Saturday, June 30, 2007

Kids and Their Games

People often wonder what it must be like teaching English in Korea.
Imagine spending eight hours a day with kids who would rather be home playing games.
Like this game. Bongo Bongo people.









I do love my job. And Korea is a hoot. Or a toot. Depends on how you look at it.

Feel free to post high scores if this is something you want to write home about.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Hot Night in the City

It’s been hot all day.

Hot.

One hundred percent humidity hot.

When I walked out my door this morning I left home without an umbrella. But as I left I realized it was raining.

So I opened my apartment and grabbed my oversized overpriced umbrella for the walk.

But it wasn’t really raining. The air was so full of moisture that the moisture was pulling out and touch the ground. Earth that seemed dry and parched, but wasn’t. Air so full of water that there was nowhere else for the water to go so it felt like it was raining.

I kept the umbrella over my head for most of the mile to work, until finally with the sweat pouring out of my pours I realized how foolish it was. I was more wet from the just walking then I’d be from the nth of rain that might be falling.

I turned the air conditioning on in my classroom and taught classes.

I pretended not to notice when the students came in and complained of the heat.

It didn’t feel that bad.

I walked home carrying my oversized overpriced umbrella feeling foolish. It was foolish.

I got home and worked out and the sweat pored and pored. I felt old and tired and wet with it. I finally gave up and turned on the air conditioning in my apartment. It took almost three hours for me to feel any effect.

I listened to music.

I read a book.

Then I hear the distant rumble of thunder less then an hour before midnight. Thunder rolling in.

And suddenly the sky opens and it pours down the rain and I listen to it, and it is beautiful. I look out the single square window of my apartment and I can see the lightening flash and I rejoice. Here come the monsoon rains. I’ve missed the rains. Has it been a year already.

I open the door to the laundry porch and I feel the wash of warm heavy wet air. The rain has not broken the heat at all. It’s still thirty degrees around me, but now it’s wet with water that pours straight down horizontal in cascades.

I walk out my apartment door with my glass of tequila in hand, my hair braided up like Pocahontas, and a red bathrobe and nothing else.

I walk out my door in the dark barefoot and stand under the rain and it splashes and mixes with my tequila making the glass foggy and my breath comes harder.

The rains is pure and beautiful.

I suddenly feel pure and beautiful.

It comes hard and fast and heavy and I stand in it and rejoice.

And hope my landlord doesn’t come down the stairs.

Now it is moving past a bit, but it will still be there when I wake up in the morning. As the heat will be there, as my oversized, overpriced umbrella will be there, along with my wilting red bathrobe and Pocahontas braids.

Doesn’t matter.

It was beautiful.



*Written while quite inebriated. Unedited.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Commercial TV

Why have I stayed in Korea all this time.


The Giordano Girl.





I also theoretically love my job. But I do think it is mostly the Giordano girl.

I need a break. And the Giordano girl.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Up and Out

I felt like a pony tail, which is unusual, I hate pony tails on me. I felt off, the whole morning off. Maybe it was the drinking the night before. Maybe it was the waking too early on Saturday, always too early. My friend Sam bought a car. “Let’s go on a trip,” he says to me.

Sure, why not.

He meets me with the car at my place and we head out. The plan was Dan-young and the caves. It’s been a long time since the last trip, at least three years, and it seemed like a good idea.

I found myself nodding off in the car though I did not want to. Too much sleeping and not enough waking, too much waking not enough sleeping. Korea is beautiful and wet, mountains rising into grey skies and the heavy wet waiting airs of the monsoon swirling around me. Korea is beautiful and peaceful as we drive. It takes about three hours to get to the caves. The plan was to go to Go-sung cave, but as we drove behind a bus of kindergarten students, as we pulled into the parking lot behind the bus of kindergarten students, and as the kindergarten students made a mad dash for the cave entrance it was decided that a change was in order. There is nothing more upsetting then trying to connect with nature while several dozen kids shout as loud as they can to listen to the echoes on the wall. While I enjoy working with children, sometimes I need a quiet moment.

We went to No-dong cave instead, and we arrived to an empty parking lot and a miffed attendant who checked the clock and took our money and gave us tickets. We had about a half hour before closing. We were not quite sure what closing time meant, but there was some speculation that the lights might go off at closing and so we did our best not to dally too overmuch under the rock ceiling.

The entrance was cold and clinging. Humid and the body chills immediately. You can listen in the quiet to the water dripping down and it falls on my head and down into my t-shirt making my skin prickle with the cold and the wet. You penetrate into the cool icy waiting and walk deeper into the cave and the quiet and the walls press and oppress. It feels like freedom and escape and safety underground.

In this cave we walk down about two hundred meters before the turn and ascent. There are stairs and railings and many signs naming rocks the names that others have given them. The lights are a Technicolor dream designed to make the darkness beautiful, but it is already beautiful painted with a natural patina of carved without help. It will be here when I am gone. And it will remain. And it will change, and live and grow. Stalagmites rise up from the floor and poke in the darkness, building under constant drip. Stalactites point down from the ceiling but do not look ominous.

It is quiet and wet. There is the sound of running water.

Dripping.

And darkness.

We giggle in the quiet to ease our discomfort. We climb up, and up and up, and my body races blood and breath and the cold pours in and out of me and I cover in a clammy sweat and it is good. There are dirt streaks on my face from wiping away beads to keep my eyes free to see. My hands are dry, dried on my jeans so I can keep a tight grip on the slippery railing.

