We landed extremely early in the morning and I was all set to go home and go to bed. Even after napping most of the plane ride and the entire two hour bus ride back to our part of the city I was pretty exhausted. But Michael did not want to sleep all day, instead he wanted to sight see. And since I was going to be at work the next two days rather than being with him, I felt obliged to join. We decided to go over to the Jongno Shrine and Changdeokgung Palace. We got to the metro stop and could not figure out how to get into the freaking shrine. We made our way across the street to what we suspected might be another entrance to the shrine, but what was in fact Changdeokgung Palace. And we happened to be just in time for a tour. So we jumped on the English speaking tour that was about to leave and it was actually really nice and informative. For as many times as I've gone to palaces in Seoul, this was the first time I actually took a tour. Its nice to have someone showing you around and pointing out what you should be looking at! The palace itself was a lot like Gyeongbokgung architecturally, but one really unique thing is a huge "secret" garden they have in the back. I definitely would like to go back in the fall (and spring!) because the trees are supposed to be really gorgeous around the little reflective pools and traditional structures. After the tour we went over to Insadong and walked around for a bit before grabbing dinner at this awesome little restaurant off one of the alleys (I would be hard pressed to find it again) and heading home for a relatively early night.
The building with the blue tiled roof was the office of the king. In modern day Korea, the home of the president is called the "Blue House" because of the blue tiles on its roof.
Love the architecture.
Gate to the "secret" garden.
Thursday and Friday I had to work so I sent Mike off to sightsee on his own. Thanks to the Asia plan on his Blackberry mobile I was treated to near constant e-mails and text messages about what was going on. On Thursday I sent him off on to the DMZ. Midway through the day I get a call from a disgruntled Mike, telling me that he was left by the bus. Seriously, I've done this thing twice and never had any problems. We ended up having to call Lotte and have them send the bus back. As he said "they probably just thought I was defecting." He also had a group of annoying Canadians on his trip (sensing a pattern with the DMZ) so they kept him entertained. Thursday night we went up to the Rocky Mountain Tavern in Itaewon to watch the Canada/Russia men's hockey game. Geez, it was as though I stepped off the streets of Seoul and onto the streets of...some Canadian town. I've never seen so many maple leaves adorning shirts, hats, hoodies, what have you. It was a good time. On Friday he went on the Seoul City Bus Tour and checked out a few places around the city. I met up with him downtown after work and we went to get drinks at Jongno Tower (great great great views of downtown as the sun sets, and some of the best wine I've had in Seoul) and out to dinner at a galbi place he'd read about online. I had to laugh because though the one complaint about this restaurant online was that the service was lacking, it was like they thought we were invalid children. They did EVERYTHING for us. It was kind of crazy. Really, I can flip little pieces of beef over on the grill. I'm a big girl, haha. While there we befriended a Canadian businessman who works for the Canadian pork industry and learned some fascinating things about that business and about his travels. He was a cool guy.
On Saturday we had discussed going down to Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, but instead opted for a lazier day of shopping, etc. He headed out a little earlier than I did and checked out Insadong and Dongdaemun for a while and I met him in Myeongdong for a little more shopping and another tasty galbi dinner. I swear that in the week and a half I was with my brother I consumed more wine and red meat than I have since I moved here! It was pretty sad to see him go on Sunday morning, as this trip was the most time we have spent together in memory. I am not exaggerating when I say that. He went to college when I was ten, and we certainly hadn't been on any long confining family vacations or anything in the years preceding his departure, so I can't imagine the last time we spent a solid week together. It was nice just to hang out. After he headed off to the airport on Sunday, vegg mode kicked in and I basically just slept for a while, trying to regain some of the sleep I lost on the trip.
Work has been steaming right along. I can't believe I've been back four weeks already. One of the things that they don't tell you is a downside about coming to work for SMOE in August is that everything changes in March when the new school year starts. Though I can't really understand it, teachers are mixed up at Korean schools constantly. Special subject teachers (music, English, art, etc) who in the US are specifically qualified to teach that subject are rotated into regular classroom teacher positions and vice versa. The result: a lot of people who are not exactly qualified to do the work that they are doing. Especially when it comes to English. Last year I had two co-teachers: So Young who I taught fourth and sixth grade with, and Eun Kyung who I taught third and fifth grade with. So Young, who was a constant pleasure to work with, got assigned to a sixth grade homeroom this year. Eun Kyung, since she was pregnant and out for three months last semester, was allowed to stay in the English department for another year. She came back ready to go in March and down to only teaching fifth grade (I don't know how she had enough classes to make up her schedule, but that is beside the point). Then I got THREE new coteachers.
