No, I haven’t forgotten about this thing. I’ve just had my butt kicked up the street and around the corner teaching 38 hours a week. More for the list:

51) Unnamed person who lives at the Hyperion Apartments, no matter how high up your apartment is, no matter how opaque you think your door is, the fact remains that you still shouldn’t walk around naked when your apartment faces one of your city’s major thoroughfares. If I, sitting in a cab at ground level, can see you in your birthday suit in your sixth-floor apartment, I’d invest in some curtains.

52) There are some things that transcend language barriers. Fart jokes are one. Pokemon is another. Coloring books are a third.

53) Don’t let small Korean children yell loudly for a fork. It sounds like they’re all screaming “FUCK JUSAYO (PLEASE)!”. It’s really inappropriate, not to mention it makes all the foreigners around snort their beverage up their nose.

54) Canadian bars are where it’s at in Korea. They have the best food, best atmosphere, and best mix of Koreans and foreigners. The Holy Grill near Samduk, especially, is rather awesome.

55) Note to self, all the streets north of Dongdaegu Station are full of brothels and seedy Korean food places. Was very happy to have an Emily with me to ward off creepy people.

56) Small Korean children are fascinated by foreigners wearing skirts. So much so that they will pull up your skirt in public to see what you have on under it. While I was mostly-safe in pantyhose and boy-short underwear, one has to feel bad for the Australian girl in EMart who was only wearing a thong and had it exposed in front of an entire storeful of people.

57) The dry-cleaning people up the street from me are beyond-awesome. Two-dollar discount, a perfectly cleaned and folded comforter, and a note in half-decent English asking me up for coffee sometime.

58) The reaction of kindergarden girls to Mary Poppins is roughly equivalent to a full-grown adult’s: amusement giving way to dawning creepification when you realize Mary Poppins is kind of scary. Though Bert remains hilarious no matter what age you are.

59) When at a loss for things to fill class time, Magic School Bus and improvised Bingo games will do the trick. Unfortunately, I’m still not cool enough to have my students nickname me “Ms. Frizzle”.

60) One should probably not be listening to Zagreus when it is 1 am, pitch-black in one’s apartment, and one is alone in a strange country. A car starting will scare you out of your wits, and then, just as you think you’re getting to sleep, you keep hearing the titular rhyme over and over and over. “Zagreus sits inside your head/Zagreus lives among the dead/Zagreus sees you in your bed/And eats you while you’re sleeping“, indeed. THANKS, BIG FINISH.

61) In a similar, Doctor Who-related vein, it’s very, very hard to explain to your coworkers why you jump six feet in the air upon hearing one of your kindergardeners read from a book the line, “Are you my mommy?”. I’m just lucky no one’s mentioned me having something on my back.

62) It rather sucks when you run into the woman who runs your second-favorite convenience store at the coffee shop, and she tells you to stop buying buns and coffee because it’s going to make you even more fat. She then suggests a run, and cutting down on the grape soda, too. Unfortunately, I haven’t learned to say “fuck off and die” in Korean yet.

63) Arboretums in Korea are even more boring than ones in the States – you can’t even read the names of the boring trees you’re looking at. Yes, it’s pretty. Yes, the mosquito larvae in the ponds are awesome. No, Leo, we’re not having lunch yet. No, Lucy, you just got water. Can I go home and shower now?

64) Getting four ten year old boys through “Cinderella” is tough, but letting them rewrite the endings to where Cinderella commits suicide or takes out everyone with a rocket launcher will get you a chat with your director. Look, it’s not my fault they’re violent, irreverent ten year old boys.

65) Contrary to my most fervent wish, lesson plans do not, in fact, write themselves.

66) Still haven’t had decent sushi in Asia, despite going to two Japanese restaurants. The Italian food continues to be spectacular.

67) Mom’s meatball recipe doesn’t work unless you have an oven, bread crumbs, and hot sauce. Guess which 2 ingredients I forgot, not to mention that I only possess a stove. Yuck.

68) Korean drivers still scare the hell out of me, even when they’re friends of mine. Hayley’s an awesome person, but her driving makes Elwood Blues look law-abiding.

70) One can manage to have strep throat for around two weeks and still teach. It hits you with laryngitis and a bitch of a headache when it finally manifests, but wow. I feel slightly accomplished. Luckily, the clinic on Hwanggeum by the Paris Baguette has the good drugs, and they’re good about dispensing them.

71) Speaking of medicine, Korean health care is made of awesome. A doctor’s visit is $2.50. A prescription for Tylenol ER, some high-grade antihistamines, and a throat spray is $3.50. Had to have a chaperone to translate, but believe me, am NOT complaining.

