Thursday, September 30, 2010

Settling in

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been teaching in Gwangju for over a month, and been in Korea for over 6 weeks. I think I’m settling in quite nicely, especially since our ARCs (Alien Registration Cards) finally made a long-delayed and much-anticipated debut. Without them, none of the new batch of EPIK teachers could secure cell phones or regular internet service. We burned ridiculous amounts of time waiting for each other every time we met, hoping that last person who said they’d show up hadn’t gotten so severely lost we’d never see him/her again. Sometimes people would finally find their way after we’d left the meeting spot, and, well, sucked for them. Now we can finally function like normal people and just call someone when we’re late and/or lost. Yay for emergence from the dark ages of communication!
My phone, complete with requisite dangly bits (bus pass and screen poker thing). Next: internet.
On the same day we got the news about our ARCs, I also received a ginormous care package in the mail from Mom & Dad. [Insert Happy Dance here.] In it was a collection of winter clothing, much needed as the weather has suddenly turned cool; six boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix (now I just need a muffin pan and an oven); a couple dozen Lara bars; Darn Good Chili mix and requisite tomato paste; tea cookies; some decent coffee; a few styling products so I can continue to fight the good fight against my hair; and other useful goodies (mainly aimed at the Woman Who Never Learned to Breathe Properly). Now that my winter boots and poofy coat are at the ready and my pantry is properly stocked, I feel that I can take on whatever Korean life has to throw at me this winter. There’s also a care package of Korean items going to the family pretty soon. Its contents won’t be nearly as useful, but they will be infinitely more interesting!

There are other signs that I am settling in well. I’m developing a taste for things I would go out of my way to avoid in the States. For example, K-pop, the ubiquitous Korean pop music that I hear on the streets and that my students sing at me every day. Here’s one of their favorites:

I am far more tolerant of sparkly things, shiny things, brightly colored things and things decorated with cutesy patterns and pictures. Hell, I’ve even voluntarily bought some of these things. I have also come to the realization that I actually crave kimchi when I go a day without it. And sometimes even between meals that do include kimchi. Is kimchi becoming my new yogurt? Is it even possible to be as obsessive about kimchi as I was/am about yogurt?? I’ll be curious to see whether these new tastes & habits will stick when I go back home, or if I will gradually readjust to my previous preferences.

Brie and the tastiest crackers/cookies ever
My preference for.…er….love affair with cheese has not changed, though. I’ve just had to scale back my intake. I can find it – within just 5 minutes of my apartment! – but it’s ridiculously expensive. The Home Plus charges 10,000 won for a rather small amount of mediocre brie, but I bought it anyway. Mmmmm, cheese.

[For more amusing musings about things we Westerners must adjust to in Korea, check out my friend's post.]


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Teacher, I love you!"

New relationships, always fraught with the potential for awkward situations, can be even more uncomfortable in Korea. I’ve seen multiple Western couples cornered by a Korean (be he a friend, acquaintance or total stranger) and asked,
“Do you love her?” (sometimes emphasized with a little heart shape made with the thumbs and index fingers), and
“When you get married?”
“Well, we just met a few weeks ago, so…”
A friend who’s been here for a while put it quite nicely: “Korea loves couples.” I mean, the hallmark of a committed couple is that they dress in matching unisex outfits. My favorite is the matching underwear sets in lingerie store windows. Yikes.

For native English teachers, there’s no escape during the work day. Students pepper me and my compatriots with weekly questions about the status of our love lives.
“Teacher, you have a boyfriend?”
“No, I don’t have a boyfriend.”
The very next week: “Teacher, you have boyfriend now?”
“No, and I don’t think I would tell you if I did.”
I could just make something up to get them off my back while keeping some semblance of privacy about my personal life, but I’m not sure I have the energy to create the exceedingly detailed fictional boyfriend that would be necessary to satisfy all of the questioning that would undoubtedly follow. To be fair, there are also plenty of inappropriate questions/comments that come from Westerners, but they’re usually the ones who’ve been in Korea for a while and have presumably lost some of their sense of propriety (if they ever had one). Privacy is not an expectation in Korea. I must find a productive way of dealing with this.

