Friday, August 31, 2007

Korea--land of cute.

The first impression this country made on me was that it was extremely cute (like "Hello Kitty" cute). I think this impression came mostly from the colorful cartoon animals with their thumbs up, proudly displaying what kind of restaurant allows you to eat them. I mean, in the US, there is Chick-Fil-A, but that had a cow encouraging you to eat chicken--it made sense. I think, as a vegetarian, I am slightly more disturbed by the fact that this is the character for a chicken restaurant:



And this is a seafood restaurant:



At least at this beef restaurant, the bull looks very angry:



Despite the slightly disturbing nature, I can't help but find all of these signs very adorable. Look how smiley and colorful they are!

Speaking of signs, this one seems to indicate beauty shop, but there is a colorful spinning wheel in part of it, that makes it very hypnotic when I am walking down the street and pass about six different shops, all with this sign:



However will Diana survive in the magical Land of the Cute??? Sometimes, I feel a bit like a bull in a China shop. But then a Korean does something gross, like spit on the sidewalk in front of me, and then it all balances out.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Teacher! This is not typical!

The last few days at work, I've been taking over Jane's classes. (Speaking of Jane, she took some really cute pictures of her former/my current students, which you should go look at here). I'm not used to teaching EFL and Jane has a lot of experience with that, so mostly I've been doing my best to follow her style and her plans for the classes until I get more familiar with the materials and more comfortable with the school. Today will be the first day that she's not coming to school to help me out or to give the monthly tests or whatever, but I have been taking on classes on my own throughout the week, a few at a time.

It's a particular challenge for me with the younger students. For one, their English is not as developed as the older classes'. Also, I'm just not used to working with young elementary school kids--like even if they were fluent in English, I'd probably have some trouble communicating. However, I've been doing this teaching thing for awhile and have developed a classroom style that I find most effective for me. While I am trying to ease the students through the transition by sticking with Jane-teacher's class structure for now, one of the second grade students, Billy, said of my review lesson:

"Teacher! This is not typical!"

This cracked me up. I found out later Gwen had taught them "typical" in intensives last month, so that's how he learned the phrase, but for a kid whose English is still in the beginner stages, that's pretty impressive. And adorable.

I tried to reassure him. "That's ok, Billy. I am the new teacher. I am not the same as Jane-teacher."

This seemed to worry him more, but as the lesson went on, he figured out what I wanted him to do (and did it very well), and the whole class was smiles as they left. Maybe that was because I assigned no homework, though... hm...

I am figuring out the materials. The Mega books (more advanced), which were designed in the US, are very similar to the kinds of textbooks (when I bothered with textbooks) I used at Roosevelt (except the focus is on grammar instead of literature). The lessons are designed around principles of teaching that I am familiar with (Bloom's taxonomy; even some more progressive theories like constructivist teaching and a focus on real-world applications), so I've been able to pick up these materials pretty easily. However, the Hop-Skip-Jump series that was designed in Korea is a hybrid of Confucian and Western principles with an organizational structure that at this time, still eludes me a little. I'll admit I feel a bit overly dependent on the teacher manual for this series right now.

I'm confident that within a few months everything will be just fine. The next few weeks will be rough on both students and teacher. But, not to disagree with little Billy or anything, this is quite typical of times of transition in educational institutions.

And now, since it is topical with my post, I bring you another rant about education in the US:

I had a conversation with a teacher back home today about the new online grading application for Roosevelt that I was adamantly opposed to implementing. Basically with the new software, parents are able to check their students' grades as soon as they are posted by the teachers. Theoretically, it will also have real time updating for absences, tardies, and other administrative issues for each class

In many ways, this could be a great tool for parents to check up on their kids' progress. Trouble is that the parents who should be using it the most (because their kids are out back getting high or having sex in their cars instead of attending classes) are the ones who will never check it. Meanwhile the ones who already give their students, themselves, and the teachers who are "lucky" enough to get them in class ulcers with their anal attentiveness to the Harvard-readiness of their precious ("you gave him a B on this paper his second week of high school English! Because of you, he will not get into Harvard!"), will use it as yet another tool for inflicting abuse and neuroticism on whoever they can find who will listen. And so far, it seems, as I suspected, it's become a tool for parents with too much time on their hands to harass teachers about why little Johnny got a 91 on this essay when his friend Suzy got a 92.

I've oft maligned the poorly applied analogy of business for education that fuels NCLB legislation, but apparently teaching is now part of the service industry, didn't you know? Education in the US is no different than business. Just ask our president. He knows how to run things... like businesses and countries. As a teacher, you are here to serve your customers. Whether in the analogy the "customer" is the student, the parent, or the administration at the time really makes no difference. It's all about expediency for the person currently complaining.

And you see now WHY I needed a break from US teaching...

TGIiK (Thank God I'm in Korea).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Peace and calm in the mornings...

Well, Korea is called Land of the Morning Calm... Perhaps for a good reason.

I like waking up with the sun and having several hours to myself before I have to be anywhere. I can, as I did yesterday when it was cloudy and gray and drizzly, roll back over and go to sleep again and have really vivid dreams. I can, as I did Tuesday, hop up full of energy and organize everything and get caught up with correspondence and e-mail before even having to think about leaving the apartment. Or I can, as I did Monday and plan to do today, do some yoga exercises and read a book. I've even been leaving the house early (like around 12:30 pm) to get to work because I'm new and need extra time to prep the lessons and the route is still unfamiliar, so I am not exactly sure how long it will take me to walk there (usually between 12 and 25 minutes). Pretty soon I should be able to start leaving at 1:30 pm or even later to get to work on time.

