Saturday, July 24, 2010

Conquering the 찜질방!

As some of you may recall, I recently talked about noraebangs (karaoke rooms), and my recent trip to a Wiibang (Wii game room). Today, I conquered a new bang and an eleven month fear by experiencing the jimjilbang (public bath house). My friends go to jimjilbangs frequently. Not only can you bathe, sit in a sauna, get body scrubs, and relax, you can also sleep in them (which makes them popular places to "stay" for cheap travels). Jimjilbangs are everywhere, and they are a significant presence in Korean culture.

I have avoided the jimjilbang for eleven months. There is something about public nakedness that really weirds me out, and I somehow managed to evade trips with my friends the entire time I've been in Seoul. I have considered going, but then I can never decide if I want to go alone or with a friend. Is it weird to ask someone to go sit naked in the bath with you? Or is it worse to awkwardly try to navigate the system of attending the jimjilbang alone? The first time you do anything in a foreign country (grocery shop, set up bills, go to the bank, etc), it is always slightly uncomfortable. It takes a lot of observing to figure out the system, and I like to watch what everyone else is doing to make sure I'm doing everything correctly. Is it okay to observe naked people? If I'm already awkwardly unsure of the process, how much worse will it be if I have no clothes on? Yesterday, however, I made a to-do list of things I want to do my last month in Korea. I decided to add jimjilbang to the list -- for the experience, of course. I've done a lot of worse things (eating live octopus, attending horrifically boring cultural events, etc.) "for the experience," so going to a sauna should be easy I thought.

The symbol for Jimjilbang

Today, we had plans to go to a park by the river, but because of inclement weather (aka the weather every day/the rainy season is a dumb weather pattern) our plans fell through. I looked at my to-do list, and decided it was now or never. My friend Arianna agreed to accomany me to a jimjilbang in our neighborhood (like all the other 'bangs,' there are jimjilbangs everywhere). After putting our shoes in a locker, we moved into a main room where we were given a big locker key and two small towels. In a corner of the main room are lockers, and it is here you strip down to your birthday suit. From here on out, it is only as awkward as you make it. None of the Korean women seem remotely concerned about walking around stark naked so I tried to be nonchalant about it too (even if I did try to angle my handtowel to appropriately cover me as I walked into the bath room). Just like the locker room at the gym, the only person uncomfortable with the situation is me, so I had to remind myself that it was no big deal.

Once in the bath room, there are 5 large pools of different colors and varying temperatures. First, you take a shower from a shower head on the wall to make sure you are all clean. Following my shower, Arianna and I headed for the pools. After soaking in each tub (3 hot, one freezing, and one peppermint), surrounded by lots of naked old women who I felt like judged me every move I made, I decided to get a body scrub. Most women sit on little stools all around the room in front of little faucets, buckets of water, mirrors, and scrubbers. After you are finished soaking, sauna sitting, and relaxing, you scrub your body clean. A friend of mine has been raving about the body scrubs though, and I decided to try one. I, what I can only imagine looked like a scurry, up to the ajummas (old women) in the corner who are clad in black lacy bras and underwear standing by three long flat tables. I indicated I wanted a body scrub, and then one sat me down on the table and instructed me to lay down.

The body scrub begins by the ajumma dumping a bucket of water over you. Following this, the woman puts on mits that are really coarse. For about thirty minutes, this lady rolled me, scrubbed me, and rubbed my skin raw. Although it kind of hurt, it was also really refreshing. I could actually see skin coming off my body. Part of me wanted to giggle the entire time since I was naked, she was in her underwear, and I was literally sliding all over this funny little table in a public bathhouse, but I was trying so hard not to stand out that I luckily didn't let a single giggle escape. Following the mits, she then rubbed me down with a carton of milk, a tub of yogurt, and about half a bottle of baby oil. Needless to say, my skin is softer than it has ever been. It was definitely a good use of twelve dollars.

After my scrub, I showered again by the wall then dried off then went back out to the main room (this time not so shyly), got dressed, and headed back home. They have places in the main room to dry your hair, do your makeup, or even do your nails. I'm not sure why I waited so long to go to a bathhouse. It was really relaxing, and after a few minutes, being naked isn't really that weird. I'm going to definitely go again before I leave Seoul.

