Monday, January 31, 2011

We're not going to Guam, are we?

Having to be at work by 9:30am for make-up classes this past weekend reminded me why the late afternoon work schedule is such a beautiful perk of this job. I have never been and will most likely never be a morning person. I just function better if I can get my eight hours of sleep from 3am to 11am. I'm much healthier and happier that way.

So Saturday found me grumpily heading into work for 10:30 and 1:30 classes to cover what we'll be missing during the five day break (three work days plus the weekend) we get for Lunar New Year. I wasn't really sure how many kids to expect but for the most part everyone showed up and I had a few temporary students here and there who weren't able to make their regularly scheduled class. Since it was the weekend all the teachers got to wear jeans (along with t-shirts they're really the only thing that our dress code dictates we can't wear) and we spent a lot of class time just playing games and letting the kids do those Highlights Hidden Picture searches that they love so much. I was exhausted by the time 4:30 and the end of my second class rolled around but it actually was a pretty easy day.

Later that night a bunch of us went to see The Green Hornet and then everyone basically went home to bed to be ready to do it all over again on Sunday. Sunday was worse though because I had three classes so I taught for nine hours in a row. Blaaarrrgh. I'd slept so badly both nights because my body was doing that thing where you're so paranoid you'll oversleep that you wake up almost every hour, certain that it's time to get up. But I got through it with a little help from Scattergories, peanut butter sandwiches, word searches, and a leftover chocolate donut. By the time classes ended at 7:30 I was more than ready to get home, shower the day off, and get into bed. Today I slept until noon. Nowhere in my memory can I recall ever having looked forward to a Monday so much.

As much as it sucked working the weekend, I think something about the more relaxed class structure helped me build a better rapport with my students. I do feel like the atmosphere in my classes is generally good but maybe since I'm still new I've been holding on to a lot of tension and focusing more on not screwing up than letting my kids enjoy themselves a bit here and there. I've been playing games once in a while with the younger kids for a few weeks now but the middle schoolers are such hard shells to crack that I didn't even know where to start trying with them. I just think being able to let my guard down a little this weekend gave me some good ideas about changes I should make in running my classes for the upcoming terms.

I only had one class today so I'm spending tonight cleaning my apartment and packing for Taiwan. We aren't checking any bags so I'll be packing light (ha!) and right now I'm trying to figure out what clothes I'm willing to wear more than once during a four day trip. I also scooped up a little mini travel toiletries kit from Lotte Mart which solves that no-liquids-over-three-ounces rule which I'm terrible about. Why is it that when regular items like shampoo and toothpaste come in wee bottles that suddenly they're fun? One of life's great mysteries.

Tomorrow I'm going to attempt to find the key shop that's supposedly somewhere across the street from my building to make a copy to leave behind. I only have the one and I hate the idea of losing it while in Taiwan. All of our apartment related stuff goes through work so if I were to get locked out of my place here there isn't exactly a landlord or someone living downstairs that I can ask to let me in. It's weird because this is the first time I'm going away somewhere where I really have to worry about this. I mean, if I left for a weekend in college I always made sure to have my key but I could always have asked my roommate to let me in if I got locked out or had an RA get a spare. And obviously at home there was always someone around but it's just one of those strange things that I only really think about now that I'm living alone. It makes me feel very... grown up, I suppose.

And on a completely unrelated note I now have a couch!
Brianna called me early Saturday night about a couch and table someone had left outside the elevators on her floor. I went up to check them out and saw a note written in Korean and taped to the couch that my clumsy attempt at using my phone's Korean to English translator worked out to mean something about "need". Whether this was, "Anyone who needs a couch feel free" or "I need to leave my couch here while I move out, please don't steal it" I wasn't sure. So Traci came to take a look since her translating skills are much better than mine and in the end we decided it said something like, "Need yourself take". That's good enough for me!

It's in really great condition and I love having something to flop down onto when I get home from work. After some consideration I also decided to snag the table, just to see how it would fit.
I rearranged everything (the table is actually facing the couch) and I think when I get back from Taiwan I'm going to actually put some time into decorating this place. Now that I have some furniture I feel like I should get a rug and hang some stuff on the walls. It's nice that it's slowly to starting to feel a bit homier.

After tomorrow I am going to be more than ready for a vacation. I just want to not think about work or vocab tests or have to bundle up to head to the grocery store. Our flight doesn't leave until late afternoon Wednesday but since we're flying first class (the tickets were a score considering that) we're going to take advantage of the lounge and the free drinks at the airport before taking off. Winston Churchill once said, "I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else" which is really just another way of saying, "A strong drink and a trip to Taiwan is the best possible way to cap off a nine day work week".

