Monday, September 13, 2010

All Fun and Games!

Oh man, I seriously need to get back into updating more regularly.  I'll do better; I promise.  Soon my schedule will be packed with cool events and trips, so I'll have a lot to talk about.

Life has pretty much settled back down to normal.  Work all day, go home and watch seasons of Dexter, go to bed, wake up, repeat.  It is good to be back in the groove of things.  We've also gotten back to having Gangdong-gu Cru meetups, so that is nice.  On our first Thursday after the school year began, Liz and Papa Kim took all of the foreigners in the building out to dinner.  It was really nice to put faces to the remaining names of newbies, and just generally bond with people in our building.  The food was was the same restaurant that she took Carl, Monica and I to when they visited.  I am so thankful to have landlords who are caring, generous and parental.  They make up for any negative things about this apartment.
Clockwise from left: Caitlin, Josephine, Bryan, Andrew (being a dork), Cory, Frank, Jamie, Shannon (Liz told us to invite friends!)

Clockwise from left: Liz, Me, Lee-Rae, Adam, Michael, Dave, Erika, Melissa

Clockwise from left: Teresa, Diana, Carin, Papa Kim, Sang

Last weekend I organized a group going to the Seoul FC game against Gwangju.  I love the soccer games here, I only wish they weren't on the other side of the woooorld (read: Seoul).  We had a quality group: me, Erich, Chrissy, a cool couchsurfer named Heather, Julia and two of her friends, Lee-Rae and Michael, Shannon and Jamie, and Frank and Melissa.  We held it down for the foreigners, making up our own cheers, etc.  Gotta represent.  In typical Korean soccer fashion, the first half passed without any score, and the second half was all shots at the goal.  Seoul actually got it in five times, but only three counted (offsides).  Still they won, and all was right with the world.  We also killed about four dozen double chocolate chip cookies that I had baked on Friday.  It was great.  After the game most people headed home, but Chrissy, Heather, Jamie, Shannon and I hung out for a while drinking and talking outside the GS25.  We ended up staying longer than expected so we had to take a taxi half of the way home once the trains stopped running.  Taxis are so cheap here that it didn't really matter, though.

Michael and Lee-Rae donning their warpaint

Holla at the waegook cheering section.
(Lee-Rae, blame Erich's faux hawk for you being blocked!)

Let's go Seoul!

Sigh, the vuvuzela (or boo-boo-jael-ra, when directly translated from Korean) has made its way to Korean soccer stadiums.

Like a herd of angry bees.

Sunday I got to sleep in before meeting up with Dave, Chrissy, Shannon, Jamie and one of their friends for a trip to the board game cafe in Gangnam.  I've heard of Cafe Oz before, but I had never actually made it out there.  As I was standing in the subway station waiting for everyone to get there, I heard a HUGE clap of thunder.  Like I am talking EVERYONE stopped.  Cue the downpour.  I am so sick of rain here.  I know weather is going crazy all over the world, but this is just getting annoying!  I swear that for the first three months I lived here it never rained.  It certainly never rained like this.  I was able to leave my house without an umbrella and not constantly walk around in squishy shoes. Is that too much to ask for?  From what I hear, monsoon season came really late this year and typhoon season has been unusually bad for Korea (see last post!).  It is just incredibly annoying to always have to lug around an umbrella and an extra pair of socks.  The ground gets saturated so quickly and everything floods so you're wading through huge puddles.  Yesterday I went on a train over the Han and I couldn't believe how high the water was.  It came completely up to the grass (there is usually quite a drop over the concrete wall on the edges of the river).  Crazy.  It wouldn't be quite as bad if Koreans had any kind of umbrella etiquette, but they don't.  I can't cont the number of times that pointy little umbrella spears have hit me in the face/glasses as someone walked by and bumped into me.  The umbrellas are even dangerous when closed- people swing their arms as they go up and down the subway stairs, turning their already pointy umbrellas into little clubs.  I almost punched a guy who hit me directly on the bruise I have on my knee from falling up the stairs (cest la vie).  I also DESPISE how when its raining really hard, everyone stops at the top of the subway exit.  They form a wall you have to push through as you struggle to put up your umbrella, dodge their pointy bits, and try not to get soaked.  It is a mess and a half.  SO done with the rainy season.