Yeon Ah worked at school last semester and I'd had a few interactions with her, but I really didn't know her. She is teaching third and sixth grade with me and her English...well it leaves a lot to be desired. She tries hard but miscommunication is a nearly daily thing, which gets tiring. For instance, on Thursday she gave me a "lesson plan" for our third grade class on Friday. This is a direct excerpt: "clue game: fick one students and other studend ask him/her Yer/No Question ex. Is it o?" I...have no idea what that means. (For those who are interested, the next day I found that it meant that I would have a picture on the stage and the kids would ask me questions to determine what the picture was that I was hiding. Obviously.)
Then I have two braaaaaand new, just out of college teachers working with me to do fourth grade. For some reason, they have both of these teachers working part time at my school and part time at another school, which makes no sense to me. The reason that they now need more English teachers is that starting this school year third and fourth graders get English twice a week instead of just once a week like they did last year. Tuesdays I teach the first three periods with Jin Tae, a 22 year old guy. Already this has become my biggest source of stress for the new school year. I am unsure as to whether it is because he is just out of school, or because he is a man, but Jin Tae is convinced that he knows EVERYTHING. And it has already gotten old. He won't listen to me or take any of my suggestions, so I'm kind of at a loss as to how to help him. His plans are wayyyy too short, even after I tell him its something the kids will breeze through. I know I tend to be an over planner, but come ON. The first Tuesday I taught with him I came home and drank nearly an entire bottle of wine. That stressed. Hopefully it will get better....
On Wednesdays, Ji Hyeon works with me for the first two periods, teaching classes 4-1 and 4-2. Then she has individual classes with each of those homerooms for periods three and four. Seriously? Does that really help the kids get more out of English? Its still once a day and now they come to English class for 40 minutes, go to another class, and then do English again for 40 minutes. I guess I should just stop trying to make sense of Korean "logic".
I breezed through the first week as we didn't even begin teaching until Thursday. The first Friday morning I was told by Mina (a coworker in my office) that Eun Kyung wasn't feeling well so she wouldn't be in that day. That afternoon I was told by Yeon Ah that Eun Kyung won't be coming back for the REST OF THE SCHOOL YEAR because she's having more pregnancy issues. Like, I know I should be sympathetic and all, but jesus. Since becoming pregnant in November she has worked for a total of MAYBE three weeks. That is a little crazy. So Yeon Ah told me that So Young would be in charge of me now (which later turned out to be false, Yeon Ah is in charge of me). The upside to this situation is that I got Cindy, an awesome, bubbly, bright new sub for Eun Kyung who is a lot of fun and I really like her a lot. And her English is great!
Campaign posters kids made who were running for class president. Seriously, check out the professionally made one on the right. Can you tell I work in the second richest district in Seoul? Geez.
My second biggest source of stress this year has been my returner students. Not the students themselves, rather the way administration and their teachers handle them. The second week of school, all of a sudden, the kids from my 3/4 grade returners class started showing up in my REGULAR English class. All of them are fluent in English, straight from the States, and now they're sending them to a class where (literally) we spend the entire period learning how to say "hello, my name is..." Is it any wonder they are talking, giving ridiculous answers to questions, etc? So I had a talk with Yeon Ah and told her that they shouldn't be there because it was inappropriate use of their time, whatever. So she talked to their teacher and I thought everything was dealt with. Week number three rolls around and there they are again! AAAAAAAAAGH. So then I had So Young talk to their teacher and inform her that they should really only be coming to their class with me (the whole point of me teaching a returner class is so that they can have more appropriate English classes and not have to lose brain cells sitting in the ESOL class). The teacher said that the only class she got to send the kids out to was English and she needed more time without them (for planning, I guess?) so she wanted them to come to English at least twice a week. So, moral of the story, it was decided- obviously by people other than me- that now the 3/4 class and the 5/6 class will have English class twice a week. However, they have to keep my class load under 22 (which is exactly where it was last semester) so they are doubling up. Mondays I teach grades 5/6 alone. Tuesdays I teach 1/2 and 3/4 together. Fridays I teach 3/4 and 5/6 together. It is nearly impossible to plan for. All of the kids are native English speakers except for one student in 3/4 who ONLY speaks Japanese and one student in 5/6 who ONLY speaks Chinese. So they're asking me to basically plan for four grades plus two non-English speakers in a single 40-minute period. My grade 3-6 class on Fridays is nearly 20 kids, as is my grade 1-4 class on Tuesdays. I had the idea of doing novels with the kids and that way I could work with each group one day a week individually (Monday for 5/6, Tuesday for 1/2 and Friday for 3/4) and if there was another group in the classroom (3/4 on Tuesday or 5/6 on Friday) they could just do independent work. Yesterday was the first day that I really had a whole class together and it was MESS. The other group really can't do independent work (certainly the ESOL kid can't) so I'm kind of at a loss as to what the solution could be. And it really sucks because now I don't feel like I have any coworkers with strong enough English skills that could help me hash it out with administration to try and figure out a better plan. FRUSTRATING!