Have a great weekend everyone, and go to a public bathhouse if you get the chance!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Don't Do That!

My 4th graders love this song!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Last Day of School

School is out for the semester!

Just like my students, part of me is thrilled with that last sentence. Another part of me, however, is slightly in shock about how fast this year went by in Korea. I taught my last class on Friday morning, sang my last song, played my last poorly made powerpoint game, and said goodbye to my students. Since Tuesday, I've been having to say good-bye to my kids, and I am super-sad to not being seeing them any more. I have gotten a lot of nice notes from them (some folded into adorable origami), and on Wednesday, they covered my board with notes that say "Good-bye Andie Teacher!" I'm surprisingly attached to some of them, and they make me want to stay and teach them for another year. While obviously some days the kids drive me nuts, most days they make me feel really great, and I've really enjoyed getting to know them for the past ten months. They never fail to make me feel like a rockstar even when I'm having a bad day. For example, yesterday as they lined up to all say good-bye to me, 3/4 of them wanted my "signature" on their book. I told them I wasn't a celebrity, but they insisted on it anyway.

5-3. My favorite class. They are well-behaved and enthusiastic!

4th graders!

Some of my great 5th grade girls

4th graders!

My board on Wednesday :(

I'm really going to miss how much they make me laugh, too. A couple weeks ago, I held up a picture of a snowman and asked, "Who is this?" and the very serious response I got back was, "Lady Gaga." Yesterday, I had a picture of Tom Cruise on a powerpoint and two 4th graders got in a serious debate over whether it was Harry Potter or Nicholas Cage. Every day at least one of them does something to brighten my entire day. I wrote my email address on the board for all my classes and I instructed them to email me if they ever wanted to practice their English or come to USA. I promised to write them back. I've already gotten several adorable emails that brightened my weekend. Many students asked for my "handphone number," but I got away easy on that one since I could tell them in all honesty that I do not have a phone number at home any more.

4th graders!

My crazy 4th grade class: 4-1

Friday afternoon, I finished cleaning out my desk. I organized all my lesson plans for the next teacher who will begin in August. I packed up all my sentimental items, and I finished the year. I start working summer camp on Monday at a nearby elementary school. Camp is really easy, but also really boring as I'll repeat the same 3 lesson plans for 2 weeks. Ew. Following my two weeks of camp, I'm going on vacation with my friend Sarah (keep your fingers crossed for our Chinese visas to actually go through!), followed by one more week of summer camp at my school (so I will get to see some of my hoodlums again). I've worked really hard on my camp plans-- I'm having a science English camp where the kids will play games about animals, the 5 senses, recycling, insects, and the body. I think it will be really fun.

4th graders!

4th graders!

Another difficult part of Friday was saying goodbye to my coworkers. Gil-Dong Elementary has been so supportive and welcoming to me this year. My fellow subject teachers in my office brought in a cake yesterday afternoon, and I even had a candle I got to blow out on top. They also gave me a beautiful jewelry box made in a Korean style, and my coteacher, Grace, gave me printed pictures of the fourth grade classes. Despite the fact that some of them don't even speak much English, they have been the most helpful, supportive, and wonderful people to me. It is difficult to even articulate how kind everyone has been this year. I think they are more acutely aware than I even am that I am very far from home and still pretty young. They really helped make this a positive experience, and I'm going to sincerely miss all of them!

My 4th grade coteacher- Grace!

My 5th grade coteacher Hwajin!

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Buddhist Templestay and 4th of July!

Happy Belated Birthday America! I wish I could have been there to celebrate with you - alas, I spent the holiday weekend in Seoul in a unique fashion.

Friday night, I went to a delicious duck restaurant with my friends. It was Korean barbeque style, and it was both amazing and affordable. I'm really going to miss this when I leave. Following dinner, we headed to a noraebang to karaoke our hearts out for several hours. Noraebangs are everywhere in the city (literally on every block), and they consist of private rooms with screens, microphones, and tambourines (the tambourine really makes the experience). Participants use a special remote to put their song of choice on the tv, and voila - your song comes on complete with English subtitles. I hadn't been noraebanging in awhile, and I forgot how fun it is. This particular noraebang (because this is Korea, and like I've said before, nothing makes any sense here) comes complete with full body animal costumes -- because if noraebang itself isn't fun enough, you can noraebang while dressed as a giraffe, cow, cat, or my personal favorite: the flying squirrel. This one also had free ice cream in the lobby so it was definitely a win-win for us. The only problem I have with noraebangs is the videos on the screen are always really sad. No matter how vile or inappropriate your rap song or how intense you get your Beyonce on, the songs are always played to a.) A Vietnam War scene b.) A domestic violence scene c.) A gang shootout d.) starving children.