We came to late. In this cave there is a mile long back end that can be hiked into, but the time is a pressing thing, the extra mile needs at least another half hour, and we have only ten minutes left before the cave will be closed. Whatever closed means. We get closer to the top of the cave and stand over the fossilizing bones of a forlorn fire bear that had the misfortune to fall in this cave and get stuck in the rocks. I hear the sound of shuffle and a high flutter and squeak. I look up in time to see a bat fly about the ceiling and I know there are bats overhead. Stop listen, squeak shuffle.

I climb up and stand directly below the sounds. I look up into tiny eyes, glowing in the darkness. Waking up and getting ready for a night on the mountain and the mosquito fest that waits beyond the walls. They will fly out soon. I snap a picture and hope I didn’t piss them off to much, and walk towards the hot, warm, air and the sunlight up ahead.

It was only ten minutes past the closing time. They didn’t turn off the lights. The cave comes out at the top of the mountain. When walking you head up about a mile from the base, climbing up all the way through the mountain. Steep, wet, cold, clammy climb, but fun.

Along the mountain I walk down slapping away mosquitoes. Looking at the flowers that have sprung up like a wall in the way. Go in, go down, hit bottom, climb up, climb out, and part the flowers.

The air was hot, I was tired and dirty, but it was good.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Re-education of SaraDevil

I had forgotten why I do not drink Jack Daniels.

But it has been a while.

So I figured what the hell.

Besides, it was Wednesday night, which means it was time for the middle of the week drinking night with live music down at the Lonely Hearts Club. After several hours of teaching, two hours of working out, and cheese and crackers for dinner, I figured I was about do for some out of apartment time. I did the little bit of darning I had to do on my favorite pair of jeans, found a shirt that would be appropriate for a Wednesday night, and headed out the door.

The walk was nice but warming. By the time I got to the bar I realized I did not want my usual drink dejour, tequila, but something cold and soothing. I should have had the vodka and tonic. I almost always have the vodka and tonic if I want something cold. But Im feeling fun, and adventurous, and sitting and the bar thinking cold and said, Rum and coke.

Poor bartender looks at me and shakes his head and points to the bottle of rum. The almost empty bottle of rum; the bottle of rum that had less in it then an alcoholics dreams of the future, and I knew that the rum was out.

Well, fuck. I thought about it for a second. Tequila appeals to the Hispanic in my blood. And vodka appeals to the fiber of my being like an old friend, a bad leather couch, erotica, and handcuffs. There are definitely nights that I miss serving sneaky coffee drinks in Ye Old Gym Basement/Coffee Shop. But no, rather then listening to my brain (how often does this create problems for Sara) I went with my stupid sense of adventure and said Lets have a Jack and Coke, why not. Famous last words, my friends, famous last words.

The first one went down fine. Talked to the bartender and learned that after two years his military service is almost complete and so bought him a drink. Talked to the musician next to the bar who would hopefully start playing soon. Checked the time, only a quarter after ten, I was good. I drank my drink. I like to drink the first drink fast, why not. We talked and I watched as lips moved and found myself after some time alone and so read my book a bit, and contemplated the meaning of life the universe and everything, and ordered a refill while watching H. train the new girlie bartender. Life was good. Jack and Coke seemed like a fine thing.

I smoke a cigarette and the world suddenly changes. There is a subtle sense of shift in the air and I knew something had just happened, but Im not quite sure what. Irishman walks into the bar, someone I had not seen in a bit and we talk about Daegu, and the drought, and the beer, and the Guinness, and I watch his lips move while his face begins to stretch into a strange shapes, the angel behind the bar floats about with pints of Guinness and I realize my glass is empty and wonder how that happened. I pass more money to the bartender H. and try to refocus on the conversation but it has moved on. I yawn, a sudden creeping tired I had not expected, and then find myself turned half round by the plug of the guitar and the introduction by the singer.

I look at the clock thinking Ive stayed past my bedtime. Its barely two minutes after eleven and Im not sure what happened.

The medley is a lost art. Says the musician as he launches into a medley. I try to follow the changes in the music but the changes only further addle my addled brain, there is slow Lou Reed, and British punk, and Neil Young, and I realize that Ive gotten tired, tired, bone tired, weary and the music is metallic in my mouth and doesnt make me feel light and cheery.

I look at the glass looming on the table. I havent touched it.

I wonder how much Ive had and count the bills in my wallet. My drinks, the bartenders drink, I realize Ive only had three, and the third is sitting untouched. And I dont want anymore. I want to go home and go to bed. I want out. I leave before the second song has started, its ten minutes after eleven and Im home before the half hour has set. I crawl into bed, and try to sleep, but am jittery. Then crying. Why am I crying. I cant think of why, then Im asleep. Then Im awake, then Im walking through bizarre nightmare dreamscape and I see the cackling face of my hated mother melting as she berates me for being who I am. I wake in a cold sweat and see tornadoes and I realize Im still sleeping, and Im not.

My alarm goes off at six and my head pounds. Pounds.

How much did I have? I think to myself.

I check my wallet and realize it was only the three. On a tequila night I might have as many as five shots before heading home and wake up the next morning feeling refreshed.

This is just nutty. There are bags under my eyes and my brain feels stretched.

Id forgotten why I do not drink Jack Daniels.

