03.23.2011 - 04.10.2011 55 °F
Today marks the end of my fourth week in Korea! I can't believe it! I'm proud to say I can now navigate the subway with ease, I know all the English channels on cable, I had a Korean American friend translate my washing machine for me so I can now do a load in under an hour and a half, I have learned to say "no spam, please" in Korean, and I even have a punch card at my neighborhood coffee shop... I'm such a local!
Here is a pic of my washing machine... what would you do??
In this blog entry I am going to jump around and share any note worthy events/stories of the past three weeks so here it goes! First, school/work related stories and tidbits.
Kids Day Out
Each Friday of the month there is some kind of special activity such as a birthday party (for any kids who had their birthday during that month and whose parents chose to pay for it), a "special art activity", a "special cooking activity" or a field trip. My second Friday here we had our first field trip of the new school year which means it was the first EVER school outing for my students being the youngest. We found out the day before we were going to a children's museum but that's about all the briefing the teachers received. We helped the kids change from their indoor shoes back into their outdoor shoes and each piled onto 6 different bus/vans with our own students. I noticed as we were driving away from the school that I was so busy helping the kids change their shoes, i forgot to change mine! I was still wearing my slip-on indoor shoes! Not only were my feet cold all day, but all the other adults and some of the more observant students got a real kick out of it! Here is the Panda Class on the bus:
Walking to and from the buses into the museum was quite a sight to behold. The kids have learned "make a train" where they put their hands on the shoulders of the classmate in front of them. Sure, they stay together this way...somewhat but since they are SO close they end up stepping on the heels of the kid in front of them, fall down and consequently knock down the entire line and all start crying! The best part was when they started getting distracted and wandering off I said "no, no, hands on shoulders!" assuming they would reassemble their train but instead they froze and put their hands on their own shoulders thinking i was trying to start the "head and shoulders, knees and toes" song! Ooops!
I've decided that my favorite thing about school so far is riding the elevator with the kids. Our school is located on the 2nd and 3rd floor of the building so when we have bus duty or any special trip, the teachers ride up and down the elevator with the 11 or so students to and from the bus/vans. It's hilarious because they are packed in there like sardines with their little backpacks and puffy coats and it feels like you're knee deep in a sea of kids! I took some pictures of them while we were on our way to the field trip and tried to get them all to look up at me. I was moderately successful but the attempt made for one of my favorite pictures so far!
I have the cartilage in the middle of my right ear pierced (officially called the Rook of my ear) and a student named Yena was studying me curiously and asked why I have an earring in the middle of my ear. This a valid question I have never really stopped to think about so my lame response to her was that I just liked the spot. I then asked her if she wanted to get her ears pierced and she said she would when she's a grown up. I asked her when she thought she would be a grown up and she answered excitedly, "16. Are you 16?" I said no and she seemed very perplexed. She continued, "maybe you're 17? It's hard to tell because you have a whole bunch of little spots on your face." I told her they were called freckles and she may or may not have understood. I'm spreading the love of Angel Kisses across Asia already!
Gabrielle Teacher's Hair Salon
I had a discussion with some friends a few years ago who were telling me all about the frustrations and particulars that come along with having "black hair." They only half jokingly said that if I ended up in a situation where i needed to style black hair, I better have someone teach me how because it wasn't okay to put a little girl's hair up in a poofy ball and send her on her way. I promised them i would learn if the occasion arose ... and then there was third period in the Panda Class. Two of my little Korean girls started taking out their hair ties/bows/clips etc, giggled then looked to me to put their "do" back together. Asian hair is pretty slippery and fine but i managed to get Katie's ballerina bun back the way it was and Joy's pony tail and braid secure in it's place. As i was tending to these two, my little Crystal starting taking out her barrettes too. Crystal had a more intricate style going on with various kinds of twists and pony tails i have never attempted before. Of course the area that needed attention was right in front so I tried my best to make it look nice. I twisted a few pieces and braided a few others and reattached the barrettes to the best of my abilities. Luckily, she is so darn cute that i don't think my amateur hair styling held her back too much. It's hard to see in the picture but I'm so curious what her mother said when she came home! Either way, now I couldn't possibly agree more with my friends; styling black hair is no cake walk! Here's Crystal:
I acknowledge that "Gabrielle" is a difficult name to pronounce, it's been a problem my whole life. I have been pleased with how well my coworkers and some of the older kids have done with the pronunciation. I think i have only had to say "no, it's a long "A"" once which must be a record for moving to a new place! My two American students caught on pretty quickly around the second week but week three is when it all came together for the Korean kids. I don't know what happened but i came in one morning last week to see a room full of hopping children and a chorus of "Gobb-reel Tee-cha! Gobb-reel Tee-Cha!" These three year olds are so stinkin' cute it just melted my heart (as my mom says )! Now, at the end of week four they are all calling me some version of my name and remember to say "please" more often than not and I'm quite proud.