I can only speak from the point of view of a Westerner, of course, but I can’t help thinking Koreans must feel the same way to some extent. Koreans never really live on their own, staying in their parents’ home until they are married, when they may or may not still live with one of the spouses’ parents. Several generations often live under one roof, upping the number of all-seeing eyes and prying questions from not only parents but also from grandparents, siblings and the like. (We will add this to the list of reasons why I don’t really intend to date any Korean men while I’m here.) To combat this problem, Korean towns and cities have prevalent DVD-bangs (movie rooms) where you can rent a room with a couch, order in food and watch any number of movies in your own private space. As you might imagine, they basically serve as make-out rooms for young, randy, privacy-strapped couples. There are also scores of love motels that rent rooms by the hour and include things like heart-shaped beds and mirrors in odd places. These are also excellent, cheap places to stay for traveling Westerners who want something better than a hostel but don’t want to pay for a real hotel. We might get funny looks when four of us check into a room, but wallets have never been ashamed of a little thrift.

Now, you might think that my reluctance to date a Korean (relationships are difficult enough without such a severe language and culture barrier) might cut short my marriage prospects in this country. But you would be mistaken. As I was strolling around the school with two of the grade 2 teachers after lunch one day, several boys were following behind us like nervous puppies and talking to us in Korean. While it’s widely known that I speak no Korean, the students still expect me to magically understand what they say even when they’re not speaking English. Finally Moon-Sun (that’s phonetically correct, at least), the science and math teacher, told me that one of the boys was asking me to marry him. I laughed, and told the boy that we could talk about it in ten years. According to Moon-Sun, he then said that love and age are not the same. Cheeky little blighter. Or perhaps budding Korean Casanova? We’ll find out in about a decade.

Addendum: xkcd goes to Korea?


Friday, September 24, 2010

Beaches (but no Bette Midler)

It's been an exciting week. Lots of bus riding, lots of beaching and not much teaching. Since I'm quite good at sitting on the beach and taking in the scenery as I ride down the highway, but not so good at getting my students to shut up and learn, I feel it's been a good week. We all like what we're good at.

Last weekend I had my first camping experience (aside from a very vague memory of a church camping trip when I was fairly young, so that didn't count). Through the miracle that is Facebook, some bright and aspiring social organizer got together a group of about 50 EPIK and hagwon English teachers on Myeongsasipri beach in Wando, about a 2.5-hour bus ride from Gwangju. Any time after August 15th is officially the off-season in Korean minds, so we were treated to an empty beach despite the near-perfect weather. The water was warm but refreshing, the waves were ride-able but not too rough, and even the mosquitoes stayed mostly at bay. We cleaned out the 7-11 of all of their beer, soju and prepackaged kimbap, then spent the day playing beach soccer/volleyball/frisbee and finished off the night with a bonfire and roasted marshmallows. Just up from the beach is a camping area with elevated wooden platforms covered by canopies, complete with a light and a set of electrical outlets (public facilities here always amaze me). We pitched our tents there, though I suspect that the sand would have been a lot softer than those boards. Note for next time: beach camping should be done on the beach. Or something softer than wood.

We packed up and came back to a one-day work week preceding the Chuseok holiday, which included plenty of Mr. Bean for my classes and the new best comment (compliment?) from my students: "Your eyes! They are like horror movie! Scary!" Thanks, kids. Monday night brought another first for me: a proper game of darts at the bar. Apparently I've never known how to keep score correctly in a game of darts. I still don't know how, but at least I know what I was doing before was wrong. The right way is far more complicated. Thank goodness most dartboards in Korea, like everything else, are automated and keep score for you. [Editor’s note: I am aware that darts are not the most interesting thing I have written or will write about, but I was told I should include it in my blog. So there you have it.]