Eventually, I'd like to add some kind of regular workout routine to the morning (like more heart-pounding than the yoga flexibility stuff). I'd really like to try taekwondo, a Korean martial art that is very popular here--especially with the kiddies, but I'd need to find a studio/school/hakwon (or whatever they call it) that will let an adult female with startlingly few Korean skills and even fewer TKD skills to begin study. Honestly, though, that can wait until next month or so because I'm still settling in and have some other things I'd like to try first--like the Korean language class at the YMCA on Saturday or visiting downtown Daegu. I can probably do both of those this weekend--yay!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My walk to work

The neighborhood where I live and work, called Banyawal, is an older part of the city of Daegu, and quite a bit out on the subway from downtown. While it is still technically in a city, it's not as built up or neon bright as the downtowns of Korea (which just from flying over Seoul look darned intimidating!), but it's very walking friendly (which is good because I don't have a car!) and has lots of little stores, restaurants, and bars along the streets like a city. I took this picture of the main street on my walk to work yesterday:



Banyawal is also very communal (though this may be true of other parts of Korea)--there are all these street vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables (and of course, cheap clothes/shoes/purses/etc.) all hours of the day and on Sunday there were some people with fresh fish/seafood, kimchi (which I bought and tried to cook with a couple days ago), street foods like these yummy looking fishcakes and tempura fried veggies and stuff. It's like an ever-present farmer's market. I will try to take some pictures of it this Sunday if it's not raining again.

People work out in the park together at night when it's not raining. I mentioned the ajumma aerobics class before, which was led by a very hyper young man. There is also some interesting looking equipment that I took a picture of on my way to work yesterday:



I also like that everywhere I've been so far remembers me (partly though, because I'm the "new foreigner" in the neighborhood--Korea is very homogeneous). Which makes for interesting conversations with anyone and everyone who speaks even a little English. Like when I was out walking on the weekend, two young guys from Sri Lanka approached me and I found out they had been living in Korea for three years, or the weird old Korean dude who talked to Jane everyday when she went to work and now talks to me and offers me fruit from his stand. Other expat bloggers in Korea have talked about the "celebrity status" white skin seems to grant you, but I somehow thought I'd be immune from it more 'cause I'm a little on the heavy side.

I actually don't feel as ridiculously overweight as I thought I would in Korea. I'm bigger than most of the women and men here, but it really seems to be more from natural body shape (like even when I lose the weight, I'll still be bigger than all of them in several dimensions) than from fat. Plenty of Koreans I've seen are carrying around a few extra pounds for their frame. I also fit into the largest size of women's shoes here (which I discovered when I bought a cheap pair of sandals on Sunday).

Besides, at the rate I'm going with the farmer's market-y goodness abounding on the streets, I'll lose the excess weight without even thinking about it too hard, especially if I keep working out a bit. Like this morning's culinary adventure involved a cool vegetable curry mix from Nais Mart:



I chopped up half an onion, a small head of broccoli, and stir fried it with the mix from the store. Then, served over the instant microwave rice that is super cheap and easy, I'm eating like a queen in about 10 minutes!



So royally delicious!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Diana Teacher!

Yesterday was my first day as Diana Teacher. Jane did all the lesson plans, so it was pretty easy for me--all I had to do was take a bit of time just before class to review the material that we were going to do in class that day (and make flash cards and copies as necessary). I also got lucky--three of my six classes were having level testing because the school has gotten a bunch of new students and not all of them are in the appropriate class for their English level. That means I only taught three classes yesterday and proctored tests for the other three.

The schedule is kind of confusing at first. All of the students have a Korean teacher (for grammar and reading) and a foreign teacher like me (for speaking). The younger students come every day and see the Korean teacher and foreign teacher on alternating days (mostly it seems for 50 minutes each day). So the students I see MWF are with the Korean teacher TTh. The older students come for a longer period and will flip flop with a Korean teacher and foreign teacher (like for 40 minutes each--1 hour and 20 minutes total MWF), but only come on alternating days. All the teachers "float" into the classrooms where the students stay put. My schedule fits into that scheme, although things may shuffle around a bit at the start of the new semester and when the other foreign teacher arrives in mid-September.

As for the curriculum, everyone is on the same curriculum, but each class is at a different point in the book series (called, rather cutely, Hop-Skip-Jump, each sequence having 4 books in the series), so a class using Hop 3 is at a much earlier point in their English study than one in Jump 2. Each page of the book is designed to be a lesson, although depending on the length of the class and abilities of the students, Jane sometimes goes through 2-3 pages with a class. Some of the accompanying teacher guides are more useful than others (like stating the objective of the lesson--god I remember how pointless I thought that thing was, but if you're trying to teach a set concept with someone else's materials, it's a lifesaver!). There is also another set of books called Mega series that is a lot more advanced for after a class completes Jump 4, and I have several classes on that series. Finally, I have two unusual classes--a super advanced 4th grader who essentially gets private tutoring because his English is way better than the other little ones and an honors class that seems to be focused on debate and essay, but I teach both of these on Tuesdays, so I have yet to see what they are like. Just as I'm finding Korea so far, it's all a little overwhelming at first, but I'm catching on quickly.

As for the students--they are so much fun! I mean, yeah, they can be a little rambunctious (although they were mostly on their best behavior for the new teacher--haha!), but compared to being cussed out, breaking up fights in the hall, and wondering if the odor I detect coming from the student with bloodshot eyes is, in fact, marijuana, these kids are delightful. I actually kind of like that I have no idea what they are saying about me (they're saying it in Korean!) because while I pretended to ignore the stupid comments of teenagers who mocked me in class so we could get on with the lesson, they did sometimes sting a little. Now I can just blissfully assume they are noting what a great teacher I am or how beautiful I am or that my fashion sense is impeccable--ha!

That and when Jean, a quiet girl in my 3:30 class, texts her Korean teacher later about how she likes me, Linsey teacher tells me about it.

I think when I've figured out the curriculum a bit, I can be a little more creative again. It's like first year teaching where I'm just sort of following someone else's plans/style until I get it enough to develop my own style. However, I highly suspect that my improv skills will be of even greater use in ESL teaching than in English teaching stateside. Once I get the hang of this teaching thing, I'll try to take some pictures of the students because they are way too adorable.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

First attempt to cook with kimchi

My culinary adventure continues with the bag of kimchi (at least I think it's kimchi, spicy fermented cabbage) I bought at the open air market yesterday from a very kind ajumma (Korean word meaning "auntie" that is generally applied to all older women; ajummas are super mega awesome--if I were Korean, I'd want to skip over the whole young girl thing and land firmly in ajumma land where I can do cool ajumma aerobics in the park). She also gave me some other spicy paste stuff that I have no idea what it could be, and I haven't been adventurous enough to open it yet. As "present" she said. So nice!