My "Kid's say the Darndest Things" award for this update goes to Aiden. Aiden is one of my Panda Class Korean students who I honestly felt hasn't taken to me like the my other students have. He is a bit too chatty (which i can relate to) and I am constantly getting after him for not sitting properly in his chair. He never clings to me at play time or hugs my legs like the other kids do and I couldn't figure out why. Luckily, before i could lose sleep over it, Aiden came in on Monday morning, put his finger tips on his head as if he were making the "M" from the YMCA song and boldly said, "Teacher, I love you!" He was then echoed (with the same YMCA "M" that i figured out is a heart) by three or four other students! Even though he is still too chatty and can't keep his feet on the ground, i feel our relationship has made some progress as he's made a habit this week out of this "M"/heat declaration of love! Awww, I'm such a sucker!
Here are some pics of the kids during "Happy Zoo Day" where animals are brought to school for them to pet.
It rained for the first time last week and the kids were all decked out in their rain gear with umbrellas and these adorable galoshes! Leo even wore a poncho! I hate the rain but I can handle it every now and then if it means they wear these cute little boots!
As for how I'm feeling about the job in general... things are improving but only because I'm getting used to things. If I am being perfectly honest I would have to say I don't like my job. However, I am grateful to have one, I am grateful to be here, I like the city and my coworkers and i really love the kids. My mom reminded me that I have a really important and influential job being with these kids so much during their developmental years and I take that seriously. So I will complain regularly, that's for sure but I am managing and I think this year will be a monumental learning experience for me. Good thing the kids are so darn cute! That helps!
And now some fun, non work related things:
There are a few things that stick out to me as "so Asian" and I mean this as a totally, completely, absolutely positive thing. An example would be flashing the peace sign when having your picture taken! Sure, it may seem excessive or unnecessary at times but in four weeks I have already gotten into it myself! Think about it... it's positive, non threatening, consistent and it gives you something to do with yourself when posing for a picture! Here are some examples:
Another "so Asian" thing I've quickly grown to love is the cutesyness everywhere. People of all ages sport Hello Kitty and other overly cutesy things in the form of bags, supplies and even bank check books. My bank here is very nice and highly regarded yet they offer these adorable checkbooks splashed with little digi-critters of some sort! It's just such an explosion of fun!
My number one fave cutesy thing here are the cell phone charms. Almost everyone has some kind of charm/object/ stuffed animal/bedazzled phrase, you name it hanging from their cell phone. There is no limit to the size or ridiculousness of the object. I have seen stuffed creatures that were larger than the phones themselves, mini drumsticks and other meat products, fringe, full statements, and every animal and character you can think of! The rule of thumb seems to be the sparklier the better! As soon as i knew I'd be living in Asia i have been dreaming up what my own adorable little charm would be and have had my heart set on a bedazzled bear. Each subway stop i pass through i scan the racks of charms looking for my perfect bear and have left disappointed as the choices were too flat or too large or too expensive. This past Saturday we went shopping in the main shopping area that has stores as well as street vendors and I had SOOO many charms to choose from. After combing through rack after rack and sticking to my 5,000 won price limit (about $4.75) I found my perfect charm am thrilled about it!
The shopping haven is called Myeong Dong and it pretty darn amazing! There are stores like Forever 21, Gap and H&M as well as tons of Korean boutiques and stores I will love exploring throughout the year. Swhite and I wandered around for about 6 hours and had a ball! Being a Saturday the streets and shops were so packed but I still managed to sneak pics of some of the peculiar snacks the street vendors were selling.