I wont forget again.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Symbols

It was about ten years ago this week that I ended up in the hospital for the first time that summer. It was a crazy time. I’m sure that the anniversary of that doesn’t really hurt my nervous breakdown, nor the fact that this day, is in fact, exactly ten years to the day that I knew that my life would be altered, and that this very alternation seems to be at the root of most of my current problems. It was when I was sitting in my apartment about am month after some surgery that I still have yet to be able to afford, that I wanted to regain control of my life.

To do this I sat a lot. I did a lot of homework. I played with needles. I wanted to do something significant. Something symbolic. Something that would be just me, me doing, me taking action and being in control of what was going on and not being afraid. I think that was the big thing, I was awfully afraid after all the mucking around in my insides and the long recovery that seemed to never end. So I had this embroidery hook and some body piercing hoops I’d picked up at Horsefeathers and I decided to pierce my eyebrow.

I remember sitting in the chair with the needle soaking in peroxide and a piece of ice on my forehead on a warm Waukegan afternoon while I watched Xena. At just about the end of the show I picked up the needle, pulled on a big chunk of my forehead and put that needle straight through. It didn’t hurt. I was afraid to look. I did it for the most part without looking as I have a horrible fear of things being stuck in or around eyes. Still gives me the eeky creepies. But of course being curious I wanted to look and so I did.

I could see both side of the hook on my face, all silver and shiny, and the point just above my eye and for some reason it didn’t bother me at all. Instead there was a sense of intense empowerment. This was something I owned. I’d done it to myself. No one could ever take that away or replace it. This was mine. This was me. This was who I was in that moment. I was in control of that.* It was a good moment. It wasn’t until I realized that I was going to have to move the needle to put in the loop that I was paralyzed with fear.

But I did it, because I wanted to. And, of course, immediately dropped and permanently dropped the ball for the loop. I ended up replacing it with a piece of amethyst that I wore happily for years after that and found much easier to pop in and out of the hoop if I was for some reason taking out the ring. I didn’t take it out very often though.

It was around 1999 that I had to start taking it out on a regular basis for work and not soon after that that I lost the amethyst and then the hoop and then just gave up the habit of taking it out and putting it back in. I let it go. The space closed up with only a slight amount of scaring. Occasionally I would run my fingers over the spot where the hoop once was, thinking all the while of other hands that had touched my face during those years when the piercing was in place. Friendly hands, hands of my deep true friends, those friend who now compose the family I’ve created for myself and the one that I hold in such high regard and who I could not imagine living my life without.

I was sad, time and again, that it was just a scar. About a month ago I was plucking the old eyebrow when I noticed an oddly placed bit of hair and went to smooth it over and realized that it was not hair. It was wax. Further investigation revealed that it was wax from my piercing. “Huh, weird,” was my reaction as I drew out the wax plug. And I realized the, that they space might still be open. I took all I had lying about which was an earring and within seconds I had ascertained that sure enough the space was open. Maybe it had always been open. Maybe it just wanted to be open in this now. In this time, in this space. To remind me of who I am, of who I was, of who I will be.

I went to a piercing shop and tried to get a very fine gauge ring for it but couldn’t find anything quite as small as the actual opening. I don’t like the particular place I popped into. They seem to have it out for foreigners there for no readily apparent reason. I’ve never been in once and been treated nicely. I was wandering about downtown tonight though and found a new body jewelry shop so I stopped in. The gentleman was sweet. I asked for the finest gauge loop he had, which was a 20 gauge. I thought that might be a bit to big.

“Where do you want it?” He asked.

“My eyebrow. I want to open it back up. But I need something small.”

He turned my head both ways.

“I can expand it no problem. We will put in a 16 gauge.” We talked for a moment and settled on a banana bar because I will have to take it out for work. He brought me into the back of the room and had me sit on a wooden bench. I still my breath and closed my eyes as he opened up a clean needle.

“It won’t hurt,” he said.

I breath out.

After a moment, “Are you sure it is open?”

“Yes, try from the top.”

He put the needle against the top of the opening and it slipped in easily. I closed my eyes. I breathed. There was only the faintest prick of pain. A stirring somewhere in me. A memory. I closed my eyes and breathed. I felt every inch of the needle as he pulled it out and put in the bar. He screwed the ball closed. I bought too just in case.

“How much?” I ask.

“Five thousand,” he said. He wouldn’t let me pay for the opening, only the bars.


I walked into the cool night air suddenly more aware of it. So there now, blowing against my face and pricking up chills along my eyebrow ridge. Light sparkled just so and I was more aware of it then I had been before. Suddenly everything was so much more real. So much vivid and alive. I breathed night air fresh and felt just a touch of pain which has faded to nothing now.

I felt the cool calm control of it. Feel it. And it feels good.

I am who I was. I am still who I am. I will be myself tomorrow. While the time has passed and so many things have sealed over, healed up, scarred, closed off, so many of those things are just waiting. The good and the bad. All parts of me. And it’s okay.

Tomorrow I’ll take it out for classes. I’m different enough in Korea without something extra to set me apart. Maybe I’ll keep it up, putting it in and out for a few days, a month, maybe a year. And maybe I won’t.

And it doesn’t matter.

When I want it, it will be there, waiting. And when it’s ready for me, I’ll be ready for it.




*I was also incredibly stupid as anyone who does piercing professionally will tell you. I’m lucky I did not hit a nerve or the major blood vessels in my face that run near my eye. This would be my warning to any kids stupid enough to consider doing this at home. Trust me, go to a professional. Leave the self mutilation to the already professionally damaged.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Woman in the Middle of...