I know it probably would make a Korean person's head spin (I'm not sure the exact traditional method of serving kimchi), but I thought I'd try making a kimchi stir fry for breakfast as the spices in kimchi look and smell appealing, but the cold, fermented cabbage not so much. I thought maybe if I warmed it up in the wok and threw in some fresh onions and yellow peppers and served it over rice I might enjoy that. So I tried it:



Looks pretty good, right? I like the garlicky, spicy flavor to the kimchi and it did go well with the onions and peppers, but I really don't like the texture or flavor of the cabbage (it's tough and chewy). In fact, after eating one of the cabbage leaves, I lost my appetite entirely. Maybe it was the spices that filled me up, but I think I just found the cabbage unappealing. What a shame--I was hoping to enjoy kimchi!

Maybe they use the same spicy combination for other dishes on vegetables I would like more... Or maybe the reason the women here are so thin is from the secret appetite suppressing magical qualities of kimchi and I should eat it daily for weight loss. Who knows?

My apartment in Korea (and some food for thought--get it?)

You wanted the Korea pictures, I bring you some Korea pictures. I haven't gotten comfortable enough yet to just drag my camera with me everywhere, snapping photos willy-nilly, so most of these are from the apartment.


Here you see the kitchen (around the corner), bedroom (through the open door), and glowing eyed Princess. The door to the left leads to the bathroom, which is not worth photographing at all, but does have a demonically possessed washing machine that still managed to clean some blankets. However, dryers are a luxury item in Korea, so I do not have one. Instead, I take my clothes upstairs to the rooftop area (so green, so beautiful!):

This is where the family of feral cats that Jane found lives. It also has some awesome hanging out on the rooftop possibilities when it stops being so gosh darn hot already (according to weather.com, Daegu, which they insist is "Taegu," was in the mid-nineties today)! Plus the backyards of the Korean villa (multi-family home apartments, like mine) have the most incredible stairs.

It's actually kind of scary climbing up to the roof (though nowhere near as scary as all those scaffolds, genies, and cages I climbed all over in my days as a theater painter and electrician!). The stairs are narrow and slightly uneven.

Anyhow, the best feature of my Korean apartment (currently anyhow) is the room with the AirCon (official Korean word for air conditioning... hee hee). It has an awesome window ledge thingy that Princess is in love with (and Mia before her, of course), a bright yellow floor, and the internet connection. I moved the floormat I bought at the Daegu Costco yesterday (because my bed is as hard as a rock, so I need something to make it more comfortable) into the room, and I've basically set myself up living here until the weather improves. Look at the neat desk and chair:


So that's the apartment. Two separate rooms from the main, plus bath makes it quite spacious and happy. The building is owned by Mr. Yu (I met him yesterday when he brought Jane a gas/electric bill), who used to own the school that Gwen and Samson run now, so she got a really good deal on the place. Like studio apartments (which are much more common in Korean cities) are much more expensive than this place. I got VERY lucky. I love it!

A note about food so far: I had decided before leaving that I was going to shift from my vegetarian plus seafood diet to a slightly more open one so that I can try all of the yummy new food I see all over. However, this does raise some concerns for my poor digestive tract since the last time I voluntarily consumed meat was in 2000. I am sticking with mostly vegetarian and seafood choices, but if some slivers of pork turn up in my dish (as they are wont to do in Korea, especially since my Korean language skills are at the level of imbecile), I plan to just eat around them and hope my belly can handle it.

This plan seems to be working delightfully; although it helps a lot that Jane pointed out the jars of Prego in the "foreign foods" section of Nais Mart, the local grocery store (yes, it is a "Nice" Mart!). It's so weird that all my kooky Asian cooking spices are all over the store, and I have to go to the "foreign" food aisle for peanut butter and spaghetti. I've been twice now to the Chinese food place (although like in the US where Chinese food is catering to American tastes, the Chinese dishes here have a Korean spin, so they are rather new and interesting). Jane took me the first day because they have a delicious handmade noodle dish with black bean sauce called jajangmyeon for 3,000 won (that's about $3 American). The portion was so big, I couldn't finish it! Dining out in Korea is THE BEST (there is no tipping here, by the way).

The second trip to the Chinese food restaurant was with the staff from the Oedae School yesterday. We had a celebratory lunch because intensives were finished, though it also could have been welcoming me and bidding Jane adieu. I wish I had taken pictures of the food--it was awesome! I think Jane snapped a few, so hopefully they'll be on her blog later. There was a lot of seafood, and I even ate a piece of chicken (hoping it might help build up some of those meat-digesting enzymes), but I easily ate around the pork. This was one of the most delicious meals I've ever eaten--we had about 10 dishes to be shared around and it took a few hours to get through it all. Such a great food day. Thanks Samson & Gwen!

Here's the best thing. We figured out how to order kimbap (a seaweed/rice handrolled dish like "sushi" but with different ingredients and no raw fish) without the strip of ham it usually comes with (saying "ham opsoyo" seemed to work), so now I can get this dish, 24 hours a day, for 1,000 won (again, about $1 US):

Do you see the deliciousness??? So good. Best fast food EVER.

Oh yeah... and I've already made a bunch of mistakes, but that's ok. I'm learning. Like buying the grapes that taste not like grapes, but exactly like that syrupy grape flavoring--yuck! And when I went to the outdoor market today to buy fruit, I couldn't explain in good enough charades that I only wanted three apricots, so instead I ended up with all this for 3,000 won.

Too bad I don't have an oven (another luxury item here), because I'm going to have to make some kind of pie or something. Maybe I'll freeze them? I don't want them to go bad--they're yummy!

I can't wait to start Korean language classes so I can progress from imbecile to mere moron...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Still no pictures, sorry.

I'm about 90 percent recovered from jet lag (though you won't think so if you check the time on this post and realize it's 4:30 am over here when I'm writing it, but I did go to bed at a reasonable hour and slept most of the way through the night). Other than being in zombie mode for the last few days, I've had a LOT of fun! Everything can be a bit overwhelming, but so far I find Korea to be a highly entertaining place.

