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!


  1. Before you come back home, you HAVE to try all of the bathroom buttons and tell us what they do! :-D I love your noodle picture, by the way! I found a few recipes for making your own vegan cheese. I know that technically it's cheating since (1) they doesn't have dairy, and (2) they don't come from some eatery in Korea because you have to make them, but if you want them I'd be happy to copy and email them! They require such things as whole almonds, cashews, buckwheat groats (what is THAT?!), lemon juice, olive oil, one requires tahini, garlic, thyme, rosemary, and one requires nutritional yeast. And most of them need cheesecloth. I'm not sure what you can find in Korea, but if you're interested, I can also send any necessary ingredients you don't have that are shippable. I want to please the Caity cravings! :-) Let me know!

  2. You should be thankful for all the conviences of Korean bathrooms. When I got off the plane in Singapore, the visit to the loo was a hole in the floor - not too convenient when you're still somewhat unsteady after 16 hrs in flight. And the "urinal" in most Malaysian restaurants is a tiled wall that runs to the earth or a trench.

  3. I concur on you trying all the buttons :-). And I shall share with you the reason for the music and the tinkly sound: many Korean women find (or at least have traditionally found) the sounds of the body's waste elimination functions to be very shameful, and the sounds are meant to mask those made by the potty visitor. The tinkling water sound is so that you can't be sure if you're hearing the person in the bathroom or the automatic sound effect. Nice to know that the Catholics don't have a monopoly on shame :-).


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