Yes, well, in my defense I’m in the middle of a nervous breakdown. I will not harp on the breakdown. We all know that there are times when a breakdown seems like just the thing to get you through the days. And it really can be entertaining. The highs, the lows, the alcoholism, the cigarettes, the heights of ecstatic joy, and the plunging welling yawning depression coming straight on its heels. Being on the edge of a nervous breakdown is trite, I say if you are going to do it go all the way and just jump. Alas when you jump you do tend to lose control which would explain my inexplicable and out of character shouting at my first period class.

I teach seminars on classroom management. I’ve written fairly well received papers on classroom management. I’ve done research on classroom management. I know what to do and what not to do in a classroom. But take a class of already rowdy teenagers, add a nervous breakdown, multiple by forty students, add coffee, an activity that took me three hours to laminate and the boys exactly, and I do mean exactly, five minutes to destroy, and another thirty minutes to wad into little balls to throw at each other, and a Korean co-teacher who runs up at the beginning of class and says “I’ve got to go now, I have important work to do” and you have all the makings of a first rate loss of control that makes all that classroom management experience seem laughable. I’m not proud, people, I’m not proud.

But those monsters had it coming.

I know not to yell at students. Yelling invariably becomes unproductive. They outnumber you. They will always be louder. Never yell. I have several methods I use to get attention when I need attention and students are in the middle of a loud activity. I know how to get to the kids without raising my voice. Yet, it was the wadding of the activity into little balls and throwing that finally pushed me over the edge into the wrong. It was the fact that my entire lesson for the next four classes utilized the cards that were now wadded and stuck to the bottom of chairs. The cards that I would either have to remake and use for next weeks class, or call a loss and just progress with my lesson plans. I was, in a word, pissed.

Lacking in accuracy. I was very pissed. I was raging psychotic pissed. I was pissed off dammit and I was not going to take it anymore.

Unfortunately, I let the kids know this in so many words, and at least one of those words slipping out in anger was not merely “shut up”. Damn.

I knew it as soon as it came out of my mouth. My brain clicked into immediate overdrive and I felt the red and the flush and thought in my brain “Fraggle Rock” and knew that the damage had already been done. All I could do at this point was recover. Fortunately I did suddenly have the undivided attention of my class.

The class got quiet and looked at me. I looked back at them.

Stalemate.

We all knew what just happened. They knew as well as I did that this was not a good thing. They calmed and waited. I had them put their heads down while I collected the cards. My brain said “Ass cover! Now!”

And boy howdy did I. I stood with crumpled cards in hand, and in my righteous anger and indignation at having an entire day’s lesson plan reduced to so many spit balls I even managed to squeeze out a few genuine tears. The boys were thoroughly chastised. The bell rang and I kept them a few extra minutes for good measure while I dabbed at my eyes.

I released them enmassee and they stood up. I was patting myself on the back for a nice good save, even had two students come up in tears themselves apologizing for the thoughtlessness of their compatriots. And it might have been okay, until I heard the kids hit the bottom of the stairs. And then let off a string of dialogue straight out of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I thanked the boys who were crying for coming and apologizing and sat at my desk with my head in my hands listening to the explosion of chatter in the courtyard and realizing that I was, of course, going to be made to pay for this slip for the rest of the semester. I have a feeling they will be angels in class for the next three classes before the summer break, but they will remind me in the halls and down the stairs that they are now aware that my language vocabulary includes more then just “I’m fine thank you and you?”

At least they were amused.

Fuck.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Oblivion

I’m diving again.

Head first into oblivion, I see it there waiting for me. It smiles, warm and welcoming and says “Come on in, child. Been waiting. Been too long.” I smile back at oblivion and think “Yes, it has been too long.”

I remember the last time I toyed with oblivion. My reproductive parts had been fucked all to hell and after having them removed I spent several months on my knees praying to the church of fuckall to try and repair the damage. It worked, but the church kept my soul and oblivion loomed large on the horizon.

I ran. I always run.

I found safety net in open and inviting and understanding.

I believed in the safety.

There were the uppers and the downers, and the strip clubs and the old drunk who took me to strip clubs when I was too down and out to pay what I owed. And I took it.

Because it was better then oblivion.

But there it was a nice smiling, yawning, mouth-pit. It waited. It opened. It yawned.

“Child, you bore me.” Says oblivion to me. “Child, you run for all the wrong reasons. This is easier. You come join me and you will see.”

I say “Fuck you, oblivion. I see a light at the end of the tunnel. There is always a light. Fuck you oblivion.”

Oblivion just smiles that knowing smile. That happy waiting smile. “Yes, child there is always a light. I learned to use fire a long time ago. Much better for catching moths like you.”

And I ran.

And I run.

And I keep running.

I sleep. I wake up with crusty eyes that have been filled with tears. I realize that I’ve been crying over my dreams.

Suddenly it hits me.

I miss my father. I never knew him as an adult. That hurt. I avoided him like oblivion and it hurt. And now, suddenly it stings me a bit. And it hurts. And I remember the life half lived. Easier to half live then face what that yawning black hole is.

And I ran.

And I run.

Oblivion smiles at me. “Why you always running child? It’s faster if you go this way.”

I remember lessons of my youth that I don’t believe. “Hard roads. They are safer in the long run. That’s what my elders told me. That’s what I’m meant to believe.”