I've gotten the celebrity treatment a few times already. Like when Jane and I were stalked by middle school girls wanting to practice their English--"Your hair is beautiful!" "Thank you very much." Bursts of giggles. Or the store clerk who declared in very admiring tones "Oh, your skin is so white!" I responded with "thank you," but wanted to tell her that I soak in milk everyday to get it that way. Gwen says I shouldn't do that, though because they'd probably try it. Oh the possibilities for evil if that is the case--"Why yes, I do [insert random stupid activity, like drinking urine] daily to achieve my ivory complexion." Hm... Bad Diana!

I went to the school on Friday to follow Jane to her classes and to familiarize myself with my teaching duties. The kids are so cute! One of them, a girl who goes by the English name Betty, gave me a highlighter pen that smells like strawberry. Jane says that some of the students like to give the teachers presents like that, so that's pretty cool. I'm mostly teaching speaking classes (the Korean English teachers teach grammar, including reading and writing), so it's a lot of "listen and repeat," but the materials that they have at the school seem pretty decent and have very helpful teaching guides, so I don't think it will be very long until I've got the lesson planning down well enough that I can be creative with it again. Jane has been really awesome about leaving me all the materials and showing me everything she's been doing as a teacher to help me stay organized. So on Monday, I begin my adventures as Diana-teacher, new EFL foreign teacher!

I'll update more about the neighborhood and my shopping adventure yesterday at a "Korean market" (aka: Costco!) when I take some pictures, but I should get back to sleep now. Before I go though, I want to remark on the amazing power of blogging. Without it, I would not have found this job or met Jane and Gwen, who are some of the good people. I possibly would not have had the resolve to actually follow through on my goals without feeling some accountability that this forum provides.

Writing is phenomenal. That is all (for now).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My lord, I'm in Korea!

Princess and I landed in Daegu airport with very few snafus (I picked up the wrong customs form at Incheon and had to wait in the line twice and I didn't know how to fill out the animal declaration form, but the Koreans who helped me were very patient). Samson picked us up in Gwen's car (the married couple who are my bosses) and took us to the school (Ansim Oedae, pronounced WAY-day, Language Institute, I believe) where I met some fellow teachers and a couple students, one of whom laughed uncontrollably when he saw me (although after 20+ hours of flying, I'd probably laugh at my appearance, too!). The school itself is quite small with tiny classrooms--totally the opposite of Roosevelt. The staff office is very full of books and papers (and Gwen says they are hiring a new foreign teacher in September, so it will be quite crowded if everyone is in there at the same time), but it is better lit than the English bookroom and each person has her own workspace. While I was there, I picked up the school's first newsletter with articles from students--it was very cute and fun. Some of the students seem pretty advanced in their English study. I really think I'll like it there!

After school ended, Gwen drove me to Jane's (and soon to be my) apartment. It's awesome! First of all, the building is this older multi-family house that looks like a manor or villa or something. The gate is really nifty. The actual apartment is comfortably spacious. I have two separate rooms (one has A/C) and a main room with a neat built in bookshelf and kitchen. The bathroom is older and bizarre, but much larger than I expected.

I was so tired and dizzy, but Jane and Gwen had gotten everything all ready for my (and Princess's) arrival--I was so very grateful. I'm getting settled in and learning the neighborhood. I'll take pictures and stuff, but right now, I need a nap! I just wanted to let you all know I'm alive, and in KOREA! YAY!

Monday, August 20, 2007

New Strategy

As I'm packing up, I have a brand new strategy: Don't buy anything new for the trip!

Haha!

So whatever's on the list from a couple days ago that I don't already have, I'll just have to figure out how to obtain in Korea in the event that I need it. Or have Mom ship it if absolutely necessary.

That and safety pins work miracles. I'll bring some of those.

Almost out. I'm gonna be unreliably available via computer for a few days, so the next time I post will likely be from Korea. This has got to be the single most exciting thing I've ever done in my life (those of you currently in Korea who glance at this thing once in awhile, don't laugh! moving on your own to a foreign country is not exactly the easiest thing in the world to do... but it definitely qualifies as "exciting").

Peace out!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Exhaustion.

Moving sucks. Every single time I've done it, it is a miserable experience and I vow never again to change addresses or buy anymore stuff that I'll have to drag around with me when I come and go. But at the same time, I never want to throw anything out "just in case" I'll need it again someday. So useless.

I have a lot of stuff I've accumulated over my lifetime. It is now in boxes in my parents' storage room, except a few things I'm still sorting through to decide whether or not they will come to Korea with me.

What makes me happy? At the end of the day it's usually feeling useful to humanity, cuddling with my kitty, reading a good book or writing something, trying new things or seeing new places (especially pretty ones with nature and stuff), and hanging out/doing stuff with cool people. How much "stuff" does this really require?

And with that, it's back to laundry duty for me! And the blessed luxury of one more real bath in my first apartment of my very own. I'll miss this place for so many reasons...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Packing List

Please Note: Post is being updated as I pack!

If you have suggestions, please make them now.

Planned (a * indicates it's in the bag already):
Four pairs of jeans (2*)
Three pairs of slacks
Five skirts (3*)
4 pairs yoga pants (for working out and sleeping) (1*)
New (so they last) Bras & underwear for a bit over 3 weeks (plus 3 sports bras*)
5 work-appropriate, t-shirts (short and long sleeve) (2*)
2 "cute" blouses for evenings out
* 5 lightweight long sleeve blouses
* 2 sweater vests
* 2 blazers
* 3 work-appropriate sweaters/hoodies
4 casual t-shirts (for working out and sleeping) (3*)
2 towels
* 2 queen flat sheets
8 pairs casual (workout) socks (2*)
4 pairs dress socks
2 packages nude pantyhose
2 pairs sneakers (1*)
2 pairs work flats (1*)
* 1 pair sandals
* 1 pair of dressy heels
* Layered ski jacket with warm shell
* Ski clothes (for warmth--you know, the good gloves and stuff)
* basic jewelry and accessories
* bathing suit & coverup
Ski boots if room, though this seems unlikely

