Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ms. Ban

Happy Tuesday and Happy Birthday Mom!

I'm having a good day thanks to a little girl who came up to me after English class today and proudly presented me with two stickers she made for me.  They are hot pink with white typed font - one reads "ANDY <3" and the other says, "MS. BAN"  Most of the students call me Ms. Bawn because they can't make the V sound for Vaughn (kind of like they cannot make the z sound and I have to repeatedly say "No, you didn't go to the Jew...you went to the Zoo.) , but I had no idea most students actually think this is my name.  Anyway, despite the fact that she got both my names incorrect, I thought this was the cutest thing in the world.

On Thursday I had another cute incident when I was finishing class and talking to my coteacher.  A little 1st grade girl came in, and she was round as she was tall.  To get the full effect she was also wearing white sweat pants and a neon orange tshirt and had her hair in pigtails.  She walked up to me and just STARED at me like I was a celebrity and I said "Hello" and she was just staring then goes "HELLO!" and I smiled and go How are you?  and she stares for a minute and goes "I LOVE YOU!" while simultaneously making an M with her hands on her head (like you would in YMCA) in order to make a heart while courtseying down and just grinning at me then BOLTED away.  She was SO cute I want to bring her home with me and have her do that every hour.

This made me feel much better about myself since I made a 5th grade boy cry on Thursday morning.  Sometimes I think I'm probably the worst teacher in the world - these kids really try my patience.

Another thing that has seriously been upsetting me lately is the humiliation of shopping in Korea.  A saleslady actually made me cry over the weekend.  Anyway, I'm in desperate need of some jeans, boots, and underwear.  I went shopping all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (in between a rugby game, meeting up with friends, and exploring my neighborhood more).  I don't normally think of myself as a big girl, but it's really depressing when I walk into a jeans store and the saleslady says, "oh, we don't make you size," or how in a shoe store I wasn't allowed to try on boots because "my legs big."  The worst was at the underwear store where I realized even the XL wouldn't fit me, and the lady told me that I should come back for the 2XL when they get some in stock.  I'm thinking that my shopping problem may be cured by the time I come back home due to the fact that I'm apparently way to large to be shopping in Asia.  I came home empty handed all three days.

Anyway, last week I also got my first idea of what it is like to live in a country that is technically still at war-- a fact that I normally completely forget.  I was just sitting in my classroom waiting on some little 6th grade crazy to finish writing "I will be respectful." fifty times, when all these loud sirens start going off and there are loudspeakers- not just like in the school but coming from outside too with someone shouting in Korean.  What. The. Heck.  I didn't know if I should like get under something or what... I was like oh no my mom was right I'm about to get nuked by the North.

Alas, no one around me looked the least bit concerned.  Apparently they do this for 15 minutes every other month for "practice."  You can't go outside and all traffic and movement stops.  Why didn't anyone tell me this?  (looking back it really isn't a big deal, but I think they still should have mentioned this to me!)  When I finally asked what was going on, it was whispered "It's because...you know.... of the North.  Andie, we are country in two.  You know?"  Yes, got it.  Ridiculous.  I literally thought I was about to get bombed.  

Anyway, I hope everyone has a great rest of the week!
Happy Halloween!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall is here!

Hi all,

Fall is here in Seoul!  I'm currently at school, and I'm freezing.  I figured out that there is no central heat in my school or my apartment.  My apartment only has floor heat (my floor gets very warm.  I don't really understand how to work this function right now.  I actually can't turn it off?).  My school is like a concrete ice box, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to teach all bundled up throughout the winter.  It is really bizarre- every day I come in and all the doors and window of the school are wide open.  When I go to my classroom, my coteacher always opens the windows too "because the air is not fresh."  I think I'm missing something.

The last couple weeks have been fairly uneventful.  I've been trying to stay in more often - I waste a lot of money and calories going out to eat, out to coffee, and out to bars.  My schedule now consists more of going to school, going to the gym, making dinner, taking a shower, and watching tv, reading, or hanging out with my friend Arianna who lives upstairs.  

School has also been fairly uneventful too.  I'm still battling the 6th grade- working daily on how to teach kids not to be little punks.  It's really exasperating some days because I get so frustrated and want to just yell at them, but none of them have...any...idea....what...I.
..am....saying...unless....I .....talk....like...this....and...it....is...sooooo...hard....to....talk...like...this....when...a...kid...is...being...absurd...Even....at...this...speed....half...of...what....I...say...is...beyond...their...comprehension...level.  Ugh.
I've started making kids stand in the corner, write sentences, or pick up the classroom after class.   

There are, of course, the kids that make my day enjoyable.  Some of them are absolutely adorable and really nice.  There are others who are hilarious.  For example, the other day I had words on the board in a large video game controller I made, and when I hit the "button" next to the word, the students had to do whatever the word said.  I hit the button "Dancing," and while most kids shyly boogied, I had one kid jump all the way across the classroom singing and dancing to "Superman that Ho."  He can't make a full sentence, but he clearly has picked up on at least some American "culture."  Most of my kids know completely inappropriate or useless English- I don't know where they get it from, but I catch them giving each other the finger all the time and I had an adorable little 4th grade girl come in with "F*** You" on her binder the other day.  I made her erase it and tried to tell her that it was a very bad thing to say, but I'm pretty sure she didn't really grasp what I was saying.  Where do they get this stuff??  Most of them can't even tell me what day it is.