Oblivion rolls over and grins like a Cheshire cat with a mouse in it’s paws. I know I’ve spoken too soon. I’m going to get lost.

“What makes you think this is the easy way?” Oblivion asks me.

And I ran.

And I run.

And I start to see it then.

I start to see it now.

And I think of my father. Because that seems safe. And I realize it’s not. My fucked up life, my fucked up life is as much to be blamed there as anywhere else. Family is a lie, I conjure up when I want to believe that maybe, just maybe, if I were a good person I would hold closer. Then I realize there is not truth to that. Family is part of that opening black yawning path. The trickster, it is Oblivion, lying in wait. Loki, the Coyote, Anasasi, waiting and waiting for me to fall into that trap. To think there is comfort in a family that never wanted me anyway.

To think there is comfort in a family I believe in.

Oblivion laughs at me. “Why you so scared, child. I got so much to offer her. Come take a taste. Just dip in a toe, and see what I have to offer.”

And I ran.

And I run.

I want to worship at the church of fuckall where the prostitute is holy and the goddess smiles on me.

There is salvation in her somewhere.

If I can be strong enough to believe I myself and my history then I can keep from sinking into the shit that wants to engulf me.

Fuck tragedy.

Fuck my father.

Fuck oblivion.

It is better not to sink.

Oblivion smiles at me “What makes you think you ain’t already sunk, here, child? What makes you think you can be free of me.”

And I stop.

And I smile back at oblivion.

“Because,” I say “I’ve done it before.”

And there is only silence in answer to that.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

You know you've been in Korea too long when...

My life continues to not get any easier. Go life. The lack of ease has nothing to do with Korea. In reality Korea is probably the easiest part of my life right now. Thank goodness for it. Without Korea Im not really sure where I would be. While I realize that some might think this foolish I would say: I came to Korea with 100 dollars in my pocket, 50 grand in debt, a pair of jeans, six books and a t-shirt. Now I am actually fairly respected for what I do, get paid decent money, have a roof over my head, and the debt problem managed. Da-haminguk. Alas, Korea cant fix everything. I realized the other day though as I was teaching my class that I knew for a fact I have been in Korea too long.

I work in a public middle school with girls and boys in the age range from twelve to fifteen years old (American). The kids are nice, I like my job. I have large classes and complete control of my curriculum. I cant complain. I do find some of the traditions of the middle school strange if not occasionally just downright odd. For example in the public elementary schools the kids are not asked to wear uniforms. When coming into the middle school however all students are expected to convert over. This is not a big deal except for the first few months of first grade when the new students dress however they want. Ive had boys come in wearing Fuck the system t-shirts, girls come in wearing shirts that across the front say Play with these? or Sex Bomb and in a few instances pants with similar sloganeering like Touch me here or Juicy. Yes, I realize juicy is an American brand and I think it similarly appropriate for American thirteen year olds, in that it should not be. Im not that conservative but I dont like being encouraged to think about my younger students as sexual objects. Ill wait till the get to college age for that.

Among other traditions here are one the girls seem to hold in favor more then the boys. Maybe it is forward thinking parents on the part of the boys, or maybe it is just that girls are more conceited about their clothing choices, but the summer uniforms are a real problem. My girls were a sailor outfit with a long skirt. This in and of itself is not a big deal. However I have many third year girls who are trying desperately to wear the same uniform they wore in the first grade. This becomes a bigger problem for girls who have had growth spurts, girth spurts, or just, ah, delicately, blossoming in general. To deal with this the girls will wear t-shirt under the uniforms to hide the unmentionables. Unfortunately I have a lot of girls who buy t-shirts that would also be more appropriate for first year students and end up with a lot of bare midriffs in the classroom. I finally pulled a few girls aside and poked them in the muffin-top and asked them if they thought this was really appropriate, to which they blushed from one end to the other and since mended their ways. I feel a minor amount of guilt about it but I also remember a teacher who did a similar thing for me in the fifth grade. She was much less gentle and I wasnt really dressing inappropriately, I just refused to wear a bra and was apparently very jiggly. I wore baggy shirts, but never managed to take the bra thing. The girls Ive chastised have developed a similar attitude. I see them walking sometime on the streets after school hours and no they have not been to traumatized though. If one considers the halter top and catholic school girl gone wrong mini-skirt as being a sign against trauma.

Another tradition which is pretty much universal in Korea is the hair cut. Most girls when they enter public school have to get their hair cut. I have become quite acclimated to the hair cut. I suspect a lot of this has to do with the general almost planet wide horror of girls becoming women (exorcist anyone) and as a way to reduce the damage of realizing that the daughters are in fact coming into their own the hair is chopped off. This lead to my Ive been hear to long moment. I had a student in my class the other day who I could not stop staring at. I was flummoxed and distracted and I couldnt figure out why. She is a first grade girl, nice quiet student, works well with her team, so why the sudden attention.

It finally dawned on me after the fourth look that it was her hair. She had it pulled back in a ponytail. Her hair was much longer then the standard for the for the girls in the class. I felt very Korean thinking her hair is too long especially since I have my own extremely psychotic reaction to hair cutting (just try getting near me with a pair of scissors). I started chuckling to myself about it and my Korean co-teacher walked up and asked me what was the matter.

I pointed out the student and said I think Ive been here to long.

Why?

Her hair is too long.

My co-teacher did a double take and then laughed with me. I turned around to get back to my job, checking on the progress of the activity. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the teacher go over and tell the girl in Korean to have her hair cut by tomorrow. I feel much more guilty about that.