On Tuesday we departed for Busan with a slightly different group than originally planned, partly due to the weather forecast and partly due to women and the infatuation that we can sometimes cause. (We're nothing but trouble, I tell you. Always breaking up the group.) At any rate, five of us met at the U-Square bus terminal and four of us hopped on the 3-hour bus to Busan, where we arranged to meet up with several non-Gwangju (and therefore slightly less cool) friends from EPIK orientation. Over the course of three days wandering around the city, we ran into about half a dozen other friends from our orientation classes, which was always a lovely surprise, though it made actually getting from A to B somewhat slow and difficult since we stopped to talk to everyone we saw.

Busan, where I had originally requested placement, is the second largest city in Korea and the fifth largest port in the world. It is also home to the largest spa in Asia, if not the world, though of course it was closed for Chuseok when we tried to go. Instead I was treated to my own version of a day at the spa: a shower in a western-style bathroom, courtesy of Jess, who decided to get a decent hotel room rather than cram four people into a hostel room with a set of bunk beds and a couch like the rest of us. The weather was sunny and cool with a nice, light breeze. Except for Wednesday, which was a cold, wet, miserable mess, like someone threw a November day in DC into the middle of our vacation. My co-teachers had told me that it would be too cold to swim (post-August 15th, remember), and we feared they may have been right. Thank goodness things cleared up the very next day, as though the universe took pity on us and flipped the late summer/early fall switch back on. Many shops and restaurants were closed because of Chuseok, but that also meant far less foot traffic and crowds to negotiate. We mostly explored Seomyeon, where our hostel was, and the Haeundae beach area. In Seomyeon we were introduced to the Old Record, a bar decked out in 1960s-era pictures and posters of rock stars and naked women. The owner has amassed a mind-blowing collection of vinyl that he keeps spinning all night in the small, dimly lit room that smells of stale cigarette smoke and probably hasn’t been aired out since it was first built. Customers can also request just about any song or artist that exists, and he’ll find it online and play it for you. We spent the better part of 4 hours there on Wednesday evening, draining the keg and lounging on the greenish, crushed velvet couches and love seats that are so oddly common in Korean bars.



We also did plenty of shopping, not least because of the unexpectedly fall-like weather that has descended so quickly (sooo happy my winter clothing care package is on its way from home!). This was my first foray into shopping in Korea, since we just got paid this past Monday (yay!). I’ve found it to be a somewhat intimidating and frustrating experience. Salespeople tend to hover just over your shoulder, and no matter how carefully you replace that shoe in the display, they will readjust it. And Koreans are usually so nice and full of compliments that it sounds even worse by contrast when they say anything negative or critical. While wondering around the Busan Home Plus looking for beach towels, I spied a counter full of denim leggings carefully packaged in individual plastic bags. This was more interesting to me at the time than towels, so I stopped. The salesman behind the leggings took one look at me and motioned for me to move on, followed by a series of gestures expressing in no uncertain terms that my butt was too big to wear what he was selling. Perhaps I should be glad that this was the first time I've been called fat by a tiny Korean, but it was still a very blunt reminder that was driven home by my inability to find pants in anything close to my size when we were exploring the underground metro station shops the next day. Most Korean women have at least one hollow leg and can eat as much as they want without gaining so much as a centimeter around their midsections. I am not a Korean woman, and there are consequences to the fact that I have a healthy appreciation for food. This also means, however, that I am shaped like a proper woman rather than a young boy. So take that, leggings man! American men like my ass! I’m hoping the shopping trip that I have tentatively planned with some of my co-teachers will turn out a bit better.



No grade 2 classes this week, as they’re preparing for midterm exams. I am now heading home to rest and recover and plan lessons for the other two grades. And buy things for my home that were a post-paycheck priority. I am a nester; I will find a way to make my apartment look more homey than the white wallpapered box that it is right now.


