Last Day of Winter Vacation

This winter vacation has been…

Boring.

There. I said it! I hate to be ungrateful or even admit to boredom since I’m In A Foreign Country! Having New Experiences!

But the virus, endless schedule changes, restricted travel, and winter pollution have made for a vacation that was much less exciting than I imagined.

So to commemorate this final day, let’s reminisce about the good things I was able to do:

  • Ask the market sellers in Sokcho about the price of sea cucumber and take some very travel worthy photos
  • Eat 물회 in Gangneung much to the shock of the locals
  • Be a photographer for a Korean family without them having a second thought that I was not a Korean
  • Learn about ginseng from a very patient seller at a market in Pyeongchang who helped me through a stumbling Korean conversation
  • Learn to ski (again) and get complimented by the coach on how the other woman and I learned faster than any beginners he’s ever had
  • Learn that the barista in town is just as excited to see me as I am her
  • Fake a Gatsby experience at a fancy hotel
  • Attend a wonderful play and make one of the actors nervous
  • Accidentally collect blackmail on the office staff at a chance rice wine dinner encounter
  • Order delivery for the first time
  • Continuously improve my Korean to the point that I fully understood a conversation in the locker room this afternoon
  • Experience a true Korean spa
  • Become a volunteer tutor for a refugee group (will meet my two pupils this week)
  • Teach my own curriculum to an enthusiastic and adorable group of daycare students

Tomorrow is the first day of the new semester. My friend J is also starting a new job in a new city so I feel some comradeship about first days.

While I’m a bit nervous about the new co-teaching situation, there’s nothing left to do today but sleep.

Catch you tomorrow.

Last Saturday of Winter Vacation

A friend and I spent a delightful afternoon indulging ourselves at a famous strawberry buffet in a place fancier than I could normally afford.

There was a three course meal in tiny portions and free-flowing coffee and fancy drinks and a small but somehow endless strawberry dessert buffet. I’ve never felt so Gatsby.

After much self coaxing, I rolled myself to the gym still wearing full make up from my strawberry themed outfit. Of course the trainer who I once asked to find my sports bra was there and his shirt was distractingly low cut. Not one of the standard gym uniforms that the rest of us plebeians wear.

Unsettling encounters with men would not end there, however. I decided to take a more leisurely bus ride home and while wearing a mask and sitting in the same seats, a very startlingly similar situation occurred.

Recall that sometime ago while I was wearing a mask, sitting in the back right seat which was the same as tonight, the man two seats to my left “dropped” a business card and used that as an in to ask if I would work for his private karaoke room.

Well tonight, and sitting in the same seat, another man nearly pulled the same stunt. My spatial awareness tingling told me that the newcomer on the bus was taking special notice of me. I can’t tell you how exactly, but if you’re a woman you probably have some idea.

I was wrestling with updating the email on my Skype account when I almost missed a phone in my line of sight angled towards me. It was subtle enough that he could play it off as an accident but obvious enough to me that if I paid him any attention he would thrust the phone into my hands and silently ask for my number.

I didn’t really even register what was happening until the phone had quickly disappeared.

And while I’m certainly not averse to chatting with strangers on the bus, I find it grating when a strange man says absolutely nothing to me and expects to receive my personal contact information. You have given me nothing sir. Life isn’t that easy. You have to try speaking to me at least once.

(And if you do speak, you probably shouldn’t ask me to work for a private karaoke room or interrupt me while I’m alone at a station to tell me to hang up on my international phone call because talking to you is more important.)

Luckily the man was too shy to follow through again and the rest of my ride went by quite nicely uneventful.

Lashes and Last Friday of Whatever Strange Winter Vacation Land I’m In

As you know, whatever winter plans I had during this vacation were completely uprooted by the virus and school scheduling changes. It looks like with a continuation of the virus I’ll be unable to visit my former Chinese students in April like I had planned which is a huge bummer.

I’m not sure there will be many places I can actually visit during our short April vacation since everywhere I’d like to visit is within Asia.

As such I’m in a strange time suspension where I don’t have to work but can’t do much else. So today I decided to cross one thing off my list.

I got an eyelash perm.

Now, in the states, eyelash perms start at around $85. In Korea they start at around ₩30,000 which, with the currently devalued currency, is around $25.