While my own life is crazy maybe being here this long has started to make me crazy too. Perhaps I should check into a nice bug-out before I start getting haircuts lined up for more of my students. What I think I really need is a t-shirt that says Welcome to Korea: Fuck Off.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Over Exposed

Korea, is for the most part, a fairly modern sort of place. While you have a the rather bizarre mix of ancient, historically craptacular, extremely shabby, randomly poor, and ridiculously expensive all blended together here, it is for the most part a fairly modern country. I keep in mind certain things when I say this as I know there are more then a few people who would argue with me about how behind the times Korea is. But lets cut Korea a little slack here, for a country that was torn apart and blown to smithereens fifty years ago, Korea is doing pretty stinking well. And with this in mind all I can think is, what the hell with all the public urination yesterday?

Im not exactly sure what was going on, but apparently it was Kids Pee on the Street Day which did not get a nice banner like the one outside of city hall proclaiming CONDOM DAY 6/9. I am going to city hall on condom day, but I suspect that at best I will just see a guy dressed in a condom suit and some health official talking about how Daegu has the condom problem covered. While I know that condom day is forthcoming, I was not aware about public urination day which was apparently scheduled to coincide with my day off for Memorial Day this year.

It started with lox and bagels. I really wanted lox and bagels. I woke up on Wednesday and thought over breakfast about lox and bagels. As lunch time drew nearer I knew I wanted lox and bagels. I knew nothing else would satisfy but lox and bagels. But I live in South Korea and its not like I can just walk out my door head down to the Jewish bakery on the corner and order up some lox and bagels. Nothing is that easy in South K. So, knowing that nothing else would suffice I got dressed, on my day off, at the ridiculously early hour of 11:30 am to go out and find lox and bagel fixing. Grab a cab, destination: Home Plus. I get there and pay the friendly cab man, say a prayer to the bald Jewish guy who runs that dinner on Wabash just under the el that makes a fantastic bagel, and head across the street for the store. As Im about to enter I see before me a six year old girl squatted down. I thought she was playing with a bug as her grandmother was there watching. Until she stood up, pulling her dress up, and by this I mean all the way up and over her head as grandmother cackles at the public flashing of the neighborhood waygook and a dirty yellow puddle runs down the sidewalk.

I was a little confused, or a lot confused. There is a public restroom about seven feet from where I am standing (and I know this as Ive used that restroom) and it seems that walking in the store and hitting that restroom would make a lot more sense. Apparently not to grandma or little girl for reasons that remain unclear. You must understand, those of you who have not lived in South Korea and who might be reading, that the public restroom experience in Korea is fantastic. Really, its wonderful. Many places even have heated seats and bidets. Unlike America, where I had the horror of desperately needing a bathroom during my recent trip home that required a trip to a public restroom, the seats are clean. Woman here appreciate being able to use an honest to god toilet and dont hover over it spraying everything with urine. Because there are still many public restrooms here that have nothing but squatters (a porcelain hole in the ground) which makes us appreciate not having to squat to pee. Im confused by urinating child, but I do not let it distract me from my cause. Lox and bagels I think as I head into the store grab a huge wad of cash and go on the hunt. And was mostly successful. I found everything I needed, onion, tomato, cream cheese, lox (honest to god smoked Salmon from Alaska lox) and lots of bread. But no bagels. I wept for my lack of bagels. Bald Jewish guy you are so cruel to keep me from the bagels. I had a backup plan. I took my goods, got into another cab and went downtown to the bakery district.

There are about ten bakeries all back to back on the street in bakery district which only makes sense in Korea but there it is. I get out and head into bakery number one where I see bagels. Im so excited. I read the sign. Sweet potato bagels. Mmmmmmmm I think that will taste fantastic with my lox. Bald Jewish guy laughs evilly from across the ocean and smacks his lips at me. I move on to the next bakery. I do manage to find some nice onion bagels and so I buy these head home and have lunch. A feast of fish and cheese and chewy breads that made me feel almost like I was home. It was heavenly. Having feasted so well on my day off there was only one thing left to do. I took a nap for two hours.

When I woke up I decided to go out to the market and go shopping. I packed myself up and headed out to get some fabric and enjoy the day. I got to the market no problem and found the fabric mart, and was enjoying myself. As I walked through the crowded streets on the food row I walked past a mostly naked seven year old who was standing in front of, right in front of, the grill while his mother held his penis and direct the flowing stream into a bottle. On food street, and there was a public restroom like seven feet away from where they were sitting. And eating. Eating with like fifteen other Koreans while the seven year old relieved himself in a bottle. I almost lost my lox.

Korea confuses me sometimes. For a place that is oftentimes so withit and ahead of the curve you occasionally get days like these where just nothing makes sense. Or at least the sudden need to expose young children publicly and have them pee doesnt make sense.

Maybe it was me. Maybe it was the bagels.

Happy Condom Day 6/9 dont forget to give a glove to someone you love.

Monday, June 04, 2007

It's a good resturaunt!

It was Monday afternoon. I was informed that there would be a school dinner for all the teachers on Wednesday night paid for by the parents association. The parents associated had been disbanded by the principal last year (she didn’t feel like dealing with them from what I understand) but had been reformed and was hard at work ingratiating itself to the new principal (I’m assuming to prevent disbanding). I normally try like the devil I am to get out of these things, but seeing as how I was having a rough week I figure, sure why not. I said yes.