Friday, September 17, 2010

DC in Korea

Well, the English teachers’ meeting that I was so worried about turned out to be more of a welcome dinner. We talked a bit about school, my teaching and the kids, but mostly it was light, fun conversation over seemingly endless plates of very tasty foods. There were two entire plates with nothing but different kinds of mushrooms! The Korean love for mushrooms is an affection after my own heart. All in all, it was a lovely time. And it made me appreciate even more what fantastic co-teachers I have. I knew as much – certainly in comparison with some of the stories of frustration and difficulty that some of my fellow teachers have had right off the bat – but I genuinely enjoy them as people, and we seem to get along fairly comfortably. I’m sure we’ll have our share of miscommunication and some frustrating situations down the road, but I’m equally sure we’ll get through it without too much difficulty. And I have a shopping date with the two younger women after pay day – yay! What better way to solidify a relationship than over a clothes wrack? Except perhaps over a bowl of some unknown fermented fruit-type Korean alcohol….but why not both??

However, in order to plan any sort of shopping outing, I need to get a reasonable budget lined up, and that includes cutting back on spending on things like coffee (*wince*). God help me, I just spent the approximate equivalent of $18 on a tub of Folgers. There is better coffee to be had, but it comes in tiny packets that only last about a week, and I’m sure the cost would add up to waaaay more than what I just paid for that Folgers. I’m so glad I found that coffee shop up the street: Kenya Coffee, Enjoy our espresso coffee, Sweet-Smelling like devils temptation and hot like hell fire. I’m serious – that’s what’s on their napkins. But that adds up, too. Hopefully the Folgers will last.

On the same grocery run that landed me the Folgers, I also bought pine tree flavored toothpaste. It makes my mouth taste like Christmas – even after I’ve rinsed with Listerine. An odd sensation, but kind of fun.

This morning I watched coverage of the DC mayoral race – including the speculation of whether Schools Chancelor Michelle Rhee will stay or go – on the news. Yes, the Korean news. It appears that DC’s local news is not only national news, it’s international news. Now if only I could find it in English without having to track down an internet connection!

In another odd DC tie-in, I got my first electric bill today. The electric company here is called KEPCO. Here’s hoping it’s a far cry from PEPCO when it comes to actual operating practices.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I love Tuesdays

Tuesdays are the best day of the week. I only have to teach two classes and they're both small and with my favorite co-teacher. That means I have the rest of the day for lesson planning!  Or productive procrastination (a.k.a. blogging), as the case would be today. Lucky you.

This particular Tuesday is made even better by the fact that last night I bought a bus ticket to Busan for Chuseok. Things to do while I’m there: spend time on the beach, find a decent pedicure (maybe try out those little fishies they have here?), see some of the awesome people I met at orientation who live in places other than Gwangju.

Chuseok rice cakes
What is Chuseok? You'd probably do better to click on the link in the previous paragraph, but I'll give you a quick rundown here. It's basically Korean Thanksgiving - a first harvest festival during which everyone gets together with their families and eats a specially prepared meal. It's tied to the lunar calendar, and is apparently happening quite early this year. The good news for me: I get almost an entire week off of school and get fed yummy little sesame & honey-filled rice cakes every time I turn around.

This week's lesson plan for grade 3 is about praise, condolences and encouragement. The most amusing part of these lessons, to me, is the fact that my students pronounce “cheer up” and “shut up” in almost exactly the same way. It's tough to imagine unless you've become intimately familiar with Konglish (Englishee, pinishee, Home Plus-uh), but trust me, it's all I can do to keep a straight face. I tried addressing this after I noticed it in my first class, but it doesn't seem to make much difference. They think it's funny that I allow them to say "shut up" in a classroom context, and can repeat the words properly after me. But as soon as we go back to the lesson, it's back to,
"My goldfish died yesterday."
"Shut up!"
Caity Teacher's lack of skills might be showing here.

