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Saturday, January 07, 2017

First Week

Thursday was my first full day teaching. The Korean students definitely are typical kids when it comes to needing to be squelched occasionally – I had one fifth grader pretending to be Harry Potter and shouting "Wingardium leviosa!" at the back of the classroom and "levitating" his desk with his knees until I got him settled down. But my fellow teachers and the staff are very supportive, so hopefully I will get into the right rhythm soon.

I had a partial day on Wednesday--after observing two classes, I led the following two (one went well, one not so much), and then inaugurated an adult conversation class. The last consisted of a terminally shy female college student and a thoroughly outgoing man of about my age who was ten minutes late and rushed in smelling of an aromatic tobacco. Despite my best efforts to engage her, the college student decided not to return Thursday. The man goes by the un-Korean name of Ivan (EE-vahn) and is fluent in Russian. He told me he used to be a university instructor in that language, but the dean of the school where he was employed decided to disband the department because of low enrollment. I commiserated--Russianists have had a hard time worldwide in the last couple of decades. He plans to start studying architecture next year. Right now he's a social worker. He told me his parents "own a lot of land" (they are well-off), which may explain his unusual dilettantism in a country where most people have historically focused on single careers. We were talking about English language idioms on Friday and he made a Biblical allusion. The school administrator told me that Ivan's personality is non-typical for a Korean--he's willing to talk even with mistakes (most adult Koreans are mortally afraid of embarrassing themselves and thereby "losing face," so they won't speak English unless they are confident of their skills, and moreover they are reluctant to enroll in conversation classes for fear that rumors of their linguistic failings will somehow become known). He's also terminally tardy--he was 15 minutes late on Thursday and 20 on Friday. He told me it was because he couldn't find a parking spot. That's legit--cars are parked along the roadside here in every place they can be squeezed. It's as bad as Georgetown.

The children in my regular classes are mostly sweet and the younger ones are truly enthusiastic. I'm impressed by their dedication, particularly given that English doesn't even share an alphabet with their native language. I pick up words I know here and there in their conversation--from adjumma (middle-aged woman) to seonsaengnim (teacher), baegopa (I'm hungry) to aigoo (oh dear/there-there), gwenchanayo (it's OK) and eobseoyo (no/not have)--which help me to keep track of what they understand or are thinking and talking about when they are at their desks. See, K-drama watching does pay off! They've all adopted English names, so I don't have to memorize Korean ones that I can't pronounce.

As I've said, my apartment is fairly plush by typical Korean standards. There's no oven, but a two-eye gas stove, which despite its designer's intention, does not light automatically. I finally found matches today, at a small grocery between my house and the school. The Target-with-a-grocery-store equivalent (there's a KFC on the ground floor and either a nursery school or a hagwon on the third) that Amy took me to Wednesday didn't have matches, despite having everything else under the sun, from appliances to a pretty decent wine section, and an entire floor dedicated to apparel. My washing machine's capacity is as large as--or perhaps a bit larger than--my one at home, and the previous tenant left me a drying rack. Korean apartments don't have central heating in the American sense--no radiators or circulating air system. Instead, the floors are warmed. Theoretically, I can turn my floor heat up to 85C, which is almost hot enough to fry an egg. When I turn it on, I've been keeping the temperature on the lowest setting, 40C, which is plenty toasty. I did turn it up to 55 when the clothes came out of the wash, because I want them to dry before they sour or mildew.

My porch and my bathroom are unheated, and my bathroom is constantly damp. I've been leaving the latter's door closed and the double-cased window open in an effort to slow mold growth. I have a feeling that I will be investing heavily in Clorox.

I wish that American hospitals were as efficient as the Korean one where I got my health check Thursday morning. The school director looked a bit puzzled when I decided to take a book with me to the appointment. I didn't have a chance to open it. Within five minutes of arrival we were waved down to the nurse who took my height, weight (a little over 61kg), and blood pressure, and tested my eyesight. Then we trotted around the corner where I got a chest x-ray, and then we marched back upstairs for my blood draw (no-dallying or anxious prep--just put your arm on the table; the technician wrapped the tourniquet around my bicep and swabbed my inner elbow in two quick movements and slid the needle painlessly into my arm) and urinalysis, and less than five minutes of checkout and it was all done. Took half an hour.

Amy and I went out to dinner Friday night--we'd been so busy we'd not had time to be social. We went to a lamb place where we ordered twenty skewers, which we roasted over the live coals the staff brought to our table. There was a little rotisserie element above the heat, so that the kabobs constantly rotated. The meat was delicious. I noticed that the Koreans around us let one person at the table oversee the roasting--Amy and I split the duties in American fashion. And yes, the Koreans do regularly drink soju, and carefully pour one another drinks in a formal fashion. It was fascinating to observe (out of the corner of my eye) people younger than me going through rituals that have been passed down through (precisely recorded patrimonial) generations. Afterwards, we went to Amy's favorite coffee shop, where I got a smoothie. And then I sensed my stomach's rebellion.

It wasn't because of the food. This unpleasantness happens to me on average once a year, wherever I am, whatever I've eaten, but it was a pity that the coffee shop was closing just then and I didn't have access to a restroom thereafter. Let's just say that large bushes in vacant lots are a godsend. Sometimes, you simply have no alternative. I was grateful that since it was almost midnight, there wasn't any traffic on the road nearby, and that the phalanx of uniformed policemen who we saw ahead of us, marching up the sidewalk with lighted nightsticks, didn't turn around and arrest me for indecent exposure.

It's rained all day today. I went to the school for two hours to try to get a better sense of the curriculum and then did some supplies shopping (accidentally buying 5 kg of fabric softener instead of laundry detergent--I can't learn Korean soon enough! When I went to this same store earlier in the week and had a question, the owner just quickly downloaded a translation program onto his smartphone and had me speak my request into the phone, then told me where it was, but this time I was too proud to ask), and came home to take a nap. I watched an episode of a currently-airing drama, which I'm thoroughly enjoying: "Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo." And I'm working a bit on my next editorial assignment. My computer monitors are on their stand and hooked up to my laptop, and the internet is fast.

Tomorrow is church. Monday I resume teaching fulltime. I also have to figure out how and where to pay the utility bills I found in my mailbox. Apparently we're supposed to take them to the bank. But I don't have a bank yet, because I don't have an alien identity card. I wonder if they'll take a credit card? That's a great thing about this country--most every restaurant and retail store takes plastic, so I haven't had to change money since my arrival. But if the utilities must be paid in cash, I have to determine where I can change money, too.

1 comment:

PapaJ said...

I think the kid with the levitating desk shows great promise! He'd get my vote for Teacher's Pet.