72) Haggling a pair of shoes from 58,000 won to 45,000 won is an awesome feeling. Wearing them out salsa dancing for three hours straight and not getting any blisters? EVEN MORE AWESOME.

73) Koreans are actually kind of racist. You find this out when your second-grade boys get to stories like Jafta, which is about an African boy who pretends to be different animals, and make fun of him for “wearing a diaper” and “looking like a monkey”. It’s reinforced when your fifth-grade girls tell you all Japanese women are “ugly” because “they have bad teeth”. It’s really scary when you see a couple teenagers spitting after a black soldier walks by.

74) The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), which every Korean student has to take before graduating high school, is tougher than the flipping MCATs. The subject matter is stuff I barely got into in university-level courses (a lot of the scenarios involve common things that happen/are taught/heard in or around an American college or university), which is tough to get when you haven’t grown up speaking the language or being exposed to the culture. I think 3/4ths of native English speakers would probably fail it. Teaching TOEFL courses is challenging as hell, but really rather fun if you’ve got a good group. At the very least, I brushed up on my vocabulary.

75) I seem to have “good chopstick days” and “bad chopstick days”. On the good days, I can eat pretty much anything with chopsticks, keep them relatively clean, cut things using them, and eat like a civilized person. On the bad days? Well, I once managed to completely unravel an entire roll of kimbap and drip soup all over the table.

76) A 20-minute cab ride or 1 hour walk to Camp Walker’s Gate 4 to get Taco Bell from on post? Totally worth it when you haven’t had chicken quesadillas or nachos or bean burritos for months.

77) The first time you get sick in Korea, it’s the “Korean Crud” because it’s mostly mucus. The second time, it’s the “Korean Punching Bag” because your entire body feels like it just went ten rounds with Ali. The third time, it’s the “Korean Death Flu”, because you use up a box of tissues a day, all the Advil you can find, and do NyQuil shots on the weekends, but you still feel like crap on toast. None of this, of course, gets you out of teaching.

78) Possibly TMI, but Korea apparently cures menstrual cramps. I’ve had them once since I’ve been here (month #2), and they weren’t anywhere near as bad as I’ve been used to having them. Previously, I’d gotten used to waiting tables while feeling like my uterus was being spit-roasted, and having to curl up in bed with lots of painkillers on the worst days because I couldn’t sit up. It’s been kind of nice not to have that.

79) Took me four months, but I finally found the paper towels. They’re labeled “kitchen napkins” and are otherwise indistinguishable package-wise from toilet paper. I bought them by mistake when I ran out of TP.

80) Marshmallow Peeps sent by one’s parents via FedEx are just as yummy as they would be in the States. Your students will still look at you like they’re frog eggs . . . until they try them and figure out they’re 3x the sugar of most candy.


Wet noodles for everyone?

February 23, 2009

Hoo boy, sorry for being away so long – I only have my faulty internets and procrastinatory tendencies to blame. This month has been relatively light, teaching-wise – only five classes a day instead of seven or eight like I was doing when we had morning kindergarden and private lessons. But life goes on, and so does my rambling. 😛

So you get a giant freaking post to make up for my absence.

26) A rule of thumb when it comes to Korean food? If it looks raw, it is and it’s probably seafood. If it’s green or sprinkled with red curry powder, it’s kimchee or some other type of cabbage. And it’s nearly all spicy enough to burn off half your taste buds.

27) Soup is not necessarily served warm. It’s actually most likely to be cold, and while you can ask the delivery guys to heat it more, actual restaurants will be pissed if you do this.

28 ) Delivery in Korea is pretty flipping sweet (not that I’m conversant enough to order it myself, but I’ve had it ordered). The food is on time, it’s the appropriate temperature, they give you real place settings, real silverware and every condiment you could possibly need and/or want, the portions are huge, they don’t up-charge you for changing or adding onto an order most of the time (you want the spice for the soup on the side? Sure! You want to add pork? No problem!), and when you’re done, they come back and pick it up. The mind, she boggles.

29) Jury-rigged internets are the best thing ever when your cord breaks and the place where it’s plugged into the wireless router is on the roof. A spliced cable will work just fine – though it will take you two weeks of trial and error to figure that out.

30) The existence of good mashed potatoes in Daegu is apparently a myth. TGIFridays, Outback, Bennigan’s . . . they’re all terrible at it. It’s giving me cravings for good mashed potatoes in the worst way.