My principal, per usual, has also been hilarious this week.  Yesterday, he walked over with the vice principal and goes "Andie. every year. we take picture. our school family.  you family.  you take picture.  you choose. today or yesterday."
and I go, "tomorrow?"
and he responds, "today or tomorrow. you choose."
"and i go, "it doesnt matter... today is fine."
and they look me UP and DOWN and say, "tomorrow?"
and I say,  "today?"
and they respond, "andie. you choose! today or tomorrow."
and I say, "today."
and they look at me, and my hair and clothes and go "oh ok tomorrow."
Before I left school yesterday he told me to make sure I "look good" tomorrow "for photo."  Then he added to "do make-up."  I want to say I was offended, but he really means well, and I know he really likes me so I don't think he is being mean.  This is my life, haha.

I've started studying Korean in the afternoons.  It is not going anywhere fast, and although I can read Korean/Hangul, I have NO idea what 99% of it means.  I have no desire to be fluent, I really would just like to be functional.  When I speak with Koreans here who only know a little English, they all seem so impressed that I speak English.  It's weird- I want to say YOU are the one who is practically bilingual- I only speak my native language and a little French.  They need to give themselves more credit.  

Anyway, tomorrow I'm going to Seoul Fashion Week to see two designers.  I have no idea what to expect.  Then Friday I am debating on going on a hiking trip with my school that lasts until about 10pm.  I can't imagine this will be fun, but I'm thinking I should probably go anyway.  If I don't go, I have the day off and I'm going to put together a Halloween costume with my friend Sam.  I'll probably spend the rest of the weekend enjoying more of Seoul- shopping and exploring!

Miss you all!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

For my "mental health"

Happy Weekend!

First of all, Happy 90th birthday Grandma!  I know I'm a day late, but I hope you had a great weekend full of festivities.  Please send a picture of your birthday party!  

This past week was very low key for me.  Monday was part of my 4 day holiday, and the rest of the week just seemed to breeze right by me.  I went out for a wonderful Italian dinner on Tuesday with two good friends, spent a lot of time at the gym, and went jogging in Olympic Park with a friend on Thursday.  I escaped this week with almost no ridiculous incidents at school; however, Friday afternoon was my first day attending the newly implemented and weekly "school sports day" at Gil-Dong Elementary.  All teachers must join one of four clubs - badminton, table tennis, hiking, or yoga.  Once a week, your club spends an hour and a half doing the activity.  Because I'm embarrassingly bad at badminton and table tennis and I don't want to hike because it's only done by the men in school who speak no English, I joined the yoga club.  I did some yoga classes at my gym at school during spring semester, and although I'm not terrible at it, I am of the mindset that it's, for lack of a better term, a load of crap.  I usually want to giggle through most of the classes, and I think it's kind of a bad excuse for exercise.  Anyway, I digress.  

Friday afternoon, I got my yoga clothes on and got ready for the "class."  I entered the gymnasium where there was a huge projector with a yoga video on it.  The entire thing was in Korean and it only had badly translated English subtitles sometimes.  The name of the video was  "Diet Yoga."  Anyway, we did poses such as "The Awkward Pose," "The Pose that Twists Your Spine," and "The Baby Pose."  None of the poses were anything I had ever seen before- most of the time we just contorted our bodies into the most awkward positions possible and had to hold it for minutes at a time.  At one point I just started giggling.  Luckily, I survived "diet yoga" and made it to the gym Friday afternoon for some real exercise.  

The weekend was fun, but it was also kind of hard.  Saturday was Homecoming at Wake, and I knew that was going to be harder to miss than anything this year.  All week I got emails on the listserve I'm on with all my friends talking about flights into school and I watched as hundreds of facebook statuses changed into something like "Heading to the Dash" or "It's like Christmas!"  I'm definitely happy here, but I would have given anything to be in Winston-Salem for the weekend.  I almost cried a few times on Saturday, but I went shopping all weekend instead to console myself.

Shopping in Korea is amazing.  There are shoe stores and little boutiques everywhere.   As in, there are actually alleys that only have shoe vendors selling anything you could ever want on your feet. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have a terrible shopping problem (Dad I'm going to have to start sending you excel spreadsheets of every penny I spend again since I'm not mature enough to budget myself).  I've gotten into the bad habit of telling myself that what I buy is "for my mental health."  I always think, Oh, I'm far from home! This will make me happy! This is just what I need to stay sane!  For example, today I went all the way to Itaewon to an English bookstore and paid an absolutely obscene amount for a stack of English books and magazines.  I also broke down and bought two avocados that I found today.  So no one goes into shock I won't tell you how much they were, but, obviously, I needed them.  For my mental health.  I decided I'm going to have to start trying to stay sane in other ways.  Shopping here is going to be my downfall.

Anyway, I miss you all.  I hope everyone who spent the weekend at Wake had a great trip.  I want to hear about it!