Toilet buttons

And now for your occasional dose of TMI, re: Korean bathrooms. Korean bathrooms can be anywhere from completely primitive to super fancy. In one of the expat bars, there is but one restroom for everyone, and it’s so small that when you’re washing your hands, you’ve practically got your elbow in the back of the guy taking a leak at the urinal. Awkward. On the other hand, Koreans like to technologize everything (shut up, it’s a word now), including their restrooms. For instance, you can frequently find toilet seats with more buttons than I can imagine functions that a toilet seat should have. Along with the buttons are little illustrative pictures involving naked behinds, but I’m still not brave enough to try any of them. At school (and other places), when you walk into the bathroom, music automatically begins to play – perhaps to ease your restroom-related anxieties? Today’s selection was the morning-calm-after-the-storm section of the William Tell Overture. I often wonder if it will turn off if I sit still in there long enough, or if it senses when I leave and then shuts off. When you sit down, the toilet makes a little tinkling sound. I found this highly confusing at first, as I was quite sure I hadn’t used the restroom yet, but what was that sound? It still freaks me out a bit, but I’m sure it serves some useful purpose for anxious Koreans. All of this fancy, and there’s still rarely any toilet paper to be found and most of the stalls have squatties instead of seats. Go figure.

My most recent struggle with Korean culture has been with my co-teachers planning meetings in which I am a major component (if not the actual reason for the meeting) without consulting me or my schedule. They just come to me and say, “Caity, we have English teachers’ meeting on Wednesday after classes.” No, I didn’t have any plans, thank you (actually I did). Good thing I was told in advance to expect this or I would be HOT. I know they’re just trying to arrange things and make everything easy for me, and it’s my job to show up at these meetings, but it’s a little difficult for me not to look at this hijacking of my schedule as slightly rude. Yet another example of why it’s important to keep a proper perspective while I’m here. Caitlin might not have been ok with this sort of thing, but dammit, Caity Teacher can handle it!


Friday, September 10, 2010

Dog soup

New pictures!!! Clicky clicky, on the right. I've added some of my classroom and some from dinner tonight. Just to make you jealous.

Well, it's happened. After waffling back and forth on whether or not I could bring myself to eat dog meat if it was offered, we had dog soup for lunch yesterday. Of course my co-teachers only told me what it was after I had already taken some, so I had to eat it. It tasted just like any other chunky soup in the cafeteria, so I should probably reserve judgment until after I’ve eaten it somewhere else, if I ever do. Whew, glad that's at least behind me.

This is not the dog soup. But it was tasty!
But wait! Is it? While I was out with a group yesterday evening, I filled them in on my newest culinary adventures (over free mashed potatoes and beer, natch). The group, which included a native Korean, insisted that the soup couldn’t possibly have contained dog, since eating dog is now illegal and dog meat is expensive these days. I have absolutely no reason to distrust either party in this argument. Perhaps my co-teachers were just testing me to see how far I would go to avoid insulting them? I sure hope I passed that one.

I ought to be on the happy list at school, one way or the other. I may not be a stellar teacher, but I do formal written lesson plans! Apparently this is a big deal, and my co-teachers think I'm working too hard. Thing is, as inexperienced as I am, that's the only way I can effectively think through an entire lesson. Also, when the principal came around at our teachers' dinner on Tuesday and demanded "One shot!" of me (a Korean version of "bottoms up"), I did exactly that. Gone was my beer, and smiley was the principal. Score?

I also learned last night, post-beer and mashed potatoes, some very useful Korean phrases. I believe these will come in handy during the cleaning period when I have to supervise many pre-teen boys who are hell-bent on hanging out in my classroom, making noise and generally doing anything but cleaning. The main problem with this scenario is that when I yell at them, they have only the slightest clue what I'm saying. But there is a solution.

I now present to you the English Teacher in Korea's Classroom Survival Vocabulary (Please excuse the poor Romanization. I'm working with what I've got here.):
Haji-ma! Don't do that!
Manjiji-ma! Don't touch!
Crokay-ma haji-ma! Don't say that! (particularly useful for those students fond of using the f-word in class)
Idiwa! Come here!
Ya! Hey!

And to close, my life these days, summed up in pictures: http://roketship.com/
I actually got the small face compliment today. (See, Mom, not everyone thinks my nose is big!)