And who I am to fight against the words of Winston Churchill?

Trivia of the Day: An estimated 98% of South Koreans own mobile phones and use them not only for calling and messaging but also for watching live TV, viewing websites and keeping track of their online gaming statuses. South Korean corporations Samsung and LG are the second and third largest cell phone companies in the world, and South Koreans are usually among the first to experience innovative technology. New phones are expensive in South Korea, but this doesn't stop South Korean consumers changing their phones on average every 11 months.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And now, back to your regularly scheduled program

So I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. Yet.

This week is Level-Up test week and though that part is actually pretty easy on teachers, our student reports were due today and those are a pain in the tuckus. Basically they're just like report cards. The form is all set up in a word document and then we go through for each class adding our name, the class level and time, and the student's Korean name and English nickname. So lots of copy/pasting. Fun times. Then we highlight boxes to indicate how well they're performing in certain areas of class- Weak, Average or Strong- as well as boxes that indicate their levels of participation, attention, and behavior. At the bottom we add comments for each student. I had roughly sixty-five reports to fill out which actually isn't awful but it took me forever. I think I wrote way more comments than necessary but I'd rather overdo it my first time around just in case.

But now that those are over I can breathe easy. So far this week I've only taught one class since my Level 1 (EC and Memory classes) kids have been taking the Level-Up practice test. Then I'll be giving the actual test out tomorrow and Friday to four classes. We grade the students' writing and speaking portions but the listening and reading sections are graded via scantron so that's pretty sweet. And this is our nine day week since we're working Saturday and Sunday to make up for Lunar New Year so I'm more than happy to be taking it easy over the next few days.

This past Saturday I went to Lotte World with Heather and Jim, the two co-workers that I'll be heading to Taiwan with. Lotte is the big name in Korea. There's Lotte Department Store, Lotteria (essentially the Korean McDonald's), Lotte Confectionery, Lotte Mart (where I buy my groceries), Lotte Hotel, Lotte Capital Co, Ltd., and even a baseball team in Busan called the Lotte Giants.

So of course it would only follow that Lotte would have its own amusement park.
Lotte World is the world's largest indoor theme park and close to about two hours from Incheon by subway. So we took an express bus to Gangnam (note to self: it was the 6405) that took about fifty minutes and then jumped on the subway to Jamsil Station. There's a shopping area and ticket booth for Lotte World right within the station so you can't miss it. There was a line though so we bought tickets at an outdoor booth which wasn't busy at all because of the cold. Tickets were ₩26,000 which seemed reasonable.
To the left and right are Lotty and Lorry, Lotte's equivalent of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. I think they're raccoons.
We actually didn't get on too many rides since the lines were pretty long. We were supposed to meet up with Traci and a few other folks and when I talked to her later she said this one wasn't all that exciting anyway. 
The food court was packed. We hovered for a while and when one older Korean woman noticed me looking pitiful I played it up and when her family left she very nicely offered us her table. That didn't stop a family of four from scooching in next to us but oh well, we just needed somewhere to sit.
What is it with amusement parks relying on giant creepy faces to attract children? That clock is one tick away from driving a white van through suburban neighborhoods to hand out candy. 
This poor guy. Look at that uniform. What a cruel, badly mismatched world we live in sometimes.
After getting some food and looking around we headed outside to enjoy some of the attractions there while it was still sunny. 
The outdoor area is called Magic Island and this is the Magic Castle. And I'm sure they know that they aren't fooling anyone about where they got their inspiration from. 
Inside this candy house we went on a ride called Fantasy Dreams. You hopped aboard a choo-choo which then drove you through a giant clown mouth into a Care Bear nightmare of lollipops and instrument-playing bugs and ginormous jacks-in-the-box popping out in one area and a rat wizard and some kind of abnormally enlarged singing vegetables and a gluttonous dragon chilling at the end. It was the trippiest thing ever and basically what I imagine the inside of Wayne Coyne's head to look like. 
Nothing like an authentic Korean churro.
We wanted to ride the bumper cars which was a good idea except that it was a much longer wait than the thirty minutes promised. The problem was that there was only one worker operating the cars and every time people hopped out she had to go onto the track to clear up the jams so it took forever.
There were really fun though. All the groups of people in front of us were driving their cars cautiously and actually trying to avoid each other. We weren't having any of that though and luckily we got to drive around with a bunch of teenage boys who enjoyed smashing the cars as much as we did.
I swear this park had every headband/animal ear combination you could want. Red bows, red sparkly bows, red sparkly ears, leopard print ears, leopard print bows, black sparkly bows, black furry ears, white furry ears, snow leopard ears, and on and on forever. A good majority of the teenagers were wearing some variation, boys and girls alike.
We escaped back inside for a while and ended up going through the
Dun dun dunnn! Basically it was a lame haunted house. And by lame I mean I did scream once but something popped out at me. I'm not built for even slightly spooky okay? I'm the girl that had an improvised rope/broken hair elastic system rigged to the string that turned off my closet light so that I could shut it off while safe in bed and thus avoid having to walk across the floor in the dark. Yeah.