Go Deacs,

Monday, October 5, 2009


                 Imperial Palace grounds with Tokyo Tower in the background

Imperial Palace

                                                Hama-rikyu Gardens!

                                              View of Tokyo from the Mega Web!

                                                   The 5 story Pagoda.  My favorite!


                                                              Ueno Park
                                                                   Ueno Park

Hi all,
I just returned home from a great weekend in Tokyo.  Before I begin to tell you about my adventures, I want to go ahead and apologize to anyone from my school who may eventually see this post.  I know I told you I had a great weekend camping with friends on Deokjeokdo like I did a couple weekends ago.  I hate lying to you, and I honestly do feel really bad about it.  However, since the principal told me I could not leave the country for fear of getting "the influenza" (despite the fact that I have a multiple entry visa, no stipulations about this in my contract, and most importantly that there were already 2 H1N1 cases at school the day I left), I decided that keeping my mouth shut was the best policy.  I do want you to know that I feel terrible about blatantly lying to you.  Since I am being honest, however, you should know that I will probably do this every long weekend and holiday for the next year if the same situation occurs.  I apologize in advance.

Anyway, Tokyo is an amazing city, and I had a great trip.  I arrived a little after lunch on Friday then got on a train to Ueno Station to meet my friend Rachel.  For those of you who don't know, Rachel is one of my best friends from Wake and my roommate senior year.  She is teaching English about two hours out of the city.  I finally met up with her (miraculously) about 3oclock, and we headed to our hotel.  Surprisingly, we found it really easily only a short walk away from the station.  After checking in to our hotel room (which was really tiny and looked something like the inside of a camper), we went exploring.  Unfortunately, it was raining, but we did stumble upon a cool temple in the neighborhood and a graveyard.  After this, we headed down to the area of Tokyo with the best restaurants and nightlife.  As you can imagine, there was an insane amount of people.  I honestly don't think I've ever seen more people in my life- to make it worse, it was still raining and everyone had umbrellas up.  We joked that you needed protective eyewear to safely navigate the streets.  I got poked and hit with so many umbrellas it is a wonder I am not all bruised in the face.  We took our time with our fantastic Japanese dinner then met up with some of Rachel's friends.  We didn't stay out too late though since we had so much sightseeing to do the next day.

Saturday morning we were up early and headed (still in the pouring rain) to Ueno Park.  The park was my favorite part of the weekend.  Around every path there was a cool temple, statue, garden, or fountain.  It all had an intensely Japanese feel to it- very simplistic and peaceful.  We meandered around for about two hours in the rain before deciding we better move on to other sights.  After a short sushi lunch and a quick tour of a large market, we headed over to see a great temple- Senso-ji.  The temple is at the back of a long shopping street.  The walk was beautiful despite the rain (and less crowded too!)  After exploring the temple and the nearby 5 story pagoda, we wandered around the area looking a few more smaller temples and some shopping streets.  Done with our plan for the day, we decided to head to a peaceful corner of the city where there were supposedly a lot of temples.  Unfortunately, our guidebook failed us and we ended up very confused, but we did find a lovely cemetery that had several important families in it (none of which I remember, but I remember being impressed at the time.  Fail, I know).  We looked at a few of the tombs and statues, and they were all really simple and beautiful.

Saturday night, we decided to take on the Mega Web- the largest ferris wheel in the world.  It took a little talking it up to get Rachel on board with this, but we finally decided to do it.  To get to the MegaWeb you have to take the newest subway line which is a monorail that goes around Tokyo Bay.  This may have been one of the highlights of my trip haha.  I actually recommend that if any of you go to Tokyo you need to just buy a monorail subway pass and ride from one end to the other at night.  I'm not even kidding.  Anyway, the ferris wheel was really cool- it takes about 16 minutes to go around one time then you have to get off.  We went to a late dinner after this- more good Japanese food!

Sunday morning we got up early, put our stuff in lockers at the train station, then headed to catch a boat which would take us down the river to the Imperial Palace.  After crossing under 16 bridges of varying shapes and colors, we got off our scenic boat ride and headed for Hama-rikyu Gardens.  The gardens are really simplistic- we explored the paths and a temple and looked around at some duck ponds.  Starving though, we headed out of the gardens pretty quickly.  Tired of Japanese food, we had lunch at "Oktoberfest"- stuffing ourselves with overpriced pretzels and sausages.  Later, we explored the palace grounds and gardens then rested in the park on the grounds.  I headed for the airport again about 4:30, and successfully made it back to Narita Airport right as my flight was boarding.  

Now I am back in Seoul ready to start a new week of teaching.  I even did my hair for tomorrow.  Last week my principal came over to me and said "Andie come here."  He then tells me in all seriousness (as serious as you can be in Konglish) that my hair looks better down.  I think it went something like this: "Andie, Uh, Andie, yo hair.  Yo hair.  It look better, I like better.  When it (make lots of gestures around shoulders).  What word? Down? Down.  Andie.  I like better yo hair.  Down.  Ok?  Ok Andie?  Down."  It was only the second time I'd pulled my hair back for school.  Now I'm self-conscious and will probably not do this again.  Ohhh Korea.

Miss you all!