After some back-and-forth I was able to book my appointment online through Korea’s premier search site Naver. When I arrived at the lash salon, the beautician was clearly surprised I was in fact a foreigner. She approached and asked in stilted English where I was from. Initially I answered “USA” but she didn’t understand me so I just switched to Korean.

“어 다행이에요.” What a relief! She exclaimed to the other women laying prone with eyelids glued shut.

I chatted with the two women and the beautician while I put my things in a locker.

“Is everyone here getting an eyelash perm?”

“Yes, that’s correct. At this time everyone here is getting an eyelash perm.”

“Oh! Perm time!” I declared. The middle laying lady thought that was especially funny because I had said quite literally “펌 타임”.

They asked if I was a student (flattering) and wanted to know why I didn’t call to reserve an appointment if my Korean is so good:

“Because dates and numbers… I really don’t know them well and it’s scary!”

The beautician asked if Americans are worried and I said unfortunately people in the US seem to be overly worried even though there are few COVID-19 cases. As for my family, they’re not very worried since I call them and update them fairly regularly.

(I didn’t have the vocabulary to also add that America should be less worried about the virus and more about its lumbering, expensive, and inefficient health insurance system. And yeah, since the pandemic team was fired in 2018 and never replaced, and the CDC budget gutted in favor of military spending, America does not have the range to test and treat the virus.)

She also wanted to know my Korean name which all the ladies had trouble with.

“Abi… jel? Abi… gen? Abi… what? Oh the pronunciation is difficult.”

I noticed a beautician pronounced it with a final N consonant which is something my Laos and Thai friends do.

The ladies seemed like fun but the procedure was a bit uncomfortable. The one time I tried to talk had jostled the glue on my eyelids which was fairly terrifying so I zipped it up and tried to meditate as best as possible.

Later I heard another woman come in with an incorrect appointment time and the beautician said oho! while they worked out details. This is also an exclamation from my Southeast Asian friends.

As I was paying after the procedure was over I asked the beautician where she was from. She stared at me in shock and asked:

“Me? Where am I from?”

I laughed to myself, oh how the tables have turned!

“Yes, you said oho like my Thai friends.”

She laughed and laughed and I’m sure there’s a reason but her answer was simply: “foreigner style”.

Final results! Just wait until I actually get mascara on these bad boys.

When The Masks Come On

Face masks offer a certain level of anonymity and as a result, boldness.

People tend to ignore me, or perhaps more accurately don’t take excessive notice of me, but once the masks are on, I make and receive a startling amount of eye contact.

The other day I hopped off the bus and distantly saw a tall and fit young man, also masked, approaching in very form fitting business wear. It was a lot to observe at 8AM.

I looked at him.

He looked at me.

We continued making very deep eye contact until I rounded the corner and subsequently had to catch my breath.

The level of intimacy I’ve shared with strangers when we all wear masks is unsettling and even more unsettling is how negative politeness culture returns once our bare faced vulnerability is back in place.

I kind of dig it.

Steak&Cake

This week I’m in a strange vacation virus twilight. I can’t travel down south because thanks to the Shincheonji cult, COVID-19 cases have exploded from a stable 50 to now 1200. While most cases are concentrated in the cult’s city of operation, cases are expected to increase all over the country as a result of the members’ willful negligence.

While I had some general plans to check out Hanam and Seokbung, rich burgs with cute cafes, I’m reeling back any official travel plans unless I’m fully up for it.

I had plans to meet up for dinner with a new language exchange partner but one of his coworkers was at the same hospital as a virus patient and now his entire private school is being tested. He’s from Busan and I hope we can meet in the future so I can start preparing for the Gyeongsangnam accent I’ll face if all goes according to plan this summer.

Instead of my various lofty plans that fell apart due to the virus, I went to the gym which has become a safe haven for me. It’s a routine I enjoy and as you know, the showers are far superior to the sad shower head in my wet style bathroom.

After, I wanted to purchase another TOPIK study book and walked to the area around the station north of here. The area and ambience is so different: there were families and young kids, sandwich shops and fried chicken, tall apartments and residential alleyways. It had a much more real feel which offered some comfort.

A peek between alleys.