After wandering some more we decided to head downstairs to the ice rink for some skating. Technically the rink isn't part of Lotte World so you have to exit through a turnstile but we did have our hands stamped and kept our tickets handy just in case we wanted to go back in after.

Skate rental and the fee for about 30 minutes on the ice was something like ₩13,000 total. Not a great deal but I haven't skated since I was a kid and it looked fun. The rink is stupidly designed in that you put your skates on in one area and then have to walk down a flight of stairs and back up another flight of stairs to get to the ice. It was awkward as hell and everyone was death gripping the railings. 

They were cleaning the ice when we made it to the waiting area around the rink and it literally took them thirty minutes to finish it. I've never seen it take that long, it was crazy. And after thirty minutes my feet were already killing from having all my weight on the blades and I hadn't even done anything yet. 

When I finally did get out there it was slow going. I was always okay at roller skating when I was younger but ice skating is another thing. I did make it around a few times though and despite a few near misses managed to not wipe out, woo! Heather had never ice skated before but successfully did a full lap and Jim spent the time taking surprise pictures of us wearing our bright yellow helmets (with chin straps) as we struggled to remain vertical. May those pictures remain in the confines of a memory card. 

I grabbed a quick chicken sandwich from Lotteria since I hadn't eaten lunch and then we headed up and outside to a T.G.I. Friday's close by for drinks. Since we weren't sure which bus to take back we just took the subway and the ride wasn't bad. Back in Yeonsu we all did some grocery shopping then called it a night.

Sunday was my do nothing day and it was wonderful. I spent half the day sleeping and the other half snuggled in my squashy old man chair watching Storm of the Century. It was a snowy day after all and I'm missing out on all the crazy New England weather right now so it was an appropriate choice on several levels. 

Wednesdays are usually the nights I go out after work for food and drinks with everyone since a lot of us have the second class off but I enjoyed myself too much last Wednesday and really just wanted a quiet night tonight. And I'm saving my pennies anyway since this time next week I'll be in Taiwan! It's going to be something like thirty or forty degrees warmer than Incheon and I cannot wait for that weather. It's also going to be down-pouring like crazy since this time of year is especially rainy in Taipei but I'll take living under an umbrella for four days in exchange for any sort of increase in temperature. 

Sister Springtime I am most looking forward to your arrival. 

Movie Trivia of the Day: Empress Chung is a 2005 North and South Korean animated film directed by Nelson Shin. Most of the animation work was done in North Korea by the Chosun April 26th Children Film Studio, and the score was also recorded in the North by the Pyongyang Film and Broadcasting Orchestra. In a move unusual for the Korean film industry, the character voices were recorded in both the South and the North due to differences in dialect. For the definitive international release version, the South Korean dub is the one used. It was the first film to have been released simultaneously in both North and South Korea, on August 12, 2005. The film was featured at the 2004 Annecy International Animation Festival, and was also recognised with several awards in Korea. The story is an epic adventure based on a famous Korean folk tale about a daughter who sacrifices herself to restore her blind father's eyesight.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

She wore a raaaaaspberry beret

This past weekend can best be categorized as a shopping weekend. For some people that means actually doing some serious damage financially but for me it tends to mean lots of browsing and "ooohing" and "ahhing" over pretty pretty things with maybe a couple purchases throughout.

