Friday, November 28, 2008

Contacts and Football

From newphotos
Picked up my contact lenses today. I have broken two pairs of glasses playing football on the weekends. Last week, I went to make a heading pass from a 50 yard, monster of a goal kick. The ball hit low on my forehead and my glasses shattered. If you look at my picture closely you'll see the tape holding my glasses together.

I haven't worn contacts since I was very young. Both Glasses and Contacts are cheap here. I bought Rayban glasses, paid for an eye exam, and two lenses with all the bells and whistles for 190,000won. This is about 150$, on a good day. My contacts cost about 120$. The contacts I bought are the most expensive kind available: I wanted contacts that would be easier on my eyes.

I am headed to northern Seoul tonight to watch a few movies with a friend on his giant screen. He has a cool HD projector set-up and actually lives in an apartment the size of an average studio in the US. My place, in comparison, is about 420 square feet.

From newphotos
Tomorrow I will play football on this field. It is typical of most fields around Seoul. Grass is a luxury nobody can afford. We play on sand. It tears nasty holes in your skin and is extremely hard on your ankles. But it makes for a very fast game. Koreans are fast and actually quite skilled compared to most Americans. My teammates are over 25 and most are under 50. They are all surprised that I am a skilled player. I think they are more impressed that I can run for 90 minutes. They all think Americans are unhealthy. So, my ability to run fast for the entire game and my strength has led them to assign me the striker position, which I would have never played when I was younger. I love being the one to coordinate plays at the top of the midfield or take many shots.

From newphotos
Here is a photo of my high school's gymnasium. It gives a good impression, I think, of how hard the football pitch is.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Seoul Shows. Weekend 11/28/2008.

Nothing on Friday. And Saturday does not look too promising, but then I am playing soccer on Saturday and will likely be drinking with the team afterwards.

Sunday, however, looks fun.

At 4pm, Yogiga, there will be a noise show.

Bulgasari - experimental noise night. featuring: Sato Yukie, Lee Han-ju, Hong Shine, Michael Oakley.

I looked up Bulgasari and the web site hasn't been updated in a while. But it looks pretty promising. I will go if I can find Gallery Yogiga.

Then, at 8pm, FF, Jens Leckman

Jens Lekman, with Pink Elephant, We Need Surgery and The Fist
Time: 8:00pm. Admission: 25,000 won.

Sounds great, but 25,000 won is a rip-off. Leckman is great. But even Sonic Youth doesn't cost 25bucks in the states. Can't see some singer-songwriter making it worthwhile. Esp, since I'd have to catch a cab home from Hongdae (about 13,000 won) afterwards.

Let's face it. The underground music scene in Seoul suffers because there is no solidarity between clubs and club owners and show promotion is an absolute joke. I'd love to help, but all my shit is in storage in the US. And I have no time to do anything with my work schedule.

The opportunity for a killer music scene exists, but...


Like NOISE. Let's get together and check out Bulgasari. Should be pretentious fun. At least my brain will get a work out.

Oh. I think Samchung is playing Saturday night. HOT. That's what to do on Saturday. The Spot has a show. More than 10 bands--metal to hardcore--15,000 won. Should be loud, sweaty fun. But I am digging playing striker for Hae Woori too much to ditch for music. I smelled goal last week. I will score this week.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Seoul Life

[Note: I am still experiencing Internet access issues at my flat. Some days the speed is so slow, I cannot tolerate working online. So, I haven't blogged as often as I like. My landlord recently fixed my cable access--though I don't watch the TV, save for soccer--and now, strangely, my Internet access has improved. Maybe somebody did something that somehow helped my situation. to come in subsequent posts.]

I am sitting in my favorite cafe--Cafe Good. It's one of the only ones near my flat that is not named Dog's Nuts or some French Phrase Although The Menu is in Italian. It is the first sub-freezing day in Seoul this Autumn. So, I am drinking hot chocolate.

Actually, the cafe above is named Nut's Dogs; however, even the teacher who first walked me through my new home was embarrassed to note, as we walked past the coffeehouse, that she believed the name "might mean something about the dog's body." I told her she was right, and asked her if she knew about nuts.

She laughed.

I work with wonderful folks. That is, I know they work hard and know they like to play hard, which I admire. I am invited to every social event and never have to pay. Although I insisted last weekend and gave money to my hosts. The teachers at high schools work Monday through Friday from 7:30 until 5 or 6, and they all work on Saturdays until 1, or later. My contract stipulates no work on Saturdays. I don't go in, but I do feel guilty. On the other hand, I inherited developing-the-curriculum for the First- and Second-grade classes for the remainder of this school year--end of January 2009--and the entire 2009-2010 year.