The small bookstore Kakao map guided me to seemed to be a study supplement store. Perfect! But more browsing indicated this was a Korean student store. After pulling some English grammar books off the shelf to sate my curiosity, I turned to the young guy behind the desk and asked in Korean:

“Do you have any TOPIK…”

“Toeic?” This is one of the international English tests. One day I’d like to fake a Russian accent and ask bookstores to help me find English books. But, next time.

“No, TOPIK. The Korean test.”

He guided me to the only book they had and, guessing by his laugh, his next sentence indicated that not many people came in here looking for TOPIK so he didn’t have much of a variety. I just laughed along and told him I understood.

Now, I am one hundred percent certain he didn’t offer help earlier because the prospect of speaking English was too daunting. The new drama “Crash Landing on You” pokes fun of this fear after the protagonist and another character pretend they are British to get out of trouble with a North Korean officer who also would rather not attempt English.

I’m loving this drama for its hot takes and North Korean slang.

I wandered further and restaurants became more expensive and clothing stores fancier. I ended up treating myself to a 27,000 won steak (about $23).

I didn’t know the word for medium rare so I just said pink. It turns out, “medium rare” in Korean is just… 미디엄 레어. *shakes fist at loan words*

This is apparently on the cheap end of steak, which isn’t too surprising: even at the store beef is extremely pricey. All the more reason to eat more vegetarian meals.

And I couldn’t skip dessert.

I usually visit cafes with friends so eating an entire piece of cake alone was impossible.

First Delivery Order

There is a very certain kind of fear that is known to few: when you receive a call from a local number in a country whose language you don’t speak. But I had to overcome this fear in order to get delivery fried chicken. Do something every day that scares you, right?

I nervously hit enter on the delivery app, my first time to ever get delivery on my own, after leaving a note that I was a foreigner so please talk slowly on the phone.

As things tend to go, the delivery man called me because he ended up in another building, then chastised me when I came looking for him for using the wrong address. For some reason the delivery app automatically detects location but also requires you to manually enter it.

He wanted to argue with me that the automatic address was wrong but I pointed to the line under it on his phone that was my building. It reminded me of the video where the dad is passionately arguing with an oblivious toddler. I am the toddler.

Then he said “next time make sure you enter it correctly”. Yes sir! He must have been booking it because the food arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Only in Korea!

My note in the gray box says:
I’m a foreigner and don’t speak Korean well so if you call me please speak slowly 🙂 call and I will come out

I got a free soda and fries and I like to think the delivery app saw my sad note and rewarded my bravery.

“Fried Really Home Good”.

Language Corner

While arguing with the delivery man about my address, I said 아난데요. Besides being something I mutter to myself when shopping, it really came in handy. -데요 verb ending implies disagreement with the speaker.

School, Interrupted

Here we go again!

The thing about Covid-19 is that it DEFINITELY runs on Asia Time.

I saw on the news that a cult, being as morally righteous and helpful as a cult is, spread the virus all throughout the southern cities of Korea from a stable 50 to a newly reported figure of over 600.

I didn’t know if this would affect me since people in Seoul seem less concerned than ever, but a late night “how are you” text from S sent off warning bells in my head. Recall that last time she texted, I had to cancel my vacation.

“Did you hear the news? School has been postponed by a week.” Now, I didn’t respond cheekily like I wanted to and say “where would I have heard that” although a part of me wondered what would happen if no one told me.

Being a teacher at a public school, I am also affected. Even though I was so excited to finally see my kids and bully Guitar Teacher into being friends with me, the school year has been pushed to the second week of March.

However.

All teachers still have to go to school.

Y’all.

I am SO TIRED of desk warming. These teachers have come fresh off of seven weeks of vacation while I have haggardly stumbled in and out of five weeks of desk warming, daycare, and rearranged vacation.

This also means that the school year will probably add on an extra week at the end of the year which completely throws a wrench in my vacation plans. Will we still have two weeks of summer camp? Will I end this contract with extra days of vacation? I specifically worked an extra week this winter so I could have more time off in summer but now who knows.

C’est la vie. I’ll just go to the spa several more times this week and accept what I cannot control.

A Questionable Friday

Um.

After working out, I decided to visit the seafood pancake place I found the other day. I nervously entered only to find, in a restaurant of four tables, the office manager and one of the older guys (who earlier today fell asleep at his desk).

