Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The end of procrastination

First and foremost, I would like to apologize to my dedicated readers that have been anxiously awaiting my next post, painfully yearning for another update and then crawling away from the computer full of sorrow and disappointment because the author has selfishly neglected the blog and thus, has left you with a mere hope that tomorrow there will be a new post. (there is irony in this boast given that my fan base consists of about 5.) Such neglect was unintentional and unforeseen. I had planned on updating my blog at least once a week, and this is where the excuse is typically inserted, but have obviously failed to do so. Just as the world turns, the old cease and the new are born, I am now facing the punishment for my own actions, which is the fact that procrastination has left me with a multitude of things to write about and has left me feeling a bit overwhelmed with what exactly is blog worthy. The wrists have been slapped, the ears have been twisted (a common Korean punishment) and the lesson has been learned--don't wait this long ever again to update a blog.

That being said, it's time for a rather long update on what has been going on in the great land of Korea. I have been here an immature 84 days and understand that I still have quite a bit of learning to do but also do take credit for being extremely observant of the world around me and feel that I have gained a respectable amount of knowledge in this short time here already. On that same note, I have vowed to never stop learning regardless of how old the calendar tells me I am. I feel that in this setting (this setting being living around the world in a much different culture and society), it's quite easy to fall into an "oh, yeah, I already knew that" attitude in order to prove yourself to those around you. Whether you actually did already know that or not will only be known by you. However, the more thats you already "knew", the less thats you actually will know. This is an observation that I have made about those around me. Not many people are willing to admit ignorance here nor are they willing to show excitement over something out of fear that they will appear naive. Rather, "oh, what? You didn't know that?" is a common response. Are we not all learning?? I have remained true to honesty and never fail to show bliss upon hearing something incredibly new, exciting, different, etc and will flat-out admit when I don't know something and will then asked to be taught. This, coupled with my unquenchable thirst to learn more, have left me with some great insight about the world in which I am living now.

Before I go on about some of my experiences I would first like to give a strong picture into what my daily life is like because it seems that that is the main question that many people are trying to get at when they show interest in my life here.

Here is my schedule for Monday-Friday. Enjoy. or don't. or just go back to facebook if you so choose.

Monday: At school at 8:30 am/lesson plan until 9:55/Teach 6th grade from 10:00-12:20 (3 classes, 40 minutes each, 10 minute break between each class)/12:20-12:45 is lunch time/after lunch, lesson plan until 2:55/3:00-3:45 I have my after school class, which is comprised of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders/lesson plan until 4:40 when the day is over and I am free to leave if I so choose.

Tuesday: 8:30 at school/teach 6th grade from 9:10-12:20 (4 classes, 40 minutes each, 10 minute break between each)/12:20 lunch/lesson plan 12:50-2:55/3:00-3:45 after school class/lesson plan until 4:40.

Wednesday: 8:30 at school/teach 6th grade from 9:10-12:20 (4 classes, 40 minutes each, 10 minute break between each)/12:20 lunch/lesson plan 12:50-1:55/teach a parent's class from 2:00-2:40 (this is a group of about 4-5 women that come in to learn, practice, use their English)/ lesson plan from 2:45-4:40.

Thursday: 8:30 at school/teach 6th grade from 9:10-12:20 (4 classes, 40 minutes each, 10 minute break between each)/12:20 lunch/lesson plan 12:50-2:55/3:00-3:45 after school class/3:50-4:30 I teach a teacher's class (this is for teachers at my school that want to learn, study, use their English)/ day is over at 4:40

Friday: (refer to Monday's schedule, it's exactly the same)

So that's during the day, during the week. Usually after school I will go home and clean, do laundry, eat dinner with friends or go to my Korean class (which is located in the town of Yeoju. Every Monday, I get on the bus($2 each way) and ride it for about 40 minutes. The class goes from 7:30-9:00 pm. It is taught by a collaborative group; some of the teachers are Korean high-school students that have excelled in English and others are volunteers from the community that just want to help foreigners learn Korean). As far as the weekends are concerned, that's where it gets fun.

Before I get to that, would first like to highlight a few things that I have done that, to me, signify
that I am a resident of Korea and not a visitor. First and foremost, I got a cell phone--a Korean cell phone. I had heard the dreadful stories from people around me about how awful their experience was and how difficult it was to obtain a 1 year contract and a phone that looked semi-respectable. As I have been with many situations, I was lucky in that I had a Korean cheer team with me that took me to the store and aided me in making sure I got the best deal, the best phone, and the best plan. The event of buying a new phone was not planned but upon my trip to Busan,
I was explaining my fears I had about going through the process to obtain a new phone and they said, "Let's just go together!" Just like that, I was at one of the Korean cell phone shops and was accompanied by 4 of my Korean friends. The first store was trying to charge me $30 for being a foreigner, $30 to set up the plan, $30 minimum monthly, and $a lot for a new phone. We all decided it's too much and went to store B. There, I paid $30 for EVERYTHING. This was my first month payment and because I started a new plan, I got a free phone. I was automatically given a one year contract and didn't have to beg for one, as apposed to a two year contract. I am signed up with Oz and suggest them to anyone that is going to Korea for an amount of time that requires them to get a phone. (Picture: walking along the East Sea coast in Busan while sipping bubble tea)

While in Busan, I also went to a Korean wedding with my friend, Ed (pictured here). This was also unplanned but Ed was happy to take me and I was more than excited to go so to experience as much culture as possible. Turns out this wedding was rather atypical for Korean weddings
but nonetheless exciting. One thing I found
participially interesting is that before weddings, the bride will wait in a
room before the wedding while friends and family come to say hello. There was a professional photographer there to take pictures of the friends and family with the bride. To me, as an American, it felt like a funeral service where we go to visit the casket before services start. The groom stood outside the room, out of sight from the bride so to not see her before she walked down the aisle, and shook hands with people as they arrived. Ed told me this was an exceptionally large wedding and that they usually aren't this large. It was a beautiful service and the food after was incredibly delicious.