31) I am, in fact, capable of drinking soju (Korean alcohol, 45-proof, tastes like vodka) and beer all night and teaching the next day. But I should never, ever mix soju and any other alcohol. It ends badly.

32) Noraebangs are the best invention known to man. It’s karaoke! In a private room! With props and free food and cheap booze! I have found my spiritual home.

33) Yvi and I are clearly destined to be world-famous rappers: perfect score on Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” when even Yung, the best singer out of all of us, only got a 98%.

34) Encounters with other foreigners – especially Caucasian ones – in Korea fall into one of two categories: either the fellow-miguk nod (“Yo.” “S’up?”) and scurry for wherever you’re going, or the “OMIGOD SOMEONE WHO SPEAKS ENGLISH LET’S BE BFF’S!!!!!”

35) Never, ever challenge your former-army intelligence officer co-teacher to a game of pool because you think he might be out of practice. He’s not. You will get your ass handed to you in seven shots.

36) Breasts above an A cup are fascinating to Koreans, male or female. You will get them poked and prodded by small children. Women will stop you on the street and ask you if  a) they’re real or b) if they hurt.

37) Liking cats is a cardinal sin in Korea. There’s a number of old superstitions about them, mostly that they’re “ghosts” or “demons” because of their slinky nature and creepy eyes. I still want to adopt every stray cat I see.

38) Packaging is a little strange in Korea. If you think it’s sweet, it’s probably sour and/or fishy-tasting. If you think it’s supposed to be cheese, it’s probably hot. If you think it’s hot, it’s probably BBQ or pizza-flavored. You you think it’s sour, it’s probably sweet. If it’s got a squid on the front, it really is squid.

39) It’s nice to know a little about wine when there are wine bars on every corner and most of your acquaintances don’t know which end of a corkscrew is up. You will end up ordering the wine with dinner, you get the credit when it’s good (and I haven’t picked a bad one yet), and the only downside is the constant pointing and explaining to the waiter/sommelier that yes, the tiny American girl picked the wine. No, none of the men at the table ordered it. Yes, you have to serve her the first sample and yes, she will tell you when you got cork in the bottle.

40) Never ever go to EMart (or any other large store, for that matter) the two days before a holiday. It could be Groundhog’s Day, and the place will be packed. You’ll be lucky to escape in under two hours.

41) Making the pain-in-the-ass fifth grade boys who never. shut. up. hold their hands over their mouths while you’re doing individual reading is amazingly effective. Best trick EVER.

42) Korean weddings are almost exactly like Lutheran church services: exactly one hour long, full of singing and advice from the minister, and there’s a ton of food afterward.

43) At Korean weddings, it is not at all unusual for people off the street to wander into the wedding service, nor is it a cardinal sin to talk during any part of the service (even the vows), because everyone else will be doing it.

44) The number of compliments on my appearance I receive, on average, increases exponentially when I’m wearing a dress, jewelry, and makeup. It gets borderline ridiculous when I’m in heels. The combination of all four at the wedding (my director and our head teacher got married on Valentine’s Day – they are SO adorable) made my co-workers do spit-takes.

45) Wear makeup ONCE in front of your fashion-conscious female coworker and she’ll never let you hear the end of it. Apparently I’m hideous without makeup?

46) Do not be shocked if you find surprise something in your food. Koreans love surprise ham, surprise cabbage, and surprise coconut. Some surprises are good (the coconut in my sushi at the Japanese place up the main drag is yummy); others are less-than-good (the cabbage in my otherwise yummy bread at the Korean place we went to the day before the wedding caused me to throw up for the first time since I got here).

47) Di, IllyJ, and Yvi have apparently been christened my “Pohang Gang” by my coworkers (slight digression: Yvi was the one who talked me into this crazy adventure in the first place, Illy and Di are her co-foreigners in her school in Pohang, and they’ve come up to Daegu to hang with me a few times). I totally wouldn’t frak with any of those girls – they’ll kick your ass. And girly nail-painting, fruity-drink imbibing, and stupid picture-taking has never been so fun.

48) Even the kindergarden class you spend two hours a week screaming your head off at will bring you candy and give you hugs on Valentine’s Day.

49) You know you haven’t been attached on Valentine’s Day for a while when the most celebrating you’ve done in years is dinner at a French/Mediterranean place, followed by an aborted attempt to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and ending up at 1 am at a DVDbang (a slightly questionable place where you can rent a room and a DVD and get free snacks) with two of your coworkers – one male, one female – watching The Duchess. Good times.

50) Everyone, regardless of age, race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or nationality, loves The Muppet Show. This is truefax.