Giant puddles swallow the paths everywhere.

Anyway, we battled our way through the wall of people at the top of the Gangnam subway exit and walked through the POURING rain to Cafe Oz.  It is a pretty neat idea...basically you pay 3,000won a person (about $2.40) per hour and have full access to a huge inventory of board games.  They really run the gamut in game types, difficulty level, etc.  It is pretty sweet.  We warmed up with some Halli Galli, which, coincidentally, I SUCK AT, or so I learned.  There are cards with various pictures of fruit on them and you go around the table placing down cards.  In the center of the playing area there is a bell and whenever you see five of a single type of fruit you are supposed to ring the bell.  SURPRISE, I suck at counting quickly, haha.  Boo math and number games!  After that we transitioned to a drawing game (one person had a minute and a half to describe a picture and points were awarded to each person who drew various parts of the picture that was described) and word games (first a game where you were given two letters and the first team to come up a with a word that started with letter 1 and ended with letter 2 won, then Taboo!)  We had a good time and it was just a good way to kill a few hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Super disturbing (and complicated!) German board game called Porn Star at Cafe Oz.

Tuesday was Shannon's birthday and I really wanted to bake her some homemade cheesecakes to celebrate. Monday night Julia, Frank and I met for dinner at Gimbab Sarang and then came back to my apartment to do some baking.  I've been kind of riding a baking high since I came back to Korea.  I've made some SERIOUSLY delicious cookies (regular chocolate chip and milk chocolate/white chocolate chunk) and muffins (apple cinnamon muffins that were to DIE for) so I was ready to tackle mini-cheesecakes.  How hard could it be, right?  I amassed my supplies (including package upon package of costly, imported Philadelphia cream cheese) and we were ready to get to work. was an EPIC fail.  Really terrible.  The cheesecakes looked exactly like someone made a tasty cheesecake, dropped it on the ground, a truck ran over it, and then they scooped it up and smushed it back down into mini muffin tins.  Horrible.  Thankfully they tasted okay...but they looked HIDEOUS.  We did, however, have a fantastic time baking them, including lots of laughing at our misfortune.  I was really glad Julia and Frank were there...if I had been alone I would have likely been crying in the corner!

Frank whipping away at cream cheese.

Julia toiling as she chops apples (which we didn't even end up using!) is all downhill from here.

Smiiile, though your heart is breaking...

Whyyyy, for the love of god, whyyyy?

Wednesday night was the Cru meet up at Shannon and Jamie's so we got to celebrate her birthday with my monstrosities and an ice cream cake from Coldstone.  Lots of people came, including Josephine, another new teacher who is working middle school in our district.  She is working at a BRAND new middle school (only one grade level so far) so she may or may not be working with those crazies for winter and summer camps.  We aren't really sure what part of the district she'll be grouped with.  Anyway, the get together was good as per usual.
The ice cream cake and carious cheesecakes (yes, some have crushed cookies on top).

Everyone looking giddy.

One of the things that has really consumed a lot of what would otherwise be blogging time was acting at the friendly neighborhood waegook activity planner.  Basically there is a lot I want to do this year, especially since I know it is my last year teaching here for the foreseeable future.  Shannon was saying that it is strange because this year rather than thinking "Wow, I have a whole year ahead of me," I find myself thinking "Holy crap, half my time here is already over!"  There is a lot I still want to experience, and a lot of places I still want to visit.  One of my goals for the year is to get out of Seoul at least once a month.  Living in a city 24/7 can be a little soul crushing, so I want to have a chance to explore even more of Korea.  To that end I've been stalking the Korean Tourism Website, trying to find fun stuff for us to go experience.  Fall, especially September and October, are really festival heavy here, so there are literally more festivals than we will be able to attend.  I picked my favorites and sent out a mass message to everyone to see what they would be interested in.  It is a lot of work organizing everything, but at the same time I enjoy doing it and if I plan it it means we do what I want, haha.  I had some big and/or famous festivals that garnered a lot of interest (Andong International Mask Dance Festival), some that just sounded hilarious (Gwangju Kimchi Culture Festival), and some that were just smaller, more local events.

