday (partially because of end of the month busyess, partially because if we do it earlier in the week, Mrs. Gu might blame it on Rose and make her last week even more unbareable). I'll post to tell how it went this weekend. Wish me luck.


The Computer Fiasco: My Weekend (part 1 of 4)

Just to let you know, this is the first post of four about this weekend. I guess when stuff happens, it happens all at once. This one is the easiest to explain, so it goes first. I'll post the other three events when I have time, but that might not be for a few days.

Damian sent my computer the fast way, so it was here in just under a week. By here, I mean here in Korea, not in my possession. On Tuesday, I got a letter (in Korean) that I had to ask to find out what it meant. Apparently, I had to fill out an attached form: who sent you the package? What does that person do for a living? How do you know that person? What is the contents? How do you intend to use the contents? Etc.

I filled out the form and took it back to the post office. In half-assed English, a man tried to explain to me something about customs and personal use. I gave up and just had him write down in Korean what he was trying to say. I took that letter to my boss, and she had no idea what it was trying to say either. She said she'd call, so I waited.

On Wednesday, my boss called the post office, who told her to then call customs. Customs told her that I needed to fax over a copy of the receipt, my Korean identification card, my passport, and the form that I took to the post office. I didn't have my passport with me, so I had to wait until the next day.

On Thursday, I faxed everything over. About half way through the day, I get a response saying they can't read the receipt fax. I sent it again, but still it was no go, so they asked me to email a copy. I did. It didn't go through. I did to another address. It didn't go through. I did to a third email address. Finally it went through. Great, I thought, I'll finally get my computer.

No. I didn't.

On Friday, I get a fax back. It's, get this, a BILL. They charged me to pick up my package. The fee was roughly $200: 10% tax plus a "service fee" of $55. I got totally screwed.

To make matters worse, I only had enough money for food for the rest of the month because of christmas gifts, postage to send them, computer accessories, and sending money home to pay for the laptop and my bills. I didn't have ANY extra cash, let alone $200.

I went to my boss to have her explain it. She had to leave for several hours in the middle of the explanation (the reason she left, I didn't find out until later that night. I'll explain it in another post--1 of the 4 major things that happened this weekend), but when she came back, she told me that I could get an advance on my next paycheck to pay for it. A huge hassle, but, I suppose, problem solved.

So I finally got the computer (which they didn't even bother to send over, by the way. I had to go and pick it up at the post office). It's great and I love it. I fiddled around a lot this weekend, but I don't have the internet yet. I'm trying to get it set up. Let's see how THAT goes :).


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Only a Block Away

My computer made it to Korea...and is a block away at the post office. I got a letter (in Korean, obviously) saying that they wouldn't give it to me. I went to the post office to see what was going on. They tried to explain it to me--the only part of the conversation I understood was "customs" and "phone call." They wrote me a note in Korean to give to someone to translate, and my boss didn't even understand what they were trying to say. She's going to call today to see what's up. Well, it's only a block away...but I can't touch it.


Sunday, December 12, 2004

An Offer to Spend the Night

I was standing outside Daejon train station wrapped up in bags when the old woman approached me.

"Sex?" she said. I rifled though my head to figure out what that could possibly mean in Korean.

I had so many bags because I had just come back from Seoul. I went up there with friends because they wanted to buy new laptops (to go along with my new one--I guess I've started a trend. They even bought the exact same model as me), and I wanted to buy accessories for my new computer.

My friends decided to go out after coming back to Daejon, but I had a cold, so I wanted to go home. This meant that it was me carrying all the bags back to the apartments. So it goes.

Now, I was already on guard because I know that people try to rip off tourists at the train station--and wrapped in three bags made me look like nothing if not a tourist. Still, I wasn't read.

"Sex?" she said again.

"I don't understand," I said in Korean.

"Sex!" she practically yelled. This woman must have been approaching 70 years old. She's what you call an "adjuma" here in Korea: a woman of the old Korean style, usually really strong willed, usually short and stocky, usually tough as the sole of a shoe. Imagine a mean old grandma and you're pretty close.

"My motel," she continued in Korean, "sex." Then I remembered: "sex" in Korean means "sex." I was trying to figure it out, and it was exactly what my first instinct told me it was.

I can only assume she was a madame, because I can't imagine she'd have gotten too much business being 70 and bundled for the weather. She was definitely as tough as the sole of a shoe, but that also meant that she resembled the sole a little too.

"No," I said. "I'm not interested."

"Then sleep," she said. "You come to my motel, and you can sleep." I find it funny that she offered the sex first and then the chance to sleep at her motel. I guess they think that tourists have a very unique set of priorities.

"No," I said. "I live in Daejon. I'm going home."

"Then you need to find a taxi," she said. "It's getting cold."

She was right; I needed to find one...which was what I was doing before she stopped me.


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Expect More Bloggin'

More bloggin' is on the way. Why? I finally bought a computer for home. Until now, I've been limited in when I can write for my blog by when I can find breaks during my day at work. But no more.

Thanks to Damian for being kind enough to not only help me select a computer, but also to ship it to me as well. What a great guy.


Monday, December 06, 2004

High Hopes

I bumped into my former Korean teacher on Saturday (he teaches the beginner classes, and I've moved up to intermediate beginner). He had his son with him. I asked his son's name, and then asked if the name means anything. Much like American names, most Koreans' names "don't mean shit" to quote Pulp Fiction (thanks for reminding me of that Dr. Kaufmann), but his son's name DOES mean something. "Big," he said, "ummm...flag."

"Big flag?" I said.

"No no," he said, "where the flag goes. The stick."

"Big flagpole?" I asked.

He nodded and smiled. Either he has hopes of his son becoming a porno actor or he was just messing with me.


Friday, December 03, 2004

Ryan Teacher Catchy

One of my young students, Adam, has let me know that he made it to school safely every morning by yelling something at me. Early on, Adam yelled his Korean name at me. "Bak Gee Hoon," he'd yell, and then laugh and run away. Then he started quizzing me, "Teacher, what's my name?" If I said "Bak Gee Hoon," he'd run away yelling that I spoke Korean; if I said "Adam," he'd say I was wrong and pester me until I said his Korean name. Eventually, he got bored with that...but it took a while.

Lately, Adam has been coming in every morning and yelling "Ryan Teacher Catchy," which I can only assume means "Ryan Teacher catch me." He'll yell this all morning if I don't go after him.

As you can imagine, this got quite annoying. I've often got things to do in the morning: plan classes, put together art projects, and, of course, write on my blog. I had taken to locking doors to keep him out, but it rarely worked. He was so persistant in wanting me to catchy that he'd back on the door and yell. Some days he'd even get on the floor and put his lips under the door to make sure I heard.

Wednesday morning, I came in a little late because I was in the gym. I crept around avoiding Adam and went to my desk. Nothing, not a word, which is really surprising because Adam has a preternatural ability to find me when I don't want to be found.

I went to my boss to ask her a totally non-Adam related question. I got the answer and was walking away when she stopped me.

"Oh, yeah. You might want to know. We got a call from Adam's mother today. She got a job, and Adam will be living with his Grandmother on weekdays. He won't be coming anymore."

"What," I said. "Nobody told me."

"Nobody knew," she said.

So that's it. He didn't even come to pick up his books. No goodbye to me or his classmates. No hiding from him in the morning anymore. No more "Ryan Teacher Catchy." I'll probably never see him again.

If this is what it's going to be like to leave all my kids behind, I might never leave Korea.