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Small victories

I begin this post with much good news and rejoicing:
  1. I have hot water! Woohoo! After more than a week of bracing myself for a cold shower every morning, I no longer face the somewhat ineffectual task of shaving my legs while I have goose bumps. I'm told the gas company didn't want to turn on the gas because they think my landlord is a troublemaker (at least that's how my co-teacher put it to me). I have no idea what changed their minds, but I'm not arguing.
  2. On Saturday, I successfully rode not only the bus, but also the subway, to my destination with no problems whatsoever. Score one for me! This may not sound like a big deal, but considering the fact that (a) I am directionally challenged, (b) I have not been able to get my hands on a bus or subway map, in English or Korean, (c) bus signs in English are few and far between, and (d) if I get lost, I may or may not spend hours trying to find someone who can help me get back home....it's a big effing deal. I'm so proud.
The subway is quite nice. I thought perhaps we Washingtonians rag on Metro too much, but the Gwangju subway sets a shining example to be aspired to. It's fairly new and there's only one line, but it's well-lit, well labeled and freakishly clean. My only complaint is that the automated voice doesn't seem to know her left from her right when instructing people in English on which side the doors will be opening. There are boutique shops, food shops, bank branches and plenty of other shops I'm sure I haven't seen yet. Oooh. Aaaah. I wish I lived closer to the subway.

My bus and subway journey on Saturday began an evening of ups and downs, including:
Up: Arriving at my destination unflapped and on time.
Down: Screwing up the bus thing again this afternoon, despite my earlier success (Yes, that's a jump in the timeline, but this isn't about chronology, it's about ups & downs). 
Up: Seeing a "Mexican" restaurant on the way to our movie night at someone's apartment.
Down: Discovering that "Mexican" just meant some sort of fried chicken. The Americans were crestfallen. The Brits didn't care.
Up: Purchasing and naming 6 Russian hamsters that are now living with my friend (Twinkles, Fat Dave, Hector, Speedy Gonzalez, Haile Selassie and Mr. Kim).
Down: Oh, who am I kidding? There's no down for this one. Hamsters are CUUUUTE.

Another teacher and I were discussing this afternoon that it doesn't quite seem like we're living in the real world. I mentioned before that it feels somewhat like being back in college again, but that doesn't quite capture it. In the land of limbo, where we will never quite fit in, you can purchase Russian hamsters for 3,000 won (a little less than $3) each and the cutest, fuzziest bunnies you've ever seen for just 6,000 won. As foreigners, we get to make our own mix of social rules -- a cocktail of British, American, Irish, Canadian, South African and South Korean -- while taking liberties with the surrounding culture by playing the foreigner card. In addition, logic never really made its debut in Korea, so the rules that we play by in the west don't always apply here. Gravity, yes. Aristotelian logic? I think not. Aristotle didn't make it this far. So it's important never to say, "That doesn't make sense." It will never make sense. Just accept it and move on. This alone will keep you sane. However, I do like that Koreans put much more stock in emotions where Westerners tend to ignore them and then suffer the consequences in the long run. I'm sure there's a place where a perfect balance of both logic and emotion are used in decision-making, but I have yet to find that happy little spot.  Humans probably don't live there, anyway.

It's also odd to be living in what functionally amounts to a community of about 200 people, give or take.  Perhaps more if you add in the hagwon teachers, but that's the approximate number of us EPIKers. I feel like I've already met a huge portion of the group of people who will comprise my entire social life for the next year. DC is small town, but not this small. If I screw up with these people, I am socially screwed. At least until August 2011. It's a sobering and somewhat worrisome thought.

Realization of the weekend: All of my students' praise is having an unfortunate effect on me. Now, when a nice young man tells me that I’m very pretty, my immediate reaction is, “You sound like my students.” Picturing overeager Korean ‘tweens every time I’m paid a compliment is surely is not going to be good for my dating life. At least most of the people who have said/will say that to me (outside of the classroom and in English) probably have their own students and understand.