1 unopened shampoo
2 unopened conditioner
Plenty of defrizz gunk that works (there are only a few brands that make my hair tolerable--lately I'm liking Fructis)
* 3 packages red hair dye
Makeup bag (carefully pared down to essentials)
Essential toiletries for approx 3 months
Hairbrush & many, many ponytail holders
Plenty of deodorant
Contact & glasses stuff
Floss
Sunscreen
Medicines & basic first aid stuff

* A couple cat toys
* 2 packages wet catfood
The remaining dry catfood
Princess's brush
(Obviously) Princess
Cat carrier, with makeshift litterbox

* No more than 6 unread English books (the rest will be shipped).
Laptop and all peripherals (including iPod and V-Phone)
Digital camera
Pack of long life AA batteries
Old cell phone (for an alarm clock first couple days)
Favorite DVDs and comp games in small CD carry case
* 2 decks of cards
* Folder of "warm fuzzies" and 2 posters for home decor
* Edna St. Vincent Millay (my Bible)
* Shel Silverstein (my security blanket)
* Dream Journal (probably 2 near-empty ones)
Important documents

A couple extra "surprises" if there is room in my bags. This seems doubtful. It's about as barebones as I can get since I have to be all professional at work. The few luxuries I've allowed myself in this list are things I know bring me great joy or are very adaptable to many situations.

PS. If anyone would like to help me out tomorrow when I'm moving stuff out of the apartment into my parents' basement for storage, I would be highly appreciative!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Tomorrow...

...is my last day working at the hotline, but I bid adieu to many of my co-workers today, since most of them don't work on Saturday. What can I say? It's been awesome. The best part of the hotline, hands down, was getting to know the other volunteers and crisis workers. They restored my faith in humanity at a time when I was feeling a little jaded about it. I don't know that I can ever thank them enough for that.

The second best part was the reason I signed up--helping people. I like helping people. It feels good. Altruism is the ultimate self-indulgence. Even after I started earning some extra money there to help pay down my debt and earn some spending cash for Korea (converted to won, of course), it was never about the money. Like when I was teaching, I often put in extra hours here and there (and not just the forced task of paperwork).

I was telling the director, Tim, that I believe I've learned more about social services and mental health in the last six months of volunteering and part-timing it at the crisis center than I would have learned if I had gone to school for social work. Now, of course, this is entirely hypothetical since I have never gone to school for social work, but really what could they teach you there that can't be learned in one phone call with the schizophrenic homeless guy just released from jail who can't get in the shelter because he's been in jail for 15 years and has no ID card proving residency in the county? Or the struggling young mother of five (via four or so baby daddies) who wants to go back to college, but can't afford daycare and just estranged the last relative who was still trying to help her by defending her boyfriend because they're (really) in love? Or the woman sexually abused by her parents for many years now trying to get into a drug rehab program and turn her life around, but can't find one that will take her health insurance, so she wonders if it wouldn't be better just to quit her job so she can get state care? Or the soldier leaving for Iraq in a few weeks who can't bear to tell his wife how afraid he is to go?

These are fictionalized accounts--amalgamations and distillations of many calls I've had. (I'm bound by confidentiality). Trust me, the real calls are often much more heartbreaking, disturbing, grotesque, comical, bizarre, frightening...

People are pretty amazing. They also can be pretty horrible.

I must say, working at the hotline, really has made me appreciate the goodness in people. I'm still rather accepting and loving of people as a whole, but I am a lot more intolerant of cruelty, selfishness, and apathy in my personal life than I was six months ago. And even of their deadly, oft-ignored cousin, complacency.

If you live in DC (more specifically, PG county) and are looking to volunteer at a crisis hotline, or you are looking for a well-run, resourceful non-profit to donate money to that you can have my personal guarantee will NOT go to waste because this center is AWESOME at the services they provide, visit CCSi's website and do something good for the community. Or you could find a center more local to you... either way.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Five Golden Days

Or something. Princess and I just got back from the vet to obtain her international health certificate. I scheduled a U-Haul for Sunday (speaking of which, if anyone is reading this in MD and wants to help, payment will be in the form of pizza and beer, or an alternate beverage of your choice). I'm about to leave to go to the library to finish my research paper for grad school. I've switched to Vonage (need to get the number transferred on Monday. I've cancelled Bally's and Comcast and car insurance (as of Aug 22). I've said most of my goodbyes.

Commence journey now.

Are you ready?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

This book changed my life.

Seriously, if you are a writer (or like me, a would-be writer), you MUST read this book. It is casual and friendly in tone, down to earth, wildly honest, and eminently practical. King is not the most artful of writers out there today, but he has made a living off of his work (a pretty good one at that) and he cares about and loves the life of writing. The book reads like a memoir, but feels like a big old permission slip to go for it, even offering some practical ideas about how to write (lifestyle, not just technique) which are fresh and delightful. Peppered with the stories behind the stories we all love (Delores Claiborne, Misery, and The Shining are some of my favorites), reading this book was like having that wacky cheerleader teacher again--the one who tells you that you CAN do it, that you should, and that writing is something worthwhile and (even, though this part is a little corny in some ways) life-saving.

He even made me feel good about the fact that the primary way I "read" this book was on audiobooks on all my summer road trips. (I just finished re-reading it in paperback--it's a fine piece both ways!) King makes writing fun and seemingly possible. This is just what I needed right now--thanks "Stevie"!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Roosevelt

I didn't want to admit it to myself, but I've been avoiding ERHS. I felt guilty about not quite having finished up some of my packing up duties at the end of the year (thank god for good friends--Michelle), and I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was that was stopping me from going back. After today, I think it was the need not to become (re)attached. I mean, I care about what happens there, but I can't let myself care too much--I'm not a faculty member anymore. And I still haven't sorted out how I feel about that.

I'm going to miss it. More than I realized. It was my first job after graduating from St. Mary's, my first teaching job, and an institution that shaped who I am today about as much as Eastern, Blair, or St. Mary's did. If you count Northeastern as part of my Roosevelt time, then probably MORE than those others. Being a teacher at Roosevelt was an integral part of my identity--and the first I'm really voluntarily giving up that I don't technically have to (like I had to graduate from the other institutions or what was the point?)