They invited me to sit with them and I didn’t find out until later that they’d already had eight bottles of makgeolli which WOW explains a lot. That’s probably like six bottles of wine.

In an increasingly garbled English/Korean conversation the manager told me if I had any hardships to tell him. He added, “we appreciate you working here.” He also said he’d make sure my things are moved back to my classroom. Since I came from the gym he told me he used to work out and showed me his phone background which were apparently the abs he used to have.

They both said I seemed standoffish at first (or something?) because I didn’t talk much (because you know… I don’t speak Korean) but now that I was drinking with them they were so happy. The older guy would interject with okay! every few minutes and pour me another makgeolli. At one point I said the Japanese word for cheers accidentally (Korean: konpay, Japanese: kampai) which was quite controversial but I explained I had Japanese friends.

“Who’s more fun?”

“Well,” I leaned in conspiratorially, “my Japanese friends really know how to party.”

They asked why I didn’t eat with them, did I dislike Korean food? No, if I eat fast my stomach hurts. They apologized for that, and a few more times.

The manager said that Korean men were afraid to talk to foreign women because they were too beautiful and said many moms said that I was pretty (I think). The word sexy was used once by the older guy which was frankly one time too many.

I said the students sometimes asked if I am Russian. “Oh that’s because Koreans think Americans are fat but Russians are very beautiful!”

The office manager also noted that they had good coffee in their office, better than the teacher’s lounge, so I should come by. “Will you remember you said that?”

They stumbled out of the restaurant and I followed. In their stupor I was hoping they’d pay for my order. They didn’t.

The old guy wanted to keep drinking and go to karaoke but the office manager dragged him away with promises of “next time we will eat bbq”. I remarked “whatever is most expensive”.

I couldn’t just go home after such excitement so where am I writing this from? That whiskey bar in my neighborhood where I once asked the bartender for help with my homework.

I’m riding a very weird wave of confidence and vindication right now.

Barista BFF

My heart!

I ate lunch then decided to visit my coffee shop— not the one where the barista hates S but the one with the very chipper young woman.

In the afternoons she is joined by a another young guy who doesn’t know me. When the bell rang as I entered the coffee shop she looked over his shoulder and we both waved excitedly at each other. He took my order, there was some confusion but we managed, and I even got up when “vanilla latte” was called. It wasn’t mine so she made a big X and we laughed. Teenage boy looked in on mild confusion.

When my drink was called, I had to laugh again and ask “me?”. I approached the counter and she said in practiced English “long time no see”. My heart swelled on the spot. I just smiled big and said 맞아요! Right!

When I returned my cup I said “see you next time” to which she said automatically “see you”. Some young women waiting nearby laughed kindly at the exchange.

Once I gathered my jacket to head out, she quickly burst through the little counter saloon doors to say “see you later!”

It was so sweet and the excitement I imagined we shared was not wrong!

I thought about who I’d be writing letters to when I leave and she was tentatively on the list. Well now she is cemented!

♥️♥️♥️

Last Day of Winter Desk Warming

It has finally arrived!

I told the English speaking woman that I wouldn’t be here next week and asked what I should with my things. She seemed confused as to why I would take vacation but I restrained myself from launching into “Vacation, Interrupted”. S told the office manager my situation but let them think what they will.

Many of the words we practiced throughout the week were a buildup to “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?” by Eric Carle. We practiced colors, then colors and animals, then “I see…”. I read the story once then reviewed I/you/we/us/me which all appeared in the story. Students later had to match the English and Korean pronouns. We read the story again, with each student being assigned an animal and standing up when their animal was called. We read together once more, with students standing up and reading altogether. Of course, even with various integrated readings, the students were wiggly and restless as it was their last day, so I switched to their favorite “Head Shoulders Knees Toes”. They LOVE the sped up version and it’s a great way to tire them out.

I wrapped up with a review of the things we had learned and we all sang “Hello How Are You”. I told them it was my last day so “if you see me at school, what should you say?”

“Hello, teacher!”


Reflection

I have learned so much about pacing and how to teach better these last two weeks. It certainly helps having immediate feedback from 20 young critics. I can also see the difference that one hour a day of English makes versus 80 minutes a week.

The teaching style of E and C are still unknown to me but I will remember what I’ve done these last two weeks for when I have my own classroom.