You might think this wouldn't be such a chore. After all, the students have attended English classes at Samsung High School for over a decade. A catalogue of classwork must exist. Unfortunately, I am the first "Native Speaker" at the school; A curriculum does not exist. I'll admit that it is good to be the first for many reasons, not least of which is that I am gaining incredible ESL teaching experience each new day at Samsung. And it is nice to be the one to develop what I will end up having to teach.

However, many problems have already developed as a result of being first. I use a relic PC that has an English version of Windows XP Pro and Office 2003. This would suffice in most situations. I streamlined the software on it, modified a few settings, ran updates (that took over one week to successfully download and install,) and I added Firefox. The computer is slow at times but works as best as it can. Everybody else at school has a Korean version of XP and uses a word processing software called Hangul Word Processor. They tried to make me comfortable by providing a computer that looked and ran like a PC would in the U.S., but in doing so they effectively made it impossible for me to work with students' powerpoint presentations and essays. Most unfortunate is that I am not connected to the school network and messaging system. I always find out about scheduling changes and meetings too late to prepare.

It is incredibly difficult to get to know my male colleagues. They are all older than me and--I think as do my younger, female colleagues--try to save face by avoiding me at all costs. We believe the men don't want to illustrate their lack of English at work. I have hiked with the men on the weekends and have had wonderful exchanges and experienced sincere camaraderie. Oh well. I will say that outside of the silence I am offered at school and other than my undergraduate life at Metropolitan State College of Denver, I have never experienced the warm friendship that men have offered me in Seoul. The men in Korea are very close. They show emotion. They are not afraid of physical contact. For crying out loud, they bathe one another at the sauna. They are affectionate guys. It makes it easy to be friendly. I have always had crappy relationships with men. So, this problem with the male teachers is a very minor one.

I have had several problems with banking that I have yet to sort out. Nobody is able to help. Who could, anyway? I needed to be informed of a few economic realities before I arrived. That should be the Korean government's concern, not my co-teachers' anxiety. So, I am struggling to pay my U.S. debts on time, if at all. I cannot contact my creditors to figure out a method of paying my bills. And I cannot send money to my U.S. bank because they Korean Won loses close to 50% of its value in exchange right now. Anyway, I need a coworker to go to the bank and translate for me, but we work until 5. The banks close at 4:30. My school never thought about this kind of problems that are likely to occur for any new resident. On the other hand, as a government employee, I received speedy access to my Alien Registration Card, my pension plan, my healthcare account. In addition, my landlord will do absolutely anything to attempt to make me at home--like pay my cable bill. I am poor; so, the gesture is welcome. The hospitality I receive helps alleviate major stress I would usually feel while encountering financial problems I have at the moment. (If the economy were better, none of this would be an issue.)

Of course, my school asked for an experienced English teacher and one with experience with Korean students. I fit the bill with 7 years of teaching experience. It's nice to be wanted. However, the teachers were not prepared for somebody with ideas about ESL education--both practical and ideological--to come to their school and begin taking over one third of the curriculum. (The students have English class three times each week; I see them once a week.) When I enter a classroom, I take charge. I don't need help. I was worried about teaching 40 adolescents, but the kids like me and I have made the adjustment from college Freshman and Sophomores to High School Sophomores and Juniors without too many snags.

The teachers are very protective of the students--especially the boys. I am progressive when it comes to classwork, and I insist that the kind of work attempted and possibly completed both builds upon prior lessons and shows visible and applicable results. For I don't know how long, my students have been playing word bingo and solving crossword puzzles for choco-candies. And from what I can tell of other foreigners teaching in the public schools here, many of them proudly carry on the tradition of treating the children like cutie-pies who need special attention. I shouldn't be so critical: many of the teachers hired to travel to Korea are, in fact, not teachers; or, if they are, they are recent graduates from Undergraduate Institutions and are trying to gain a little hands-on experience. At any rate, there is the notion that if a student does something, then that student is LEARNING BY DOING. Of course, the first thing I learned as a teacher was that is complete bullshit; or, WISHFUL THINKING.

If I try to challenge the students I am told they aren't smart or knowledgeable enough to complete the exercise. The problem is that most of my students will interview with several of Korea's Universities in and around Seoul in less than 24 months. The more prestigious schools, which all students dream of attending, all include some type of English conversation in their interviews. My students will struggle with an interview, yet they have been learning English since Primary School. This frustrates me. They cannot read well and don't even think about writing sentences. In addition, the Academies

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I feel the students are being over-protected because they are poor and underprivileged and work so unbelievable hard--15 hours or more a day, 6 days a week, for some every day of the week. I want to hug them, too. But they need to learn to speak English well enough to speak it each day at school and work.