When I'm not lesson planning or trying to get stuff done at work, I'm usually working on editing for the Dasi Hamkke book. You may remember that I started volunteering for this organization (Dasi Hamkke Center) that provides assistance to women who are victims of the sex trade. They published a book/case study a few years ago that we are basically rewriting now. There is a group of about seven of us, split on to two teams (a translator and two editors on each team, and then I'm a "cohesive voice editor" who will make sure the chapters written by the two teams blend seamlessly) that are translating, proofreading, editing and finalizing the book. We meet bi-weekly, and in between we have lots of work to do as new information is translated by Erica and Changhye. It is good to be involved in something outside of school, but its been keeping me pretty busy.
When not working or volunteering, I've had some good times with friends, as per usual. The Saturday after we all went back to school we decided to get together and catch up. Laura and I met up earlier in the afternoon and went glasses shopping, where I bought two new pairs of glasses. They are fun frames- one is green/yellow and one is purple- and I've had a good time increasing my color coordination with outfits! Then we all met up and went out for a big dinner in Myeongdong at Todai, a seafood buffet chain. SOOO MUUUCH FOOOD. It was delicious, but I would have sworn I would be full for a week!
Most of the crew out to dinner: (clockwise) Erich, Kyeong, Julia, Boram, Me, Dana, Laura
I swear Dana's hair is different almost every time I see her!
Also, check out the new glasses Laura and I are both sporting after our shopping spree!
The following weekend I basically just vegged out around the apartment, did some laundry, watched a bunch of movies (The Blind Side and Up in the Air were both EXCELLENT! The Fourth Kind was pretty terrible.). The next week was St. Patrick's Day and I convinced Laura and Julia to meet up with me at Wolfhound, the Irish pub in Itaewon where there was a Korean Irish band playing. Yes, they were all Korean, but they play traditional Irish music. They were pretty good. We got there around 7:00pm and it was PACKED! We ended up sharing a table with a nice couple who took pity on us. When they left we gave their seats to two new people and kept the giving going. I can honestly say that I think that was the biggest group of white people (certainly white guys) that I've been in since moving here. It was TONS of fun to people watch and enjoy green Cass (Korean beer). The shamrock headband and stickers my mom sent me were also a huge hit with the bar crowd, haha.
Me, Julia and Laura celebrating St. Patrick's Day in style.
Though Scranton and most of the US would celebrate St. Pat's the weekend before, Seoul did it up on the 20th of March. Ayzia and I went down to Cheonggye Stream where they were hosting a St. Patrick's Day Festival. We went late in the day (after the parade, etc) so I think it had died down a lot. The weather was really wierd. It was cold and very windy and the sky was kind of a sickening yellow. Brigid and I both said we looked outside and our first thought was "this looks like tornado weather." But we braved it for some live Irish music and free Guinness. We were probably outside for over an hour before we realized that this wasn't just crazy weather, this was a Yellow Dust storm. Basically Yellow Dust/Asian Dust is fine pieces of sand blown down from China and Mongolia's deserts, thanks to deforestation and desertification. On its way down to Korea and Japan, the dust floats over the industrial areas of southern China, picking up all sorts of carcinogens. During the dust storms in March-May, the dust can cause pink eye, bronchitis, increased allergy symptoms, sinus infections, etcetera. LOVELY. Of course if I had realized it was Yellow Dust I would have worn a mask, but being a dumbass, I had no idea. (And just so you know, I got a sinus infection from that one hour of dust. I got progressively sicker with a sore throat and stuffy nose until on Tuesday I couldn't talk and all and took a sick day to go to the doctor. She said the dust only gets worse in April and May...so that's great. Something to look forward to.) After the festival Ayzia and I met up with Brigid for some Indian food (Foreign Restaurant is tasty, just like the EatYourKimchi kids said!) and then met up with everyone else.
Wonderful world of Yellow Dust.
Swear to god, this is 100% undoctored. Check out that Apocalyptic sky! THANKS, CHINA.
Some SMOE kids took it upon themselves to throw a little 6-Month Anniversary Party, which was really nice. They got Roofers, a bar in Itaewon, to agree to host for free, so it was an entire bar of August 2009 SMOE teachers. All the girls in our group were there and it was (again) entertaining people watching and consumption of green beer (party theme was St. Patrick's Day).
We survived six months! Cheers!
Laura, Me, Ayzia and Julia at Roofers.
And that, my friends, is basically what has been going on. Tonight we are going out for Erich's birthday in Gangnam and tomorrow I have to do some lesson planning that didn't get done last week. This is the first time I've had to do work at home! Damn my new schedule!
Anyways, I am going to try and be super dilligent about updating more frequently. Sorry for the long lapses, hopefully boredom hasn't chased all of you away!