The Anseong Baudeogi Festival was hyped up a lot on the KTO website.  "Prepare yourself to be dazzled and delighted by puppet shows, plays, acrobatics, and plate-spinning.  Don't forget to visit the traditional marketplace or take part in one of the experience programs," it encouraged me.  Dana and I woke up early and trekked over to the Express Bus Terminal to take the hour and a half bus ride from Seoul to Anseong.  I had specifically asked Yeon Ah to call them the day before and confirm that the festival still took place even if it was raining. They assured me (through her..perhaps that was the problem) that should it rain they would just move the events inside.  Ok, I can work with that.  Dana and I caught up on the way out, as well as napping, so that was restorative.  All of a sudden we were in Anseong at a bus stop and everyone was getting we got off too.  Later we learned that this was not the Anseong Terminal, but some random stop outside a university along the way.  We grabbed a taxi and he took us out to the festival "grounds."  Basically a small river cuts through a ghetto area in Anseong and they set up the festival along the river's banks.  In nice weather, this would be picturesque.  Thanks to the rain, everything looked dirty, and the river was moving really fast and beginning to overflow its banks.  The entire festival grounds basically turned into a swamp with reeking mud that squished over your shoes.  Lovely.  We walked the full length of the festival grounds, confused by the fact that NOTHING WAS GOING ON.  At that point it was really just misting, so we were unsure as to where all these fun and dazzling events were happening.  It was deserted.  Not only were there no performances going on, but all of tents where I was promised an opportunity to experience things or shop for traditional items were empty.  Some of the vendors were actually packing up their tables and loading up trucks when we arrived at noon on Saturday...and the festival was supposed to last through Sunday night!  Dana used her mad Korean skills to ask a vendor what the heck was going on and they said that stuff wasn't happening because it was raining and they had no idea when or if things would start again because no one told them anything.  Helpful.
I think this picture really captures the festival.  

In nice weather, I bet this festival is AWESOME.  In is abysmal.

Overflowing river + stinky mud = no festival.  They were actually shoveling the mud with snow shovels.  (Not sure where those snow shovels were when it actually SNOWED.)

We figured that if worst came to worst we could at least buy a delicious lunch in an air conditioned restaurant.  We started walking towards the main road, but then stopped to ask a girl for directions to a restaurant with aircon.  She was sweet and helpful but ended up taking us the absolute opposite direction and depositing us at an open tent where they were unsanitarily (made up that word, embrace it) cooking up various dishes, but (strangely) not the dishes we wanted from the menu.  The food was alright, but expensive for what it was, and there was a hair in the kimchi.  Just icing.  After that we were ready to bolt.  It was clear that nothing else was going to be happening at this illustrious festival, so we went to catch a taxi.  Standing on a corner near the festival grounds was obnoxious, because EVERY car stopped at the light stared at me as though I were on display.  I don't know if they don't get a lot of foreigners over in Anseong (we were the only ones we saw) or what, but JESUS.  Entire cars of people would just sit, idling, and stare.  No embarassment, nothing.  Dana was laughing really hard...she's not used to it because as a Chinese American she is able to blend in a little bit.  No such luck for me.  Eventually we got a taxi and it dropped us off a the Anseong Bus-uh Ter-mee-nahl.  We only had to wait a few minutes for the bus to spirit us away and back to Seoul.  Dana stayed to do some shopping and I went home to sulk about my first real failed adventure.  I was so thankful that it was only Dana and I...we are both pretty good at just letting go, so we still had a good time.  What a bizarro adventure.