I haven't really been clothes shopping since coming here and wanted to go to Forever 21 on Saturday which worked out nicely because my coworker Heather wanted to hit up the Apple Store to look at laptops and both are in Myeongdong. Myeongdong was actually the first place I went in Korea but I was so overwhelmed that day that I didn't get to look around much. It's basically a massive shopping district and naturally on Saturday afternoons it's packed.
K-Pop stars and actors from K-Dramas are everywhere in advertisements. This massive display of Kim Hyun Joong was outside The Face Shop, which he's a spokesman for. It was ginormous, I had to take a picture. I admit I was obsessed with the Korean adaptation of Boys Over Flowers two years ago and I loved Kim Hyun Joong's character and his ridiculous hair. Don't judge.

So Heather, Jim, Traci, and I headed to the Apple Store first which for some reason is called Frisbee in Korea.
Heather bought a laptop and then we went in search for lunch and ended up at Pizza Hut. It was decorated in green pastels with fake sunflowers and smelled like a Bath and Body Works. It didn't really scream pizza but that's okay because their pizza is mad expensive anyway, at least ₩20,000 for a pie! So I ended up getting this salad bar deal that was like a mini buffet with pastas and fruit options. Also there were frosted flakes and a big public bowl of milk with a ladle. Because in Korea pizza comes with a side of breakfast apparently.

After lunch we went to Forever 21 and did some poking. I tried on a few things and I ended up with one shirt so, success. Then we skedaddled back onto the subway because it was so so cold out and the wind was absolutely brutal. It's crummy how during the week the temp hovers between 20 and 30 then drops below 10 on the weekends but what can you do.

When we got back I did my grocery shopping and spent the night relaxing and keeping warm. I've finally figured out that if I turn my heat up high enough and wait long enough it will eventually come on. My apartment is heated by an ondol (온돌), or heated floor. The loft where I sleep is usually toasty at night because the ceiling is low enough (I have to duck my head just a bit) that I get the heat from the floor of the apartment above me. Actually last night before bed I forgot to turn it off and when I came down this morning the place was an oven, whoops.

Sunday I spent in Gangnam at COEX which is a big convention and exhibition center (where they hosted the recent G20 Summit). It's part of the World Trade Center Seoul which is a group of buildings all right around each other that handle all that world business-y stuff. Connected to the convention center is the COEX Mall which is a ginormous underground shopping mall, Asia's largest.
It was super easy to get to. From Woninjae Station I transfered at Bupyeong, which is where you always need to transfer to get into Seoul, and then transfered again at Sindorim and got on Line 2 and rode that to Samseung Station. Literally as soon as you leave the station through exits 5 and 6 you're at the mall.

There's a Buddhist temple right across from COEX so I decided to check that out first then hit the mall afterwards. Of course I somehow got turned around and ended up on the wrong side and was wandering for a while, shocker. Here are some shots from the big loop I did of the south side.
Art. "Art". Art? Yeah I don't know.
An awesome futuristic swiss cheese building.

I finally gave up trying to find the temple and headed back to COEX, driven in no small part by the fact that I couldn't feel my legs anymore. There are a lot of pretty cool stores in that mall. I'm a big fan of stores that sell things that are sort of whimsical or kooky. Like if it's the sort of place where you can find mustache coffee mugs or band-aids made to look like strips of bacon or a shower curtain with the silhouette of Norman Bates in the infamous scene from Psycho then that's the kind I store I want to stretch my legs in. COEX has a lot of stationary type stores that sell all kinds of journals and cards and also some kooky kind of items so I had fun looking around.
Display of cakes in a pastry shop. Cakes here tend to be decorated with a whole bunch of fruit which isn't really something you see with cakes in the US.
I ate a late lunch in the food court and had intended to get some Korean food but saw a Sbarro and had try their pizza for, you know, research. Heh. Surprisingly it pretty much tasted the same as Sbarro I've had in the states and was similarly priced. Then I wandered through COEX some more and finally found myself close to the area where the temple was supposed to be. The directions I'd copied down said to take exit 6 out of Samseung Station, walk toward Asem Tower, take a left, and the temple would be right there. I'd been internally bitching on my walk earlier about how those directions were clearly not so simple but when I actually followed the signs that said "Asem Tower Plaza" and took a left, the temple was exactly where they'd said it would be. Oy with the poodles already.
This is Asem Tower, one of the buildings part of the World Trade Center Seoul. Since COEX is so big I was confused about where the temple would be in relation to it so for others' future reference it is directly across from the main entrance of the Convention and Exhibition Hall which is a big rounded glass building with a whole bunch of international flags flying in front of it, you can't miss it.
And this is Bongeunsa Temple. According to the English pamphlet I scooped up at the info booth, this temple was founded in 794, was the nation's leading temple by 1550, had many of its buildings constructed in 1618, and lost most of its buildings to a fire in 1939. Since then it's undergone a lot of renovation and reconstruction and is a pretty popular site now for both worshippers and tourists. On Thursday afternoons from 2-4pm the temple has a program for foreigners where for ₩10,000 you get a temple tour and partake in meditation, a tea ceremony, and lotus-flower making. Anyone can show up for that and they also offer a temple stay which you can make reservations for.
Two of the four heavenly kings, or Sacheonwang (사천왕) who stand on either side of the entryway. The Sacheonwang each guard one of the four cardinal points.
Mireukdaebul Statue, the largest statue of Buddha in Korea. This Buddha is the Maitreya, the Buddha of the future, and was completed in 1996 after ten years of construction. 
The statue's view of Seoul. This combination of modern and traditional is what I love so much about Korea.
The swastika has been a Buddhist symbol for a very long time and is used on Korean maps to mark the location of temples. Even knowing this though it's still a surprise to see it, given its modern connotation in the West. 
The main temple, Daewoongjeon, a name which definitely threw spell-checker for a loop as it just suggested "Congresswoman" and "Woolgathering" as possible alternatives. 
A couple of Sunim, Korean Buddhist monks (also used for nuns). I think the one on the right was talking on a cell phone. Are monks allowed to use cell phones? Is that a stupid question? Don't answer that. 
I really loved it there. I've come to terms with the fact that religion is never quite going to be my cup of tea but I appreciate places of worship like this that are so peaceful and open. I've always experienced some anxiety and claustrophobia inside Catholic churches but I felt like I could have just sat on a bench here all day enjoying the atmosphere. It was nice.