Tomorrow begins my first day of real lessons. No more fun and easy PowerPoint about me, my family and my city.  Lesson planning takes me forever right now, to say nothing of whether the material I come up with is any good. I surely hope I can knock things out a lot faster in the near future.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Shingwang Middle School

In the mornings, I walk about 5 minutes up to my school in high heels, just like everyone else.  But I now know the reason why Korean women can stand to walk around the streets in their heels all day: they don't wear them at work!  Just inside the front door of my school (as in Korean homes, most restaurants and some offices) is a large cabinet of shoe cubbies.  I pop my heels into the cubby with my name on it and put on a pair of nice, comfy sandals, which they call slippers here.  My first day, I just wore the slippers with bare feet, but I noticed that everyone else was wearing tiny socks or stockings (hence the abundance of cute sockies that I see in stores everywhere).  That night I went to the Home Plus and picked up my own pair.  So now I have Korean feet, if nothing else about me fits in!

Grades are divided by school, rather than in consecutive grade levels as in the US.  Thus, I teach middle school grades 1-3 (elementary school includes grades 1-6 and high school has 1-3).  My students are anywhere from 11 to 14 years old, as Koreans count age differently than we do in the West.  They basically count the time that you are in the womb as one year, so you are one year old when you are born.  Then you add a year to your age not on your birthday, but on each New Year's day.  I would be turning 30 this New Year's in Korean age, so I will be sticking with my western age, thankyouverymuch.

I have a desk and a computer in the grade 2 teachers office, which all of the grade 2 teachers share.  I'm not sure if the male teachers have a different office, or if all of the grade 2 teachers are women, but it's all women right now.  The office also serves as a break room for students between classes, where they can get a drink of water from communal cups, wash their hands, and bother their new English teacher.  They peer at my computer screen to see what I'm working on, not that they can understand any of it. (Though to their credit, they have a far better idea of what's going on with my Korean operating system than I do. Once again, thank God for pictures where they appear.)  Some of them come to me several times a day with new questions, to brag about something ("I've been to the US," "I'm a fighting champion!" or "I am number one in the class!"), or to tell me something (usually uncomplimentary) about one of their friends ("She's a pig!" "He's crazy!").  This is far better than when they try to brag to me as I walk by to check on them in the middle of class, when they're supposed to be doing group work or something of the like.  The compliment of the day today seems to be "pretty eyes!"  Koreans all have brown eyes, and I can just imagine them talking to each other in the hallways, telling each other to go check out the new English teacher with the freaky green eyes.  I haven't had the question yet myself, but other native English teachers are often asked (by elementary students the most) whether they see green or blue because of their eye color.

With the exception of classes that require a special classroom, such as music or P.E., students stay in one room and the teachers rotate around.  I tried this, but since my Mac doesn't hook up to the projectors to allow me to use PowerPoint (I need a special adapter and I'm not even going to try to get that question translated at the electronics store), I have adopted the English Lab as my own classroom.  It's a very nice room, with a retractable screen, a desktop computer, lots of pictures and English quotations, a huge white board, and plenty of English-language books and DVDs.  The back of the class has a huge English map and a couple of couches.  The room is called the "English Only Zone", though that doesn't seem to keep the students from speaking Korean in my classes anyway.

Lunch seems to be free.  At least, there's nowhere to pay for it in the cafeteria and no one has told me about setting up an account or anything yet, but perhaps that's coming.  Lunches always include a healthy mix of fruit & veggies with some sort of meat and rice. I always eat with the other teachers, as communal meals are very important for building relationships.  I need to work on making conversation more, as so far I've been spending most of my lunch listening to incomprehensible conversations going on around me and trying my best not to flip some sort of saucy food into my lap with my chopsticks.  One of my co-teachers has taken to handing me a napkin (or a facial tissue, which is what they use here) as soon as I sit down.  I guess it didn't take me long to make a messy impression.  Everyone brushes their teeth after lunch, which is a nice habit, but it's kind of funny to see the kids walking down the halls with toothbrushes hanging out of their mouths.  They try to say hello to me as I pass anyway, which comes out somewhat garbled with toothpaste.  Most days after eating lunch, I am invited to someone's classroom for (instant and overly sweet) coffee and some halting English conversation.

I wonder if I'll be so popular once the novelty wears off.....