Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Past Weekend Excursions

So far during my tenure in South Korea I have yet to do much of anything in the "cultural" department. My original plan was to hit up all these fantastic sites during the weekend, or on my days off, but that has been a bit of a bother. I'm usually too tired from the work week, and relieved to be off I might add, to really put some planning into going somewhere. Yet, thanks to the foresight of Sonali, I have seen a few things, and I shall list them for you.

1. Suwon Fortress

So, a group of my training comrades, and Sonali, sigh, went down to Suwon city. Suwon is about a two hour subway trip south of Seoul. The gang, as I shall refer to we Chungdahmians as, and I met up outside this big shopping mall. We then explored looking for a place to eat lunch, settling on an Italian restaurant. We decided to try and see a palace located in the area and Suwon Fortress/Garrison. Just so you readers don't wait too long for one particular chestnut, we never made it to the palace. By the time we found it, we would have had to rush through it, but I shall return. Anyway back to the main point.
After lunch, the gang and I jumped a bus heading for the fortress, which we skillfully passed by; riding all the way to the last stop. This little accident wasn't a total loss, as we got a Suwon tour via public transit. After our collective compass was righted, we made it to the fortress. The fortress is a wall that encircled the city of Suwon, with a garrison and lookout posts at various points, during the 16-18th centuries. The modern Suwon has since engulfed the wall, and it more, or less dissects the city at various points.
All-in-all the fortress was rather gorgeous. It's a several mile walk along the entirety of the wall, with spectacular views of modern-day Suwon. The lookout posts were all wooden and well maintained. They also provided a great vantage point of the city. The fortress has fantastically colorful paintings on it's wooden elements, essentially the roofs and doors, as well. The walls weren't what I would call imposing in stature; and I would more, or less, call it the bastard child of another wall in little old China.
After our several hour walk- during which I made friends with a little South Korean boy who followed me and pelted me with snowballs - along part of the wall, we discovered a dragon trolley. The dragon trolley is a little trolley with the main "bus" in the shape of an oriental dragon's head, so it is aptly named. The trolley takes you on a tour of the wall and drops you at the main garrison. So the gang and I bought tickets and rode the trolley, which took us back the entirety of the walk we had just finished, past several new lookout posts and ending at the garrison.
There they had training grounds for the troops once stationed at this post, and a sign with rather amusing translations in English. We also discovered an archery range, with several old men practicing/competing in the art. They were aiming at these wooden targets located about 200 hundred yards away, and they would make this awesome sound when they hit. The sound was made often I might add. So, our day ended there and we went looking for dinner. To sum up, it was a pretty full day of cultural crap.

2. N-Tower/Itaewon/Myeongdong

We Chungdahmians got together a few weeks later and made a grand list of extravagant things to do. First, we decided to go to Itaewon, the Foreigner District, and explore. Basically we just window-shopped, walking up and down the streets looking at souvenir shops. We ate a kebab and then split up to explore different areas. A few of us went to a grocery store specializing in foreign foods, where Sonali and I picked up a few creature comforts. Then we ambled over to a book store with, yet again, a specialization in foreigner things, this time books. Sonali and I also found some postcards on this journey, some of ye readers have received some of these spoken of cards. The preceding made up the the majority of the afternoon. The gang and I then decided to see Seoul-N tower.
So, we jumped a train to the area of which Seoul-N tower resides. The area is slipping my mind, but it's not all that important. Seoul-N tower is the highest point in the whole of the city, providing a great vantage point of the entirety of the city. In order to make it up there, we had to take a tram up the mountain upon which the tower is built. It was a pretty awesome trip up the mountain, having personally never been on a tram before. Once we got up there, and ascended the remaining stairs, we got to see some pretty cool shit. The mountain used to be a lookout post for the city. There were these fire signals that would be used to alert the local populace in case of invasion. I don't know how effective this signal thing would be, but whatever floats your boat.
Once we actually made it to the viewing deck we saw some amazing views. The sun was just setting as we made it up there, and the city from that point of view was breath-taking. There were also some gates up, I'm sure to prevent jumpers, and there were locks all over them. We found out that Korean lovers "lock' their love to one another by signing a lock, and then closing it on one of the rungs of a gate. There must have been several thousands of these things, and Sonali even saw evidence of an adventurous couple, whom used handcuffs. After the freezing cold and wind knocked the adventuring spirit out of us, we headed down the mountain and in search of food.
The gang and I then decided to head to Myeongdong, where Sonali had her first Korean BBQ. We ate, drank, and made plans for a night on the town. It is at this point that the night starts to get a little hazy in my recollection, but I do remember the tiniest bit of a hangover.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Side Note