Okay, I’m tapped out and I have class to teach tomorrow. You’ll get the rest of the 20 more I owe you tomorrow.

How goes it, gang? We’ve just started our winter break schedule – all the kids are off from their regular schools for an entire month and need to be kept occupied, so we’ve got morning classes in addition to our usual afternoon classes. So I’ve been really ridiculously tired, crashing into bed every night when I get home from work. I haven’t been killed by the kindergardeners yet, which is probably a good sign. When they’re engaged in what we’re doing and not wrestling each other all over the classroom or screaming their heads off, I like them quite a bit. But when James and Fred are engaged in a kickfight, Emily and Nicole are coloring on the table, Kelly and Elly and Alice are chattering about what I think might be a television show, and Mark and Donna are the only ones paying attention, it’s insane. 

Then I have some additional one-on-one classes, with my older students. Princess Flora is my 10 am girl, and I’m getting pretty good results when I dispense with the board-writing and recitation and let her braid my hair and play with my bracelets during the lesson. She read an entire two pages with only one mistake (on the word “university”, which would stump most English-speaking students, let alone a Korean second-grader) yesterday, so I’m hoping to continue that this week. My 11 am gang are Susie (fourth grader, and pretty smart when she stops being so shy and opens her mouth), Steven (who it is like pulling teeth to get him to even respond, let alone speak and comprehend), and Crystal (who is one of my very favorites and is reading Harry Potter in Korean to me after lessons). I also get Daisy (one of my very-awesome sixth-graders) at 7 pm one day a week for listening comp, which is awesome because it’s music-based, and I let her listen to examples of the music styles the book discusses.

I’m also exploring the city more – been to Beomeo (the nearest subway stop, which is like, six blocks from my house) and up near Suseong Lake. Still haven’t found the Thai place, but I’ve found three more Italian places and a really, really good Japanese place. And to Steve’s everlasting shock when I IMed him about it, I ate an entire roll of sushi and liked it. \o/

More Things for the List!

16) Threatening the four wrestling-obsessed eleven year olds who speak almost no English and wouldn’t pay attention to you even if they did with powerbombs if they don’t stop throwing cookies and spitting coffee at each other only works if you can physically back up the threat. While they don’t frown on corporal punishment (i.e. you won’t get fired for smacking a kid upside the head if he’s being rude), you cannot seriously maim them.

17) Just because your kindergardeners poke your stomach and call you fat doesn’t mean they don’t love you. They will still hug you and smile at you and take goofy pictures of you and give you presents on Christmas. Your size is just a novelty to them.

18 ) Your Korean co-workers will believe, despite any and all protests to the contrary, that any pictures on your computer of the opposite sex is proof that they are your past or current significant other. This is how you inexplicably find yourself having dated Anderson Cooper, Hugh Laurie, Randy Orton, Matt Damon, Stephen Colbert, and John Simm. Clearly, I am doing rather well for myself. 😛

19) Try a little patience. Things move much slower in Korea, whether it’s paperwork or food preparation or traffic patterns. Your coffee is going to take longer than a few seconds. Your transaction at the grocery store is dependent on who the clerk sees walking down the street while he/she’s ringing you up. Green lights may or may not be meant for your particular lane of traffic on any given day. Just chill – the world is going to continue spinning no matter how long you have to wait.

20) No matter where you go in the world, Outback is still overrated.

21) Kindergardeners are scarier than armed soldiers near your apartment, because most likely, the soldiers will not actually hurt you. The soldiers are polite, intelligent, and speak very good English (informing you that they’re just off-duty, waiting for their buddy, who lives down the street). The kindergardeners are shrieking, howling savages – Recess does not lie.

22) The worst possible feeling in the world is being confronted with a crying child who literally cannot tell you why they are crying. This is because they do not have the English words, and furthermore, the “waaaaaah paaaain hurt!” overrides any listening comprehension they have. You are therefore stuck with holding said child on your hip while she calms down and continuing to teach the other seven little monsters who are running around.

23) When the pointing and mime and Konglish have deserted you and you still cannot convey to the woman at the corner store that you want napkins/paper towels, all is not lost. You’ll get a free cookie because she feels bad about not having been able to help.

24) Incidentally enough, they don’t have paper towels in Korea, and napkins are a restaurant-only thing. For everyday eating, they use tissues. This is why you ask your Korean coworkers things before you make yourself look like a nutcase.

25) Yes, pulling out your laptop and playing Kanye West, Britney Spears, Mozart, and Eric Clapton does constitute an actual lesson, in English listening comp classes. Don’t count on it too much, no matter how blindingly awesome it may be.

