Sunday, January 25, 2009

Finally Resting

... And it feels great. Thanks to the Lunar New Year, known here as 설날, but pronounced Seollal, has given us Monday and Tuesday off. The Lunar New Year is a Chinese holiday, but celebrated around Asian countries. This year is the Year of the Ox, so congrats to all oxes out there.

Anyway, Vicky and I tried to book a trip somewhere, but we started looking only a week before, which gave us ZERO options. The thing is, there are practically no breaks here for workers, so when one happens, EVERYONE travels.

I'm okay with not traveling now, especially after the brutal month. It's just been soooo much work. Even getting eight hours of sleep almost every night gave me no rest. And that is at the expense of having any fun after work.

I did get paid extra for my class. I made W300,000. I was happy until I found out it was at least W100,000 less than the Korean teachers. Some of them had ideas that since I only have 25 classes normally instead of my contracted 30, that I only got paid for half of my ten extra hours each week. I think they're right, and it bugs me.

Here is an update on the 100 Days situation. I did buy a ring for her. It comes in Thursday so I'll be giving it a little bit late, but I showed her a picture and she loved it.

I struggled with the decision because of the cultural differences and the implications of such a gift in America compared to here. In the end, I decided to stick with my philosophy that while I'm here, I have to act as much like a Korean citizen as possible. I think of it as a way of growing and expanding my worldliness. I hope that's working.

Anyway, the ring wasn't too expensive, especially compared to what a normal Korean guy would buy. Mi San, the bartender at Rio's and a friend of ours, helped me shop for it so I could surprise Vicky. At the top of this post is Mi San holding the ring. When Vicky puts it on, I'll add some more pics.

So I have today and tomorrow off and will continue my rest. Maybe a movie and the singing room tonight. It feels good to have no responsibilities for a few days. Then it's three days of work and back to the weekend.

So all is well here. I hope things back home are going well, also.

Monday, January 19, 2009

That Helpless Feeling

Things have continued to be swamped here which has probably zapped my decision making. And let's face it, that was never so hot to begin with.

I went to a movie with Vicky and Wendy last week when I was exhausted and should have gone to bed. At first it was supposed to be a bigger group, and I didn't want to be the one guy who said 'no'. But then people dropped out until it was down to three. At that point I felt too guilty to say "no". But then, I am one of the few people in South Korea who sticks to commitments.

Anyway, I didn't know a thing about the movie before going except that it was a traditional Korean flick based many years ago in a village with a king. Well, it was an eye-opener. I'll give you a quick run-down. The king had a special guard unit, and was in love with one of the dudes.

It came time for the king to have a baby, but his little village couldn't produce, so he had his most trusted guard/lover do the deed. Well, the sex ends up turning into love, and eventually the guard has his own special unit cut off by the king in an angry, jealous rage.

All I'm saying is for a country that hates homosexuals, there are an awful lot of movies featuring man-on-man action ... and I don't mean taekwondo.

I'm learning that not only do I not understand Koreans, but neither do they. With the change of the new year, I may or may not have gone up in age. Some people said I'm still 26. Others said I've turned 27. Not even the Koreans are sure of their ages.

To make work even worse, I have to do call tests nearly every day. Eli and I were each given a list with every kid in the school, and told we have three weeks to finish. Well, it's impossible to finish for a number of reasons. the most obvious is that we don't have enough non-class time to call all the students anyway. To make it more difficult, the kids are never home when we call.

Our lists were due on Friday, but neither of us are even half way. I am seven students from half way, but that is still a stretch since I have another 80 to finish the list.

Stacy asked me if I was done and I told her no. She then reminded me that she told me it was due that day. So I had to explain to her, AGAIN, that I will continue to call but sometimes kids aren't home. So she asked me to finish by this Friday. Chances of that happening are slim and none, and slim just left town.

I went with Vicky and her mom to Seoul on Sunday because her mom wanted to buy a camera. It was kind of cool. We went to the Namdaemun area and there were about 40 different camera shops. It was insane. Namdaemun is a famous, traditional outdoor market and was packed with people and things that I would never buy.

However, I was feeling saucy that day, and thought it a good time to buy an MP3 player, finally. The prices are good here, and I've been saving since I arrived. So I thought one nice purchase wouldn't be bad.

Well, I could be wrong. We went to Bupyeong train station where they have a big shopping mall, and I found one that I really liked. They even let me play with a demo model and Vicky got me a small discount.