Just to make everyone aware, the "i" key on my laptop is not working at the moment. Meaning, it will sometimes click in, and other-times not. So be aware when you read these posts that if there is a word that simply doesn't make sense, the "i" probably didn't make it into the word. Thanks, and happy reading.

First Week/Term

My first week as a teacher was quite interesting. It was full of hope, and dare I say, a sense of accomplishment. I had moved from the bleachers and got in the game; unfortunately I was going to meet a 255 pound linebacker with every intention of crushing my knee. This linebacker in this case was an amalgam of the company and the precious little darlings I am here to instruct.
The company isn't all bad, but they push the bottom line pretty fucking hard. This wouldn't be a bad, or unexpected, thing if I was working in the corporate world. But I'm not. This is supposed to be about educating young people, but they are more concerned with extracting every penny from their parents that they can. And as for the children, not all are bad, in fact a good 80-85% actually want to learn and do well in class, but it's that 15-20% that fuck with you. They know that their parents have no real intention of having them learn English, they are just being watched by me for a few hours, and then go home to be spoiled and told that their shit doesn't stink.
Now, having said all of this, let's get down to brass tacks. The first week was not smooth, or enjoyable in the least. I had six classes in all, with about 50-60 kids. I screwed up a bunch of times, and had little bastards willing to make my life a living hell for three hours. All-in-all it was a growing experience. The first step in realizing that the only way that I'm going to make it through this experience is to not care that much. It's really the only way to keep one's sanity. Yet, I had some classes that were a pure joy, and were fun to teach that week.
There were two classes that would be a walk in the park for me all term. One was an elementary school level class, and the other a higher level middle school class. All of these kids were willing to do the work, and came to learn. Also, as these classes were at the tail-end of my week, it gave me something to look forward to at work.
I also moved into my apartment that first week. It's an affordable place with a washing machine, refrigerator, and bed. There were however a few problems. The bathroom hadn't been cleaned in while so the smell of mildew hung around. I tried cleaning it, but that was really no help. The windows weren't sealed properly, so all the heat would escape. So, spent a week in freezing agony, until I found some durable tape and fixed the situation. Finally, there was the last little issue in my long list of annoyances. The washing machine was broken, and would remain that way until recently.
So, suffice it to say, my first week and term at work was pretty crappy. My saving grace was being able to see Sonali every weekend. And to think, she thought I wouldn't make the trip every Friday night. HA! Silly woman. We would, and still do, commiserate together, and get to know each other more. So all in all, I had a pretty awesome first three months, because I got to meet and know this wonderful girl. Now that I've typed, and posted this, I know that she'll use this information to crush my spirits and mock me for months. This is expected and exactly one of the many reasons why I love her so much!