I stopped by after working at the hotline today to drop off the thank you cards I wrote for everyone and to see who was still there after 4 p.m. (I would have been if I were coming back...). Found out McNeil got principal (which is great--I was scared they'd pick someone new who sucked; Reggie's invested in Roosevelt so he'll continue to make it a good place) and that the teacher they hired to replace me bailed out in early August--and they haven't found someone else who would be qualified to take the position yet. YIKES! Poor Bill.

In some ways I'm glad I didn't see Bill or Susan--I feel like I'm abandoning them after everything they've done for me and the shame of it is a bit overwhelming. But I'm also very sad I missed them because their guidance has meant more to me than almost any other mentor/teacher/professor/boss type relationship. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude towards them and my awe for what they do. I did see Barbara, though, who I feel similarly about, and that was good, so I guess I really wish I had run into them.

I will miss Michelle the most. Her and my co-worker friends--poker buddies, Chevy's happy hour pals, bitch-festing commiseraters, pragmatic idealists, phenomenal teachers... I know she's been annoyed with me about yearbook stuff, so I was laying low a bit, but I was very glad I got to see her before I left. I hope she has a wonderful year. I hope everyone has a wonderful year, and makes me insanely jealous of how awesome it is back home at Roosevelt because I selfishly want everything about home, especially the good things, to stay exactly the same, waiting for my return.

But I know life doesn't work like that. And I won't stay the same; why should anything else?

The better part of me hopes they get on without me swimmingly. To be honest though, I want them to miss me. Not too much of course, but it's hard to feel like you're replaceable (like Jane keeps using the word "replacement" to describe me, which while technically accurate and a bit humorous in a science-fiction sounding way, is problematic--I may be assuming her teaching responsibilities and moving into her apartment, but I could never possibly replace Jane; I wouldn't even want to try--she's too unique and awesome, and hopefully I am, too!). Or, even worse, forgettable.

The hardest thing about leaving, the truth I've been avoiding by staying away from Roosevelt, is this: some of the people and places I'm leaving behind occupy a much larger portion of my heart than the hole I will leave behind in theirs... It always hurts a little to love something more than it loves you. Even if it is for the best in the end.

The impressions we leave behind, right?

I have felt sometimes, in darker scary moments that I don't like to admit to myself, that this process of leaving often feels like I'm preparing for my own death. Giving away possessions, saying goodbyes, wondering if I'll be missed. Since I'm not there yet, there is also a surreal, unimaginable quality about life in Korea that feels a bit like contemplating the afterlife.

Ok, I swear I'm completely happy to be moving and am not at all suicidal, but it's just funny, you know?

Enough of my overly reflective crap for now. I have enough melodrama in me sometimes to kill a horse and then sleep with its brother for S & G's (shits and giggles). Ugh. Maybe it was too much Dr. Phil at the hotline. Who knows?

Monday, August 13, 2007

In case you had doubts

Someone out there has been casting aspersions about my intentions to actually leave the country in eight days. (Not really; I just like the phrase "cast aspersions" and I don't get to employ it nearly often enough). I offer this photographic evidence of the visa I just picked up today and the Korean won I ordered from the bank last week. This is partly for Krystle who seems to be praying for a plane delay (her heart is in the right place) and partly for Dad who tried to wrench the thing out of my passport at dinner tonight in an unusual display of emotion. I'm really going, guys. I didn't even try to get into Roosevelt on this, the first day of pre-services for teachers (although I was tempted because I finished all my thank you cards working on the overnight shift at the hotline--I'll deliver them tomorrow).

Korean won is pretty cool looking, isn't it? I like that the 10,000 note (the largest denomination I got from the bank--worth a little over $10) is called a "man won" in Korean. Haha! I gets paid millions (two of 'em each month), all in man wons! Does that mean my love life will improve in a Konglish fashion, because that's kinda what that last sentence sounded like to me.

Now, exhausted from working all night and a stupid thought I had on the subway after I missed my stop (it can't be that far to walk from the next station down, right?), I will collapse for early bedtime.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Some pics from the last few days...

I let my sister drive on her first highways on our way home from Cedar Point, so to commemorate the momentous occasion in a new driver's life, I bring you: Sarah pays her first toll!
Sarah was playing with the B&W setting on my camera on our trip out to Cedar Point last week and snapped a pic of me that makes me look "cool" or something:

So then I played with the Sepia tones setting and made Princess look like a cat from the 1920s. Super cool!

I've been complaining since I got back from MV that the sun bleached out my hair so much I was like a blond. As we all know, I am a redhead, so my colorist seems to have solved this problem (this was just before I went out last night):

And finally, after grabbing breakfast with Ramon and Micah at Eggspectations, I spent the afternoon cuddling with my kitty in the apartment. A perfect Sunday (and our first mommy-kitty picture!):

Visions of a Punk Rock Paradise

When Anne and I were 15 or so (the summer before or after sophomore year--I forget right now which one, but I remember Anne was "dating" Garrett), we used to find hopping on the metro and going down into Georgetown endlessly entertaining. We did it quite frequently. That summer I was sorta a little bit goth and so was Anne. We visited a store called Smash that sold music, clothes, and accessories for the would-be punk rocker. I spent a lot of allowance money down there.

Georgetown has since become quite a bit more young family-oriented (I guess the hipsters of the late 90s have all settled down or something) and preppy, so Smash did less business and closed down. I haven't shopped there in quite awhile (though I still have fond memories of Manic Panic hair dye and the first time I did purple streaks in my then still blond hair), so I didn't really know what had happened to it.

Until last night, that is.

I went out with Mike, a co-worker buddy from the hotline, to Adams Morgan to see a friend of his from when he used to work at CDepot in College Park. I thought it was a funny coincidence when he said that this friend works at a record store called Smash in Adams Morgan. Wait, a punk store became a chain?

But the story was a little more interesting than that. We met up with his friend Peter and Peter's boss Daisy, who co-owns the store. She told me how she worked for the Smash in Georgetown until the owner decided to close it up. Then about five months ago, she re-opened it on 18th street in Adams Morgan with a fellow Smash employee. Wow! It's like rediscovering a favorite childhood toy!

Daisy and Peter were good people, and I shall have to inform Anne of the awesomeness. She will find it very entertaining.