Though I like it here, the cultural differences can be infuriating. I haven't experienced the culture shock that I have seen with other foreigners. My culture clashes can become rather over-significant on any given day because of the amount of work I am asked to accomplish. FOr example, on Monday morning I arrive to school with a new lesson plan for the week and have to make 800 copies of whatever I have for the students. I work from 7:30 until 9am preparing for the week. Then, I teach until 4pm. I teach 5 classes. After seeing 200 students and wearing-in a new lesson plan, I eat dinner and can get home around 8pm. Three days of my five day work week are like this. On the other days, I don't have it easy. In fact, I work later hours. I teach the non-English speaking teachers English on Wednesdays. And I teach 12 students from 5-7pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mix the cultural misunderstandings with the tremendous workload and you have the potential for anger, not simply frustration. I am happy to say I have had only one argument with a colleague and maybe two verbal disagreements with Koreans in my neighborhood.

I will say: never, never, never get a Korean woman mad. Korean Women have the ability to scream with their entire being: and they like to do it in public. I think I made the colleague who yelled at me (after a ridiculously absurd misunderstanding) initially more angry because the spectacle of her yelling was so intense all I could do was smile in admiration. Such amazing passion; to be honest, my heart only grew fonder. After all, to scream like that at me, she has to care. When I explained to her what was actually happening, she apologized. I apologized as well for causing the problem: I could have done a better job of communicating to her. The entire school heard her yell at me. And nobody spoke about it.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Word Choice

Word choice is important. I used "whore" in my last post. Maybe I shouldn't have. I'll admit that the word carries too much signification for me to be using it in a careless manner.

But I will reiterate what an eye-opening experience it is to see educated Americans acting like extras in a Girls Gone Wild video. If you come to Korea and you want to see white folks--the British, the Australians, and the Americans, and some folks from Canada and New Zealand as well as other places--acting like extreme consumerists and/or prostitutes, then you should hang in Itaewon. Oh, and you get the added benefit of spending quality time with the military and the sex industry that thrives around American bases.

Itaewon is a shithole.

Anyway, with the Americans: Maybe it's more Nerds Gone Wild. Whatever it is, it's obscene. And these young women would not behave this way at home. (Unless, they are University of Colorado students.) Or maybe it's just always the behavior I expect from men I know but not women I know. Or maybe it's the alcohol, as I stated in my previous post.

I prolly shouldn't be using "whore". Not loosely anyway.

Allergic to Shrimp and Soccer in Suwon and Guy Stuff, too

I have had a tough week: bad allergic reaction to food, more American friends acting like psycho-tourist haters and whores (for beer and attention, apparently, American women in Seoul will do anything for you,) and I just found out I need to prepare an entire year of lessons by the end of February for two grades.

Now, I am not hating Korea. I love it here. And the teaching challenges are good for me and my craft. I just need to stay away from Americans.

And shrimp, too. I have always said I am allergic to shrimp. Honestly, I had recently begun believing that I have always claimed an allergy because I hate the taste of shrimp. Instead of confessing my fear of tasting new things, I just said, "I'm sorry, I'm allergic...". I guess at some time many years ago I must have discovered that I am allergic to shrimp and forgot about the incident completely. After eating something made with shrimp and shrimp paste Sunday night, I ended up in the hospital with what could have become a full-blown anaphylactic attack. I almost stopped breathing, my face and throat and chest were red, and my lips were swollen. Fortunately, I acted fast enough and took a taxi to a close hospital--with the help of my teachers and their friends via phone. The doctors hooked me to an IV and an hour later my symptoms subsided. With three days of steroids and meds, I am fine again.

On the bright side, I am playing soccer at Suwon World Cup Stadium on Sunday. I will have photos.

Also on the bright side, I have happily learned how to make friends with guys again. I have had my hate on for men since childhood. And my male companionships have always been dicey. I hit my last male buddy so hard, I knocked his tooth out. No kidding. But that could have been the alcohol. In Korea, guys get along. They look out for each other. It's ok to touch another man to show affection. That might be part of it. Men have plenty of masculinity issues here, don't get me wrong. It's simply nice to be able to hang out with other men and not have to suffer privately all my problems.

Visited the Contemporary Art Museum today. It was a joy. I will write about this and more after some rest.

I bought postcards, finally. I am going to try and write my friends at home. So off to the other corner of my flat--ten feet from this corner. (heh.)