Friday, March 12, 2010

My First Week

Some of us found out where we would actually be working on Christmas Eve, and Sonali and I would start working on the coming Monday. So, I called my boss and arranged to meet him at what will be my office/workplace for the next year, or so. It took me an hour and a half to get to the right station, and it was interesting to feel like a minority.
My boss is a very nice guy, but can toe the company line pretty hard sometimes. But I digress, he showed me around my branch and introduced me to my coworkers. They were all very nice, but the place tends to be a little cliquish. I prefer to be an outsider anyway, so it all works for me.
My boss then told me what would be expected of me, and what I would have to do day-to-day. It was basically a complete reversal from what I was taught during training. As my brain tried to absorb all that he was saying, he had me sit in on a class for an hour, and then I jumped right on in to the fray. I can honestly say that the first class, and that whole first week was pretty shitty, except for the nights; but I'll get to that later. I then took the subway back to my hotel. The next day we watch CCTV, yes they record every class to avoid lawsuits, and to let you know that they know what your doing, when you're dong it. It's pretty 1984, but a job's a job. Without going into too much detail, I was reamed, then told that "you'll get better, it takes about two-terms to settle in". It sucked.
The only thing that made the special torture I landed myself in, was, and is, Sonali. Every night we would meet up and talk about the shitty experiences we were having, and then sparks started flying.

The Strangest Christmas Ever

After my third week of training it was Christmas-time in Seoul. For myself and crew it was the crappiest X-mas ever. No family, no presents, no Christmas really, or Hanukkah. Yet, I tried to keep the spirit alive. I called the family, and then went out to buy doughnuts and milk for the crew. Christmas generally makes me a shiny, happy person. We all moped by ourselves, then went out for dinner. What was dinner you ask, well I'll tell you, a deliciously greasy cheeseburger worth 12 bucks, add fries you're up to about 20. It was a little pricey for what we had, but still good. We then walked about, taking pictures of the X-mas lights, then we went and got sloppy drunk. What a Christmas!


This post will combine the events of my first three weeks in the "Land of The Morning Calm". The first two days were a welcome reprieve from the events of one long and arduous day. My roomie, Anton, and I got to know each other, and we explored the area surrounding our hotel. We then made friends with the other members of our training group staying at the hotel. We were a motley crew, but everyone was extremely nice and helpful to one another, because we had tests on Monday.
So, the first day was comprised of a orientation, basic English tests, and a nice Korean physical; complete with free chest x-ray! Then we had a three days to absorb all of the teaching methodology and criticism to be flung at us, or we would be shown the door. Suffice to say, there was a lot of pressure. To alleviate said pressure, we quickly became associated with soju, Korean vodka, and other delights. Our night filled romps didn't help my preparedness and eventually led to a night on a bathroom floor, with my head in the toilet. The next day, Friday/evaluation day, I was not exactly healthy. I was sick to my stomach, and this would last until Monday. My body was in revolt against whatever Korean organisms float around in the food. Yet, this would be a blessing n disguise. We were told to phone the main office if we felt slightly sick-thank you swine flu-which I did, and they told me that I should stay at the hotel, get some rest, and repeat training instead of trying to tough it out, which was my suggestion.
On, Friday I moved to my new room, with three other company employees. We quickly got to know one another and I again went through the process of making new and quick friends. We also went out around town exploring, although this crowd was slightly more scholarly than the previous one. We went to the art museum and took some pictures outside with some sculptures and mainly wandered around Seoul. We met the other members of our training group and that's where I met Sonali (there's more to that story, but some things will remain private). The rest of my group had to take the tests and physical, but I got a three-day weekend, fucking awesome.
This week of training went by smoothly. I was apparently kicking ass this week. Yes, this week. I was informed that my performance last week was not exactly stellar, and I was borderline. Yet, they were amazed at my turn-around and I passed training with flying colors. However, there were no spots for any teachers at the moment, so I along with Sonali, and four others, would be given additional, and this time PAID training. Awesome*. *(sarcasm should be noted)
This third week of training was again pretty smooth. It was just a trainer and myself dealing with higher level reading for kids approaching fluency. I even finished a day early, so I again had a kind of three day weekend.
All-in-all training was an eventful time in my life, it could even be considered one of the most important points in it, but I'll be able to tell you that in a few years.