On a side note, we met up with them at a wonderful bar called Pharmacy, that must have been the only place I've ever been in Adams Morgan where on a Saturday night you can actually have a nice conversation with friends at a table. It was populated, but by no means crowded. And they had a delicious cheese plate. Cheese is very yummy.

We caught the last 15 minutes of a jazz show at a little club across from The Black Cat, but the name of the place escapes me at the moment. Something like U and has the number 57 in it or something. Anyhow, I was pretty tipsy at that point because I think a couch on the street was speaking to me (someone wrote "Fuck You Couch" on it in big black letters), but it was good music and entertaining fun. A fine way to bid farewell to my city and its nightlife.

Good times, so to speak.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A few days later

But not 28 weeks. I still need to see that movie. I love zombie films.

I've been doing stuff, like visiting Peter at State College and meeting all his English grad school peeps. Or harassing Sam and stealing his mom's chocolate chip brownies. Or dropping my passport off at the Korean embassy.

Whew. Very busy.

Kitty is happy that I'm home at the moment. I can tell because she's attempting to cuddle me as I type this, which makes it quite a challenge. So I'm going to stop typing now and pet Princess and read The Bluest Eye until I go out to a jazz club in DC later on this evening. Awesomeness.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Sandusky, Ohio

The lil sis and I are on a road trip to visit the mecca of American roller coasters, Cedar Point, in Ohio. As another hotline volunteer is wont to say of such crazy experiences, it will change your life.

I am updating from the hellhole of shittacular accommodations in Ohio. Please, dear lord, if you value your sense of smell, taste, or decency, do not stay in the America's Best Value Inn in Sandusky. It really reeks.

Other than that, Sarah and I are having a wonderful time. It was raining too much at the start of the day, but then once the rain abated and the coasters started again the rides were AMAZING! I wanted to take my camera, but the rain prevented it initially and we never ran back out to the car to get it.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

24 hours later.

I've discovered that there are, in fact, plenty of hours in a day--but only if you manage to stay awake for all of them.

Things I did during my 24 hour stay-awake-athon (in approximate chronological order):

--repaired the holes in the rudder of a boat with a fiberglass patching kit
--sanded the sides of the same boat to prep it for painting
--ate yummy pizza with Dad
--went shopping for Princess's travel supplies
--read a couple chapters of a book
--worked 8 hours at the hotline
--went to Willy K's (yes, I have been there on a Saturday night now and witnessed several arrests/searches/etc... awesome)
--met some cool people (friends of a friend)
--watched the sunrise

And boy, does lack of sleep ever make everything even mildly entertaining seem absofrigginlutely hilarious. It was great, even if I never did get to play Texas Hold 'Em.

Oh yeah. And I finally figured out why none of my relationships have lasted. Despite my parents' many problems and the fact that they used to fight all the time when we were younger and there are many things about their marriage that I would not want to emulate for myself, they have set unbelievably high standards for me about love. Can you believe that, even as they approach their 38th wedding anniversary, that Dad pulled out the "soulmates" bomb when describing their relationship?

Deeply flawed and weird people they may be, but they are also loving beyond all possible description. And that is kinda hard to find. I definitely have not!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Studying Korean

Not that I'd recommend my Frankenstein-ian (yes that's a word!) language study method to others, but I thought I'd at least note down what I'm doing to learn the language, since many people ask. At first, Mom bought me a great audio CD series, but it turned out they were on more of an intermediate level, so I had to step back after spending far too many overwhelmed and harried hours listening to the first lesson. I realize that I will be overwhelmed when I get there, but I don't always find that the most effective method for me to learn because I need someone to break down the patterns and theories for me or I just can't make sense of anything. It does happen after a bit of immersion, but since I'm not really immersed yet, the isolated immersion of the tapes were ineffective as learning tools at this point in my beginning studies. I think they will be very helpful as supplements when I'm in Korea (or more likely, as tools for maintaining my skills once I return to the US).

I found some old videos produced by Arirang, a major television production studio in Korea--apparently named for a famous Korean folk song--in a series called "Let's Speak Korean" posted to dailymotion.com. You can find this 60 part series here. Although out of date and kind of elementary, they seem to go at a good pace for someone like me who is trying to learn a very difficult foreign language in a Korean void (I did sort of teach myself hangul--the Korean alphabet--first, using some different internet sites, finding this one the most useful).

The ladies in the video are very sweet and take the time to explain grammatical concepts and meanings of expressions in various contexts. I'm working on 9 and 10 right now (I get through 2 in about an hour--sometimes I have to repeat or review parts until I can hear it). Two lessons a day is about all I can absorb right now.

I've been repeating many of the phrases I've learned as often as possible in the hopes that they stick! (Thanks to my friends who are letting me randomly greet you with "annyeong haseyo" and telling you over and over that I'm an American and that I'm a teacher and other such beginning language phrases). I usually also start to look for these expressions in some expat blogs/message boards (either in hangul or in the transliteration), which helps reinforce what I'm learning.

More than the language study, at this point I'm just reading whatever I can about the culture and history of the country, which often introduces me to some Korean vocabulary. And I plan to sign up for the YMCA language class as soon as I get settled in at work, which should have the added bonus of helping me meet people over there. (At least the last three years of battling my major shyness issues will be put to good use, right?)

Cheonun Diana imnida. Cheonun idiot imnida, but I'm learning...

Thursday, August 2, 2007

What it's like to say goodbye...

One of the hardest things about moving to Korea is saying goodbye to family and friends. I'm still in the process of doing that, but this thread on Dave's ESL Cafe, inspired me to get a little reflective about the process. If you don't know already, "Dave's" is an online message board for EFL/ESL teachers worldwide, but pretty much the default message board for such teachers in Korea (not the only one or even the best one, but a good enough place to start). While it is a super resource for anyone who is thinking about moving to Korea to teach English, you have to muster up a lot of serenity to ignore the idiocy and ridiculous negativity that frequently drowns out the conversations there. So while I was inspired to reflect on the whole good bye process, I thought it best to post those thoughts here instead.