Five more for the file:

11) Invest in a pair of flipflops for your apartment and keep them by you at all times. That way, at 4 am, when you stumble out of bed to go to the bathroom, your feet don’t freeze off on the unheated bathroom floor.

12) Speaking of bathrooms – do not play with the buttons on the side of the heated toilets, and if you do, remember that none of them are the “flush” button. Especially not that one that looks like a spray of water. Just, don’t.

13) The men on Korean television wear more makeup than the women, and they all seem to be sporting sparkly hairspray. I have yet to hear an explanation for this.

14) No, really, don’t try to bring the Korean unless you’re very sure what you’re saying. Luckily, the boy with cute emo hair at the pcbang will not take offense when you tell him to have intercourse with a pork dumpling, as he speaks very good English and will just ask you in English what you meant to say.

15) Utilizing the bastardized Mandarin you learned from Firefly will actually get your students to quiet down. Maybe it’s the novelty of the mi-gook (American) teacher speaking an Asian language at them, but one should not care, as it gets results. One does not tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing.

In other news, I have some Christmas pics up on my Facebook, here:

Hopefully, that’s visible to everyone. If not, I’ll try and figure out how to post it to here. And now I am off on an attempt to actually find the Thai place up by Suseong Lake on the first try instead of stumbling around going “wait, I know it’s just past the bend in the boulevard, and there’s the Daewoo dealership which means it should be across the next street – aaaand, no. Huh. Where the hell did it go?”

Much love, guys!

Welcome to thingsyoulearn – short for “things you learn when you move halfway around the world to teach for the first time in a country where you do not speak the language”. Obviously, you can’t fit all that in a username. So hi! I’m assuming you know me if you’re reading this, but for the sake of introductions, I’m Drea. I spent five years getting a B.A. in English and five months running around unemployed after graduation. But now I have a job: teaching English to 8-12 year olds in Daegu, South Korea.

Rather than just be a blog where I yammer about the craziness that’s going on with me, I’m also making this a list. One thing I’ve learned, each day, for the 365 days I’m going to be living here. Since I’ve been here for 10 days already, you get 10 right off the bat:

1) Airports in Korea close at 10 pm, even international ones. Meanwhile, everything else, including markets, restaurants, and arcades, stay open until 3.

2) Everyone takes their shoes off upon entering a home. This does not mean you should do this in a public place, like, say, an E-Mart (what you get when you mix an Acme with a Wal-mart that’s open 24/7). People will look at you funnier than usual.

3) No one has a dryer in Korea. When it’s 30 degrees out, and you’d rather not have freeze-dried underwear, you improvise. Improvisation may include explaining to your Korean co-workers why your clothing is spread out across your floor. Improvisation may also include then convincing your Korean co-workers that you are, in fact, a sane person.

4) The phrase “comfortable mattress” does not exist, nor does the phrase “mattress pad”, unless you wish to go all the way to Seoul, order one, and pay out the wazoo for it. If you are a Delicate Flower who needs a feather-soft bed, multiple pillows, and 5000-count sheets, you are going to have Problems. You will be fine sleeping atop one comforter and using any other bedding as warmth.

5) You’d be surprised what pointing and mime will accomplish, but it’s still best to learn a little of the language. That being said, stick to what you know, or you end up thanking the counter girl for polishing the squid when you really just want to ask how much your bill is.

6) Pizza Hut in Korea is not only way classier, it tastes better, too. How much of this is because you’ve been eating PB&J, various types of noodles, and cereal for the past week is negotiable. It still doesn’t change the fact that it tastes fantastic. Also, the buffalo wings don’t actually come with sauce in Korea, no matter how many times you point to it on the menu.

7) Everything, whether it’s Korean, Italian, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Indian, or Greek food, comes with sweet-and-sour pickles. Not kimchee – it comes with that, too – but sweet and sour pickles in vinegar brine. There is no explanation for this.

8) Inexplicably, most of the Japanese food you encounter in Korea is terrible, where most of the Italian food is fantastic.

9) Don’t drink the water. You can bathe in it, cook with it, brush your teeth with it, and wash your clothes with it, but it’s best not to drink it, even when you live in a big city like Daegu, where they treat their water. Buy a 2 liter of bottled water for 50 cents at a corner store once a week.

10) If you see someone who’s driving a motorcycle, they’re a delivery driver, and it behooves you to get the hell out of their way posthaste. They can smell fear, and they love terrorizing foreigners.