When I left the temple I went back to COEX to poke in some more stores and defrost. I entered through the Exhibition Hall entrance which brought me out at the COEX movie theater.
As I was walking I passed this wall outside a restaurant with a random Jackie Chan collage. It's my brother's birthday today and I feel like of all people he would appreciate this goofiness so if you're reading this Jeff then enjoy! (I swear I'll get you an actual present though). 
I don't even know.
Then I spotted "Bookstore" out of the corner of my eye and made a bee line for it. Scratch what I said before- books are my religion. I immediately feel better when in a library or a bookshop. The best part about Bandi & Luni's is that they have one of those small whimsical kooky sections that I love so much. Usually I mull over an item for a while before forking over any money but I saw the cutest passport holder ever and had to have it. 
I mean look at that, you don't get much more adorable than that. And I needed a passport holder anyway. Win win win.

I wasn't sure if Bandi & Luni's would have an English language section but they did and it was very respectable. I was hoping for one row at the max but there were several or at least enough to justify dividing them up by topics. I read an online review later that said all their English books are priced based on that day's exchange rate and so nothing will be marked but all the books I looked at had price tags so maybe that's no longer true. The books were slightly more expensive than what you'd pay elsewhere (Batman: The Long Halloween for instance was like ₩23,000 at What the Book? but ₩29,000 at Bandi & Luni's) but not so unreasonable considering I don't get to browse English books as often as I'd like to. 

Satisfied with my purchases, (Norwegian Wood, which I've heard amazing things about, and The Passage,  which the bookworms in my family have highly recommended) I grabbed a smoothie and headed home to spicy chicken wings (that I'd bought pre-made at the grocery store) with a side of home cooked mashed potatoes for dinner. So overall a pretty good day. 

Because how can a day that involves books, Buddhist temples, and mashed potatoes be anything but a good day? 

Trivia of the Day: South Korea is a relatively homogeneous society with absolute majority of the population of Korean ethnicity. However, with its emergence as an economic powerhouse, opportunities for foreign immigrants increased and in 2007 the number of foreign citizens resident in South Korea passed the million mark for the first time in history. 440,000 of them came from China, with more than half of them being ethnic Koreans of Chinese citizenship. The next largest group was from the United States with 117,000 residents or 12%, excluding the American troops stationed in the country. Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and other countries followed. 

There are migrant workers from Southeast Asia and increasingly from Central Asia (notably Uzbekistan, many of them ethnic Koreans from there, and Mongolia), and in the main cities, particularly Seoul, there is a growing number of foreigners related to business and education. The number of expatriate English teachers hailing from English-speaking nations has increased from less than 1,000 in 1988 to over 20,000 since 2002. There are also some 30,000+ United States military personnel and civilian employees throughout the country, an increasing number of whom (as of 2010) are also accompanied by family members.