I remember thinking (back in March when I made this decision) that the people who really mattered to me would be supportive of my choices. I felt blessed that this is the case, but it does come after years of making good choices most of the time and having people around who are mature enough to separate any gut reactions of abandonment/rejection/fear they may be feeling from their real understanding of who I am and why I need to do this right now. Once I realized this, I felt all my lingering feelings of obligation to stay near them slip away... This revelation enabled me to finally decide to go (and generally to stop basing my life decisions on other people's expectations and needs--I'm 26 and the only real responsibility I have is to myself and my cat).

Of course, I've been ambivalent about leaving people (and places) behind ever since.

In general, I was right--most people in my life have been supportive, some enthusiastically so. Many people ask the whole "North or South Korea?" question, I hope out of momentary shock or genuine inquisitiveness (because if they actually let Americans as aid workers into North Korea that is the kind of crazy thing I might get in my head to do...). To them, I simply quip about my lifelong desire to be for Kim Jong Il what the three blondes are to Hugh Hefner. The people who don't get it after that wouldn't get it anyway.

So anyway, back to THE POINT of this whole post: saying goodbye and the reactions I've gotten. Part of it boils down to how I tell it and the follow up questions they ask, but basically I explain that I'm going to teach there on a year-long contract, but plan to stay for a bit longer than that (maybe 2-3) because I want to learn the language and culture. Honestly, I don't know what I'm doing after that because I change my mind every three or four days (usually boils down to pursuing the Ph.D., coming back and settling in the Maryland area doing whatever, or becoming a country-hopping, English-teaching gypsy), so I just tell people that I don't know when they ask when/if I'm coming back.

I'll start with family. They were pretty easy.

My parents are down to just a couple e-mails a month about bad things happening in Asia (you know, any heightened terror alerts, food poisoning reports, weird diseases and such), which is their own special way of letting me know they are worried about my leaving. They are pretty supportive otherwise (they did Peace Corps straight out of college, so they get the global-living bug thing...). Dad gives me helpful pep talks whenever I get overwhelmed by some of the preparations, and Mom is making plans for her and Sarah to visit. They've both offered to help in all kinds of unexpected ways with "back home" business while I'm overseas.

My brother and sister do not understand, for very different reasons. Brian seems apathetic, as he does about most things in my life. Honestly, I wouldn't know how or even if he feels about it, and I won't be so arrogant as to hazard a guess here. Sarah expresses her hurt about my leaving openly, but I think she's ok with it overall. She is probably the person I'll miss the most--but only because of what I'll miss in her life while I'm over there--she's graduating from high school this year and starting college and I won't be there for any of that and that will be very hard for me... and for her. But my siblings are still pretty ok with my going.

My closest friends from high school are all spread to the four corners of the earth. Seriously, a few are in their grad school towns in the states, but others are in Germany (after spending most of the summer travelling around southeast Asia and eastern Europe), Brazil, Guinea (French), and China at the moment. The ones who are still in the states are all over the US or moving about soon. I'm one of the last still living near DC, so these pals were pretty supportive. Even Sam accepts my leaving, as he must, though I know he'll miss me.

But those are the people I know I'll stay in touch with in some form or another forever--they are family. I knew they'd be supportive because I know we'll be in touch and reconnect whenever we can (see my post on visiting Rose from a few days ago to understand this one).

My college friend group dissipated in a spectacularly awful debacle, for which I was largely responsible, and I only really still keep in touch with a couple people--my former roommate and my friend who now also teaches at Roosevelt. I hear from others now and then and think of them fondly (often wondering if I should reach out and try to repair some of those rifts, since I really don't hate any of them and feel sorry about some of the things I said and did--especially to Dana and to Nik), but I don't think just before departure is the appropriate time to try to rekindle lost relationships...

The other friends were harder to say goodbye to for me. The ones that I value and love, but our relationship is based around something we do together (other teachers at the school, folks who work with me at the crisis hotline, friends from my community theater, etc.)--it's hard to know whether we'll stay in touch. Most have been supportive (or at least playfully jealous) and expressed a desire to "hear all about it" or to see pictures when I get back. I give them my e-mail and the blog website (because that was a major reason to begin blogging about what's going on with me!) Interestingly enough, this is the group that all assume that I will be returning to my life in Maryland in a year or two at the most because that is how they know me and how I exist for them. Hands down, this is the hardest group to say goodbye to. I am glad I have other friends because if all my friendships were geographically bounded, I don't think I could ever do this.

The oddest goodbye I anticipate, for me, will be the male friend I would be interested in dating if I weren't moving to Korea in three weeks. I don't think he'll really notice all that much, but it's hard because I know I will have to aggressively pursue the friendships I want to preserve from Korea if they are to last, but that's not good dating etiquette for a young lady. I suppose I should just relegate him to the friend category and hope he stays in touch like all the other people I hope will stay in touch. I guess those people who insisted "timing" really mattered were on to something...

Man, that post was long-winded.

I think I love too many people. I'm trying to see most of them before I go, but it's hard. If you read this and you want to see me, send me an e-mail or something and I'll try to squeeze a visit in to see you.

I haven't even started saying goodbye to places in Maryland...

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Finishing that novel...

I'm working on my daily writing habits. I've been good about updating this thing daily and about nighttime thoughts/morning dreams in my journals that I keep by the bed (usually all that stuff I'm not posting here because it's too middle school girlie--"I think he's so cute! I wonder if he likes me..." kind of crap--or it's ideas/snippets for my personal writing--stories, plays, poems, novels, etc). Like I tell my students, the primary way you get better at writing is to do a whole lot of it. That and read some good stuff and bother with revision.

I think I'm going go for it. I'll aim to write "real" pieces (as in the offline, non journal entry type) for 2 hours daily starting with my papers for my grad degree and then just replacing the daily habit with my stories not yet finished. Maybe, like exercising, I'll build up to it, starting with just 15 or 20 minutes... The goal is to force the habit and stop worrying about if I'm "good enough" to be a writer and just freaking write and let other people decide later on if they think it's publishable.

Later, I'll add an hour of revision work for previous pieces into the mix and then some time for sending manuscripts out, but it's all about habits--like exercising and eating healthfully.

Blogging has proven both addictive and useful as tools to "unlock the word hoard," so to speak (thanks Seamus Heany and your delightful translation of Beowulf).

Now, off to walk around the lake again!

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