It was Wednesday afternoon and I was in the middle of class when my phone started to ring. I checked the number, noted that it was the school and answered.

“Hi Sara, don’t forget dinner after class.”

“Sure.”

“Okay.”

I turned back to the class which was busy playing an exciting game and we got lively. The phone buzzed again.

“Yes?”

“I just found out the restaurant.”

“Yes?”

“It’s a good Korean restaurant.”

“Yes?”

“Oh, you will like it.”

“Okay, what do they have for me to eat?” I was tired of waiting to find out about the resturaunt. The school knows I’m a vegetarian. They know I’m picky. They know I won’t eat it if it comes from a cow or a pig. I also know the school didn’t pick the resturaunt the parents association did. I’m pretty flexible and having been in Korea for five years fairly adept at getting food to eat when I’m hungry. I wasn’t too worried about it.

“Oh, wait. I have to get the menu, I’ll call back.”

“Okay.”

The class finishes up the game and I start going through our regularly scheduled activities. The phone rings again.

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Yes?”

“They are not in the phone book.”

“Okay. Is it a fish restaurant?” There is explosive nervous laughter from the other end of the phone. One of my favorite things about living in Korea is communication or the lack thereof. I know that the caller has been dancing around the restaurant issue and if I want to find out what dinner is before dinner I am just going to have to ask. Alas, one question is never enough.

“It isn’t a fish restaurant?”

“No.”

“Okay, so what is it?”

“It’s a very good restaurant.”

“Okay, what do they serve?”

“Oh, it’s a Korean steak restaurant.”

“Okay, what do they have that I can eat?” Because I live in Korea and because the Korean meal comes with the equivalent of a thousand sides there is almost a guarantee that there will be something there that I can eat without wanting to be ill. It’s just a matter of finding out what if anything I can order as a sort of entrĂ©e. The problem with dinner in Korea is that if I don’t have the big side dish part of the meal then everyone will think I haven’t eaten. And since I don’t eat rice anyway, everyone will think I’m dying or sick or going to die. So finding out what I can eat is important so I have a sense of what I need to be prepared to eat. This is also important in a country where the primary flavoring is red pepper and lots of it; to the point where nothing else matters. Actually, Koreans don’t really do subtle flavoring in foods. It comes in two varieties. Full of red pepper or so bland that you wonder if the cook was asleep. That’s it. There is no happy medium. It will either kill you and make your eyes water with the amount of red pepper that has been loaded in, or be so tasteless that you will wonder how Koreans learned to do boiled celery.

Seasonings, the subtle blending of flavors in food to create a taste or effect, do not exist in Korea. When you go to the market to get seasonings you can find several different varieties of red pepper or pickled pepper, or red peppers, and if your not sure what to put in your food there is an hajuma that will happily help you distinguish between just the right red pepper to properly season your food. Of course, if you don’t want to try any of that there is always red pepper. We like choice in Korea.

“So what can I eat?”

“I don’t know. I will call the resturaunt and get the menu.” Click.

I wait for it.

“Hello?”

“Oh, Sara, they are not in the phone book. I can’t call.”

“Yes.”

“Oh. So, you will come to dinner?” I’m always up for an adventure, I think.

“Sure, can you tell me please, what is the name of the restaurant?” Nervous giggles.

“Oh, the uh, well, the translation, it is, ah, it might not make sense.”

“That’s okay, I just want to know where we are eating.”

“Well, it’s a very good Korean steak house.”

“Yes, and what is the name of the restaurant?”

“Well, it’s not really a name, like American style name, it’s more like a Korean style name, more like a sentence, but it is good Korean steakhouse.”

“Yes, I understand, I’m sure I can eat chi-gay or something. What is the name, though?”

Lots of laughter.

“Okay?”

“Well, it’s name, it’s like, it means in English…ah…’We kill every hour,.”

“Uh, I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you correctly. What was that?”

“We kill every hour.”

“We kill what every hour?”

“We kill cow ever hour. It’s just, it means it’s very fresh. A very good steakhouse.”

“Okay.”

Click.

I do love being a vegetarian in Korea. The chi-gay, red pepper broth with beans and tofu, was spicy.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Crisis and The Office Part II

While my crisis is ongoing and I’m slowly coming to terms what that it might mean, I suppose this particular story has been left unfinished. So in case you have been waiting, and very patiently since hardly anyone said anything, here is the rest of the story.

The Office Part II

So it was that after the first commute from hell I arrived in Suwon and while a bit cramped none the worse for wear. I went up several floors and found myself at the top of the station where I found an escalator to take me down to the cab stand. There were two lines for cabs, the cheap line and the expensive line. After my commuting catastrophe I went to the expensive line. I just wanted to get to the office and stop commuting. While I had left home around seven it was already ten to nine and I realized I was going to be a little late. I took a deep breath and got in the cab and said the land mark that would get me to the office where I needed to be.

“Odi?” asks the cab driver.

I said it again. It was the front gate near the big market “Suwonshijung, Chungmoon, gashipshayo.”

“Odi?”

This did not make me very happy. I remembered that it was the fish market and maybe Suwon market was not correct so I tried that. “Sangshijung, Chungmoon, gashipshayo.”