I've also experienced some local things such as going to the ballet. Just last weekend, I went to Seoul to the Seoul Arts Center with 4 other girls to see The Nutcracker. The performance cost me a mere $20 and was phenomenal. There were some slight differences between this show and the one in Kansas City but not enough to change the overall affect of the ballet. The dancers were incredibly trained and talented and the kids were, at times, unbelievable. Things like this really make me feel apart of Korea and give me a sense that I live here and am not just visiting for X amount of time.

Now, for the weekend updates...
I spend my weekends traveling and more often than not, I can't be found at home on at Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. I am extremely fortunate to have a multitude of Korean friends around the country that I go to see frequently. Thus far, I have traveled
to Busan, Kwangju, Mokpo, Jinju and various parts of Seoul. I spend a lot of time in Seoul because it is only about an hour bus ride away and I have friends there. Recently I visited Seoul just to see some friends and as it usually does, the day turned into a day full of excursion, adventure, and incredible times that could not have been planned. On this particular trip to Seoul, 3 of my friends and I went to visit a King Sejong exhibit. (picture to the right) King Sejong created Hangul, the Korean language, and was an all around incredible human being that was an advocate for peace around the world. We also spent some time looking at the beautiful display of Christmas lights throughout the city. Korea sure does love their Christmas lights!

It had been 16 months since I had seen some very special people (all Korean friends) and I couldn't wait to get down to Mokpo to see them again. I met 4 incredible individuals at my Summer English Camp last year and managed to stay in close contact with them, always promising I would see them again in Korea. The trip to Mokpo to see them again was partially surreal for me. It meant a few different things: I was actually back in Korea, I live in Korea, I have the ability to see them easily now, I have accomplished my long-time goal of coming back to Korea to live. The trip was symbolic to me and was something that I had literally and figuratively dreamed about. I took KTX (the Korean speed train) down to Mokpo. It is located at the far end of South Korea and took me about 4 hours to get there. After the lingering embraces and excessive hugs at the KTX station in Mokpo, we headed out for drinks. I spent that weekend with them in Mokpo walking along the shore of the Yellow Sea, touring a training ship, taking mild hikes, oh and eating octopus. Live octopus at that. Such a meal is common in Korea and now it was my turn to experience it. My dear friend Ethan (his English name) ordered a whole live octopus to show me how people eat it. The octopus is brought to the table in a bowl of water. It's a alive as the day it was born, moving, squirming around. A single chopstick is stabbed through the head of the octopus and the legs are then wrapped around the chopstick. The octopus is put in the mouth all at once and thoroughly chewed. If not chewed all the way, the tentacles will stick to the through and suffocate the person. I did not do this myself but rather watched Ethan through my narrowly spread fingers, which were clasping around my face and mouth in disbelief. He chewed it as if he had taken an over-sized bite of pizza; it was nothing to him but a near gag fest for me. Then came the plate of octopus that had just recently been chopped up.
We knew it was fresh because the legs of the octopus were still squirming on the plate like worms that had just surfaced onto soil after years of being underground. They will continue to move up to 20 minutes after being severed from the body. The 4 Koreans at the table with me dug right in like it was turkey on Thanksgiving Day. I just sat back and watched. I picked at the kimchi and the side dishes and contemplated trying it. I wasn't successful in doing so. I told my friends that I'd work up to eating this dish, just give me a few months. Then came the soup.
It had dead octopus in it and was manageable. The beef was very tender and delicious and the broth itself had a fantastic flavor. I am able to eat dead octopus; it's just chewy but not slimy. It's times like this that I'm so thankful for rice as something to keep me full until the next meal. The rest of my trip to Mokpo was fantastic. I spent the rest of my Saturday exploring a training ship that is used for college students then went to a classy wine bar that night. The next day, that Sunday, I walked along the shores of the Yellow Sea with a couple of my friends and enjoyed a brief hike. I traveled back to Icheon that night, stopping in Kwangju along the way for a brief meal with some different friends.

I'm slowly adjusting to the new world around me. There are times when I feel such a sense of accomplishment primarily when I can figure something out in Korean, when I travel alone, or when my students perform exceptionally well on their evaluations. Life here is different, that goes without saying but it's incredibly beautiful. I love where I am and what I'm doing but miss my friends and family terribly. There is a stronger since of longing for friends and family when around the world. When I was away for college, I didn't feel half has lonely as I do here at times despite the fact that I have many people around me that I know. I think it's knowing that a short two-hour drive won't get me home but rather to a city full of people I don't know, speaking a language I half understand, eating food I'm unfamiliar with, practicing customs that are still unbeknown to me. I'm slowly learning and Korea feels more like home all the time but tis a process. The constant talks of those around me in a foreign language becomes a bit stressful at times and being terribly hungry but not being able to order something to eat is challenging. However, the process is an incredible one and I learn something new everyday.

I hope this blog does not got deserted as long as it has prior to this post. Even now I know that I have so much more I want to record but in this moment, it escapes me. I musn't allow that to happen again for both myself and my readers...all 5 of them.