Well, when I got home, the one I took out of the package didn't really work at all. Well, it turned on, but that's almost more mean to me. Because it got my hopes up first. We got the receipt, and I'm hoping they take it back so I didn't make some costly error. It's just frustrating.

The only good part about Bupyeong that day was that Vicky and I ate at a really good Nepalese restaurant right near the station. People have raved about it since I got here and we finally went. It was worth it. The curry was really great. And the Nepalese owners spoke fluent Korean. Pretty amazing. Vicky said a lot of Indians come to Korea and get jobs in factories and whatnot.

On a happier note, it seems pretty obvious that I am dating Vicky. I never wrote it flat out, but my posts were fairly leading. Anyway, it's a big deal in Korea when couples reach 100 days. That's when the first milestone is celebrated. It's common for the boyfriend to get the girlfriend a ring or a necklace and then some.

Well, I knew about this 100 days thing since I got here, and felt uneasy because of how American view rings in serious relationships. But my 100 days with Vicky will be here on Jan. 26, so I have to figure out if I stick with the culture or go in a different direction. Any suggestions???

On a small side note. It must be fun to be back home with the Steelers in the Super Bowl again. I mentioned today to mom and dad that when they won in 2005, I was also out of the city for the year. Maybe it's a good sign that I'm never around when they're successful.

But I did some winning of my own here on Saturday. Dan and I represented Franklin, PA and brought home a beer pong tournament championship with an undefeated record. Victory is sweet in any country.

Namdaemun and Bupyeong pics

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Long Schedule and Cold Weather

These extra winter classes are really starting to wear on me. We've half way through the winter intensive program and I was ready for it to be over a week ago.

I think I mentioned this earlier, but here it is again. Now that that the students are on winter vacation from public school, we've moved our hours from 2 to 9 p.m. up to noon to 7 p.m. That in itself is fine. It means we're done by 7 p.m., so it feels more like a normal job, and I actually have a regular day now.

The problem is that I'm also teaching the two extra intensive native speaker classes in the morning. I have to be at the school by 9:30 a.m. There isn't much preparation time needed for the two extra classes, but sometimes I don't get a break until 2 p.m. That means I have to be there even earlier to make sure I'm prepared for those classes.

Add on the college students I work with once a week, and I'm teaching about 38 hours of classes each week for the month.

Last week was an extra kick in the pants because I had a certain class on Monday, and due to a changed schedule in Tuesday, I had to do it AGAIN on Thursday. And because some middle school students missed their morning class last week, I had to do one of their make-up classes on Thursday as well.

But just because they missed their class the week before didn't give me a break. I just got put in front of a different classroom to teach another class in its place.

Sorry if this blog post is a downer. There certainly is a lot of complaining. All these extra classes , on top of the really cold weather as of late, has just drained my battery. On top of that, the new schedule took away some of my favorite classes.

But it's a fresh week as of today, so I'll go in and do what I can. At least I'll be home by a little after 7 p.m.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Korean Sunrise

I went with Vicky and two of her friends to watch the sun rise on the west coast of South Korea. We were right at the beach on the Yellow Sea, at a famous spot to watch the sun come up.

Vicky said it's tradition for Korean people to watch the sunrise in the new year and pray for success for the year ahead.

There were hundreds of people at the beach to watch. The sunrise was beautiful, but I don't understand the tradition totally. I had fun with Vicky and her friends, though.

The downside was we left Incheon at 3:00 a.m. to drive to this place. I was dead tired and the cold didn't help. But it was another unique cultural experience and I'm glad I've done it at least one time.

Sunrise pics

Sunrise video

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year's!

Vicky invited me along with her family to celebrate New Year's. Her dad rented a house about 2 hours outside of Incheon and we went there to celebrate.

Our party included Vicky's parents, sister and friend, You Kyung, as well as the lone American tagging along.

We grilled some steak and pork and drank beer and Soju while we waited for it to turn midnight. In Korea, at midnight, they ring a big bell in Seoul. A little different from a giant, glowing ball dropping, huh?

The next day, Vicky's dad bought eel for us. They chop it's head off and throw it on the grill, still squirming. I got some great video of it. It tasted similar to most fish. I liked it a lot.

The thing is, eel is a special meal in Korea. It's very expensive. It was W60,000 per kilogram, and Vickly's dad bought three kilograms of it. Wow. It was really generous of him.

All in all, it was a really unique New Year's experience. I even got to call mom and dad at midnight here, 14 hours ahead of their New Year celebration.

As promised, here are pictures from our Christmas and New Year's trips. Enjoy!

Christmas 2008

New Year's 2008/09

New Year's Eel video