The cab driver turned around and glared at me. If you have never had the experience of being glared at by a Korean cab driver, let me tell you, it’s a bit unpleasant. There is this look that says “You silly stupid Waygook, I realize you have money, and you live in my country to make money and I hate you. Learn to speak Korean or get out of my cab. I would rather drive someone else for less money then be patient while you try to figure out where you want to go.” I sighed. I went to open the door. I’ve had this happen before, and sometimes you just have to change cabs and hope the next cab driver is some happy go lucky Buddhist who wants to practice his English and will not give you the look.

“No, no, sanshijung, asriso. Ya, ya.” He starts driving. I sigh and hope that we will get there. Especially since I have no idea where I’m going, but after about ten minutes and about seven thousand won later we pull up to a sidewalk and the cabdriver ushers me out. I jump out of the cab and figure this must be the place and head in for a day at the office.

I remember walking into the building, you have that first day of school feeling where you don’t know what to expect and are worried that everyone is judging you. All the Koreans are staring at me. To be fair, all the Koreans are always starting at me. I’m not Korean so I have a giant sign over my head with an arrow that points down saying “Look at me.” I walk into the office find the elevator and figure out which floor to head to and ride on up the stairs.

I get into the sterilized neutral room with smiling waygook faces surrounded by children transposed over pictures of Disney Land and Belgium castles and figure this must be the place. I walk down the hall, stomach all a flutter to go in and figure out what I’m supposed to be doing. Enter, finally into the office.

Cubicles. Everywhere are cubicles and cubicle walls, computers and Koreans at their desks. They don’t look up. In all fairness some of them are asleep which explains why they are not looking up. They rock back in their chairs asleep or hunched over monitors chatting with various people in the office or friends from home on messenger programs. I come in with my bags and walk to the little coffee table and just stand there. And wait.

I see the desk that I’ve been told is mine and I walk up to it and sit down. It’s my first day, I think. But no one has greeted me, or said hello, or asked me if I found the place okay, or even introduced themselves so I might know who someone is. Nothing, there is no interaction and I am completely cut off from the world around me.

I open files, I start trying to figure out where to start. I sit at the computer. I look at the files. I sit at the computer. I download a messenger and get M- on the line and ask her what I should do.

“You’ll be great.” She says.

Okay, I think I can do this.

I sit.

I wait.

I still can’t concentrate. I look at the files some more.

I begin to feel more isolated then I have ever felt in Korea. I look around the office. I’m afraid to leave the desk chair. I cling to the desk chair. I look at the cubicles surrounding me and amid the snores and the clicking there is nothing. It’s lifeless. The walls start to close in and I experience this Kafkaesque sense of being swallowed into some alternate reality that is both exceedingly dull and far stranger then the one in which I currently am. I wait.

I start to cry.

I can’t help it, and it seems foolish, but the sudden overwhelming sense of being completely cut off has just become too much. I’m ignored. Nothing happens. I just keep sitting and try to type. Try to think of what this work will be used for and can’t help but to continue to feel lost in it. This goes on until noon. I try to work, but without much success, my productivity which last week had been about fifty pages a day is suddenly hardly a paragraph in the three hours. I get my phone and go to the bathroom. I call everyone in my phonebook but no one answers. I just want to hear a voice. I want to talk. I want to open my mouth and say something and have someone hear me. I want to scream in the office at the walls and wake up the screaming Koreans. I can’t work until I’ve somehow vented my frustrations.

Nothing.

At noon a woman walks up.

“We go to lunch now.” Okay I think, finally.

“Let’s go.” Okay. I can’t get my emotions back under control. I walk with the crowd down to a pork restaurant. Ah, being a vegetarian in Korea. They try to ask me what I’d like to eat, but I can’t think of anything. Suddenly after three hours of wanting to speak I find that I can’t get there. I can’t get anything to come out, I can’t get to voice so I can make an opinion. Someone says in Korea that I don’t eat meat. They order a spicy bean soup for me. I have a few bits but spend most of the lunch wishing I could disappear, dreaming of being an inconvenience at the Village. We get back from lunch and I head back to the desk. Everyone falls into place, exactly an hour after leaving everyone is back at the desk and back to doing whatever it is they do. I wonder how anyone works in this kind of environment. I have four hours to go, I think, four hours to go.

I keep trying to work. The computer flickers. Around two in the afternoon I break down and head to the bathroom again. I can’t get anyone on the phone. I start to cry some more. I go back to my desk. Back to the bathroom. Back to my desk. Back to the bathroom. I’m in the middle of my nervous breakdown when the phone rings and it is S- calling to see how I’m doing with the first day in the office. It’s the first person to ask me a personal question all day. I crumble into an emotional ball and just spill. I can’t calm myself.

I feel the office outside the door pressing it. It’s coming to get me, to pull me back in. I’m afraid of the time I’m spending away. I want to run out. I can’t do anything. I can’t work. Finally, I go back to my desk and try to keep myself together. I sit. I look at the computer. I can’t work. It’s 4:50 and I have accomplished nothing. I pack my bag and practically run out the door, I don’t care. It isn’t until I’m halfway down the stairs that I realize that I was probably supposed to stay until six in the evening as is customary for most office workers. What I didn’t realize until later is that most of the office workers don’t leave until close to nine or ten, and so I was heading out early indeed. I get in a cab and head back down to the get on the train to go home. The crush doesn’t even bother me, it’s leading me away from the horror that was the crushing dread of the Korean office and I just don’t care.

I get on the trains and ride home listening to music. When I got home I started drinking and kept that up until friends limped me home in a stupor and dumped me in the front door. I called in the next day.