After my late night noraebang experience, I got up Saturday and headed to Myogaksa Temple in northern Seoul. My friend Rachel and I signed up for a temple stay a few weeks ago. I'm not exactly sure what motivated me to do this, because reading the itinerary I knew I probably wouldn't enjoy the experience, and I was right. Now that I'm comfortably back in my apartment, I can look back on the experience and be glad I did it while being even more glad in my decision to never become a Buddhist monk.

Inside the temple grounds

After putting on our temple stay attire (gray prison uniforms with elastic around the ankles and a baby Buddha stamped on the breast pocket), we were greeted by an enthusiastic nun who taught us about Buddhism and how the tradition has impacted Korea. I know absolutely nothing about either topic so it was quite interesting. The nun was bald, wearing traditional monk garb, and had good English and a big smile. As we sat on cushions in a large room with 3 other templestay participants, the nun would periodically stop talking and shriek, "SURPIRSE HAIR!" and a student monk would scurry out with both hands extended. The nun would pick up the one strand of hair and give it to the student monk who then left the room to deposit it in what I only can imagine is a big receptacle for surprise stray hairs found on the temple floor. While the nun told stories, she also would periodically end them with, "and now he's my facebook friend," which I found simultaneously cute and bizarre. Korea really is where old meets new.

Saturday evening, we rang a bell, went to a chanting ceremony, learned to meditate, and did 108 prostrations. My legs are still sore from all the getting down and getting back up, and I now thank God that I am not Buddhist and don't have to do this regularly. Following a vegetarian dinner (in silence), we went to sleep (on the floor) early so we could get up before dawn to ring the bell again, meditate for an hour, and take a walk on the mountain. After breakfast and a tea ceremony we were free to go home. While I do recommend the experience and I am very glad I did this, I will never do a templestay again. Been there. Done that.

The rest of my Sunday (and there was a lot of it left since I got up so early!) I spent shopping and getting ready for our Seoul 4th of July picnic. My friends and I had a potluck party in Seoul Forest complete with fried chicken, deviled eggs, potato salad, apple pie, cookies, chips, beer, and soju lemonade. We even found sparklers (sold at the stationary store's sock aisle. Obviously.), and we had a great evening celebrating America.
Seoul Forest for 4th of July

This week and next week are my final weeks of regular school at Gil-Dong. I am really excited to finish! I have only been teaching 4th and 5th grade since March, and while I love my 4th graders, my 5th graders are about to drive me absolutely crazy. I have one class that always leaves with someone crying because they pick fights with each other, I have kids yelling in class, throwing things, and just in general not listening to a word that comes out of my foreign speaking mouth. It takes all my energy just to keep their attention. It is also unreal how much unnecessary noise an 11 year old can make. They are constantly tapping on things, banging on things, rocking their chairs, humming, or (and this one really gets me) dropping things. I had no idea kids were this clumsy, but every few minutes something is clattering to the floor. My nerves are completely shot, and I need this year to be finished. Below are a few pictures my 5th graders drew of their friends.

"She has so-so face."
What a great friend.

"He is short. He is not smart. He has not money. He don't have umbrella. He has gun."
The unfortunate friend...

The rest of my week not at work will be spent going to baseball and spending time in a Wiibang (like noraebang except to play Wii) with my friends. Hope everyone had a fun and safe holiday!

*Because I have received several negative notes about this post, I feel it is important to note that I mean no disrespect to Buddhism by writing about my temple stay experience. Just because I didn't have fun (and the program isn't meant to be fun- it's meant to be enlightening and educational), I learned a lot about Buddhist culture through the patience and kindness of those who ran the program, Like I said above, I am glad that I had the experience, and I do recommend the Myogaksa program for anyone interested in learning more about Buddhism.