Dana sporting the giant paper ajumma visors we snagged.

Sad face.

Hair in the kimchi is a major party foul.

When I got home I started up season 2 of Dexter and changed into my pajamas.  I was pretty much intending to stay parked there, but then I got a text from Shannon asking if I would be interested in meeting them for burgers at an American owned joint by their house.  I had heard of this place before, but I'd never been, so I decided it would be worth it.  I met them at 7 and enjoyed a tasty bacon cheeseburger.  After dinner I was going to head home and clean my apartment since I'm hosting the get together this week...but instead I went on a shopping trip to HomePlus with Jamie and Shannon and their back to their place for a bottle of Cuervo, hilarious viral videos, a sing-a-long, and good discussion.  Oh, and some New England Clam Chowder.  Delicious.  As I stumbled home, exhausted after an excellent night, I couldn't help but be thankful for the friends I've made here.

Sunday I had to cancel my ASL meet-up, so I spent the morning laying in bed and cleaning the apartment.  I also did some laundry...I'm just hoping it is dry by WEDNESDAY when everyone comes over.  That is another major annoyance with the rain...everything is so humid it takes forever and a day to dry.  Last night I went to see a live stage performance of Rocky Horror Picture Show at COEX with two teachers who I had either met only once (Naomi) or had never met (Linda).  I have blog stalked Naomi since we got here, but we had only met once at orientation when she borrowed a power cord.  We talk on Facebook and I kind of felt like I knew her already, and vice versa since she also reads my blog.  She had sent out a Facebook message to all the people who stayed in Seoul asking if anyone was interested in Rocky Horror or a Shakespeare performance, and I was intrigued by Rocky Horror and wanted to go, so it all worked out.  The show was great...the voices of the performers were phenomenal.  Dr. Frank-N-Furter was played by a VERY muscular, tall, black man, which was interesting.  He was even more cut than Rocky!  But man could he sing and move in those platform heels.  I would have died, no question.  It was nice just to have dinner and bond with two other random SMOEers, too.  After the show I came home and cleaned some more before hitting the sheets.
Linda, Naomi and I, pumped for Rocky Horror.

As far as school goes, things have been going really smoothly.  I got two new co-teachers: Ga Young replaced Eun Kyung, and JunHee replaced my hated male CT.  Ga Young is more of a disciplinarian, while JunHee is brand new to teaching and very bubbly.  I liked her instantly.  She is friends with my old CT so I can't bad-mouth him, but it really made me laugh when one of the fourth grade students asked if he was her boyfriend and she laughed out loud before saying "Ummm, no.  He is not my style."  Love.  She was really nervous because this is her first time teaching ever, but I think she'll do just fine.  Today I almost lost my voice as I had to sing a song over and over again with the kids.  This lesson is about asking if people want more of something (usually foods) so I rewrote the lyrics to "Brother John" and the kids sing it.  For example...

I am thirsty! I am thirsty!
Is that so? Is that so?
Do you want some water? Do you want some water?
Here you go. Here you go.

Then I have different verses for different drinks, and a whole set of "I am hungry" verses that we all sing together.  Then we sing two verses as a round.  The kids were surprisingly good singers...I am going to have to video tape on of my classes on Wednesday.

One thing that is kind of crazy and mixing things up at school right now is the fact that each grade is practicing for a big sports day.  I think last year's must have been cancelled for swine flu, because I would not have missed this.  Every grade has to learn some choreographed, synchronized, very involved traditional folk dance.  Sometimes using unconventional props.  The third graders (and keep in mind this is like 120 third graders) are doing a synchronized dance with hula hoops.  The fourth graders have multi-colored umbrellas. I am actually not sure what the fifth graders use, but the sixth grade girls are using these huge, traditional Korean fans.  It is fascinating to watch them practice, but it is definitely screwing up our schedule.  The first two classes of third graders that I usually have on Friday have been moved to sixth period (which I honestly didn't even know our school had) on Tuesday and Thursday.  That makes my Tuesdays extremely long- six classes back to back.  I do not love.  However it only goes for another few weeks as the sports day is October 8.  I am excited to watch it!