Let's start it off simple with this ENORMOUS ice cream cone!
Moving right along to the heavily battered and fried meat on a stick with attached crinkle cut french fries on the right, or hotdog wrapped in bacon on the left.
And here we have assorted dried foods including an entire squid! YUMMY right??
I am not quite sure what this shop is selling but they should really fire their marketer because this mouth thing is horrible!
One of my favorite parts about being in a non English speaking country is all the phrases that get lost in translation, especially on t-shirts. The most epic example of all was seen on a woman in Thailand this past fall at a 7-11. She was wearing a shirt that said, "my balls itch." I don't think that one will ever be topped but here are some of our faves from a a store in Myeong Dong:
"New York To Rondon" (Swhite bought this one)
"Stoic is necessary to do doing only now"
"Truck Furniture Maker" (Swhite bought this one, too)
"Fashion Must Goon!"
"Maliubu 90265" Who knew that zip code mattered? Haha Love it!
Since the director of our school (and my boss) just had her baby yesterday she hasn't been into work for more than 10 minutes in my four weeks here which means my Korean coworkers are the re-layers of any information/questions/concerns. When i first arrived and they asked me how my apartment was I told them honestly that is was very dirty and it was missing lots of the furnishings i was expecting the biggest of which being a desk. The didn't seem to concerned with my desire for a desk but they did ask me about my toilet seat which only had one hinge so it kind of slides back and forth. I was trying to be selective about what i complain about and chose to focus mainly on the desk but they were all about the toilet seat. For the next three days they kept telling me, "your toilet seat will be here tomorrow" and eventually it did arrive...
Yup, that's two classy bears holding tennis rackets and it says "Who knows? Maybe a bear doll you bring home will be a family treasure some day." What was going through the mind of the person who picked this out? Heck, what was going through the mind of the person who made this toilet?? Absolutely ridiculous.
As far as the desk is concerned I asked about it for the 4th time on Wednesday and was told it would arrive at the school on Friday. I guess asking for it to be delivered it my apartment would be too much to ask. And believe it or not, asking for a chair was too much to ask. When they said it would be delivered and told me i would have to take it home to assemble it myself i naturally asked about the chair too. They looked at my like I just asked them to donate a kidney and responded "was a chair in your contract too?" How do you respond to that? Do servers ask if you if you ordered a plate with you spaghetti? I was baffled! So it turns out "furnished apartment" although promised by my manipulative recruiter meant desk and chair, that is not what it meant to my boss and I was told I have to buy a chair myself if I want one. Since the desk is huge and I ride the subway home, I took a cab instead and shared the backseat with my new desk. Sigh.
Lastly I wanted to comment on one Korean cultural aspect I really like, and one that drives me nuts! I have noticed that all of my Korean coworkers ALWAYS take the time to say "you're welcome" in response to "thank you" and i really appreciate it. My dad is a major grammar and manners buff and he has passed on his pet peeve of people responding to "thank you" with something other than "you're welcome" such as "no problem," "yup", "uh huh" or "sure." It took me hearing it all the time now for me to notice how rarely i hear "your welcome" back home. Since my coworkers are pretty much the only Koreans i know who speak English as this point they are the only examples I have but i think it may be standard here.
Ironically, my cultural jeer is the exact opposite and extremely not polite in my opinion. There is no chivalry in Korea! Korea as a culture puts males on a pedestal that women can't even see! Men don't give up their seats on the subway to women ever! The subways are so packed and i was flabbergasted to see two twenty-something boys sitting down with two elderly women standing right it front of them. The only time I have ever seen someone give up their seat was for a pregnant lady and there are signs that suggest that's some kind of rule so that hardly counts. And on elevators, men always get out first and they make sure of it. For example, if i were the only person in the elevator and an older man got on, he would position himself right in front of me with his back to me almost as if to block me. Men do not hold open doors either, not even the courtesy push to to keep it open a millisecond longer as they are going through. It drives me crazy! So thank goodness for the common courtesies we have back home!
Well, I think that's all I have for now! I have uploaded more pictures than the ones in the post itself so be sure to click on the "more photos" link on the right hand side to check them out too!