It is still a challenge to work with Yeon Ah sometimes.  She is absolutely pleasant, but her English is really low.  I'll give you an example of a conversation from the other day.

I am sitting at the computer between our classes.  She is fiddling with her cell phone.  She walks over.
YA: Can I ::mumble sounding like post:: on something?
Me: Sure.
I stand up to let her use the computer because I think she needs to post on some message board or something.  Instead she stands right in front of me and sticks her hands out, palms down.  Confused, I wait a beat for something else to happen.  Then, thinking maybe I am supposed to do something, I put my hands out in front of me, palms down.
YA: Nails!
Me: Nails...?
YA: I paint.  So I want boast on them.
I realize she has painted her nails with little flowers, and she wanted to "boast" about it.

Sigh.  Imagine that times eight hours a day times five days a week.  And this week I am also going out to dinner with her and her husband.  The back story is as follows: a few months ago I may have mentioned that she brought in an essay that her husband had to write in English for some project at work.  I edited it a few times and made a ton of changes, while still keeping his ideas in tact.  Turns out that her husband recently got a promotion at work, and his boss actually said that it was because his English essay was so good!  Can I open a business writing these things for Koreans?  I mean, I'd much rather write their essays than my grad school application personal statements!

Yes, in case you were wondering, I am still plugging away at grad school apps.  I have pretty much taken Oxford off my list because their application is excessively long, very confusing, and incredibly detailed.  Weighing the chances of me getting in (WITH funding) against the amount of work it just seems silly to keep going.  That will also give me more time to concentrate on my other, more probable schools.  Moral of the story, after about 20 revisions, I never want to see my resume again.

Aside from school and graduate school applications, I'm also planning my trip to Japan over Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving).  Because of how the lunar and solar calendars worked this year, we ended up getting almost an entire week off for Chuseok.  Many people DID get a full week off, but we have to come in on Monday.  Basically this weekend I chill, I go to work on Monday (though I'll be kind of surprised if I teach), and then I am off Tuesday-Sunday.  Tuesday afternoon Diana and I are going to fly over to Osaka.  Tuesday we'll tour Osaka in the evening and then stay there Tuesday and Wednesday night (with a day trip to Nara on Wednesday).  On Thursday we'll head over to Kyoto, stay there overnight in a really nice ryokan, spend Friday exploring some more, and then come back to Osaka on Friday evening.  Saturday we fly back to Seoul in the early evening.  I am excited...I mean Japan isn't really a place I have a super strong desire to visit, but I think I would regret it if I hadn't gone when I'm so close (only an hour and a half flight from Seoul to Osaka).  Good god is that country expensive!! I don't know how teachers live is deadly to get around at all.  And the cheapest hostel we could find was like $40 per person each night.  That is crazytown.  Better be worth it!  Tonight Diana came over and we had breakfast for dinner at Bunch before coming back to my apartment to plan for the trip.  It is exciting to have all of our hotels booked...I feel accomplished!  Next we just need to finalize some plans about things we want to see, etc.  I think it will be great.

This Wednesday I am hosting a party for the new kids in my building as well as old friends.  My mom planted the seed in my brain to do a Minute to Win It themed party.  Basically it is a new reality/competition show in the US where people are given a minute to complete various challenges that call on all types of skills.  The common thread is that I am pretty sure they were all thought up at a frat party.  Look forward to hilarious stories and pictures! Now it is just a matter of where I am going to put the 20+ people who RSVPed that they're coming!

As sort of a post script I just wanted to include a picture of something I love about Korea.  Since people all live in crazy high rises and it is often difficult to move, they have come up with an ingenious system.  Big moving trucks will send out this cool elevator to whatever floor you're on and send your belongings up and down.  So smart!

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