Monday, September 22, 2008

Then again, maybe I won't

(Photos: Curtis with Heeduk [top] and George.

Last night, there was a little going-away party for Curt with his top-level students and three cakes. You do not want to get between three cakes and a dozen Korean students with chopsticks. After that, I did my usual Saturday-night thing: went downtown, walked around Kyobo Books, and wandered the streets, people-watching. Aside from bus fare, it’s free, and so far always interesting. I was, no joke, the biggest (by 30 pounds) and the oldest (by 25 years) of the thousands there.

Now it’s Sunday, and the first real fall day of the year. It’s mostly overcast, with a fairly steady breeze, and between that and the rain we had overnight, the air is clearer than it’s been since I’ve been here. The hills and mountains not far to my east are actually green; I can even see trees. Every other day, the hills have been gray mounds. Today I can even see clouds at their tops.

Gail, a very nice teacher from Oklahoma who’s returning home in a few weeks, took me to Costco today. From my apartment, it takes two bus rides to get there, and the trip takes 45 minutes each way. I could take a cab, but that’s twelve bucks round trip. I wanted to see if I should pony up the $40 after my first paycheck.

I was terribly disappointed in the clothing selection; the largest men’s shirt size E-Mart carries is 105, whatever that is, and between my wide shoulders and my generous midsection, that’s just a little too small. Costco’s sizes are the same, and I have no idea how I should get clothes. (I’m especially concerned about a winter jacket.)

They did have a clock-radio, though; that’s a concept the salespeople at E-Mart had never heard of, so I bought that. There’s a US Army radio station and town where they play a good mix of music and, and this is no little thing, speak English. It barely, barely comes in at the apartment. But at least it when I wake, I’ll know what time it is. (Does anyone really know what time it is?) Gail, who is very generous, also bequeathed me her spare flat sheet. (They don’t seem to have them here, and I’m always waking up before dawn sweating under the comforter) So I’m relatively rich in the sleeping department now.

The food prices are not what we would consider discount club prices, but they had a whole lot of stuff that E-Mart doesn’t, things such as instant oatmeal and Eggo waffles and Pepperidge Farm cookies(!) I bought some hash brown patties, a 55-gallon drum of Prego, and a six-pack of vermicelli. It’s amazing how much a few familiar foods can make a place seem much more like home. At the apartment I’ve been living all too much on bread and cereal anyway; I didn’t have propane for the first ten days, and most of what’s at E-Mart isn’t labeled in English. That’s a problem for a vegetarian. Everything at Costco is labeled, to some degree, in English, though. I think, if only for the variety of food, I’ll probably join, but I won’t go more than once a month or so.

My little piggies on the left side are squealing; the one that stayed home is bruised, and the one that had none has a mean blister. I’ve been wearing my Adidas running shoes, and day after day of pounding the pavement has proven that the toe box is a little short and narrow. I’ve switched to my New Balances, which are a trifle more generous in the piggie department than the Adidi, and done a little maintenance on the blister, and I think it’s going to be okay. But with the toes, the left knee, and my calf muscles, I’ve been walking like Walter Brennan’s grandfather.

At work, I’m picking up most of Curtis’s schedule, which means a lot more classes for me and, I hope, more upper-level material. Heeduk’s already set aside my Thursdays to do nothing but consult with high school kids about their writing. He’s also going to want me to make some videos on writing the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) essay. I know I hate teaching the little littluns: hat-cat-mat. The worst is Chicken Little, as rewritten by Dr. Kim: Foxy kills Chicken Little and his friends and serves them to his family!

So far, Heeduk seems to value my experience. He asks me for advice and took me to lunch twice in the last week, after inviting me as the only teacher at his family Chosuk ceremony. I’m going to tell him that I won’t renew my contract in 49 weeks if I have to move to the dorm in February. I think it’s shameful that Dr. Kim, who has become a millionaire through this business, has most of his teachers living in what’s basically a tenement. My current apartment, although modest, is a palace in comparison.

I also would need a raise; as many of you know, twelve hours after I sent my documents and signed contract here, I got a phenomenal offer from an elite private academy for international students, in Seoul, that would have let me set up the English department, be an actual English teacher (rather than a foreign-language teacher) , and probably eventually begin a cross-country program. The academy would have paid me 600 bucks a month more than I’m getting here. And a few days after that, I got another offer from a hagwon chain that also would have paid me the higher amount. I can match that next year, here or elsewhere, maybe even at the academy.
Not to pat myself on the back (I’m not that limber anymore anyway), but my documents say I’m way overqualified for my current job. All of our teachers have a bachelor’s in something, (but most aren’t in English or education), most have no prior teaching experience, and nobody else has a master’s, let alone in education. If they want me past next August 30, they’ll have to make it worth my while.

I’ve made Sundays my exploration day, but I was awake from 3 to 5 a.m., and I think I’m going to explore the inside of my eyelids. Then, if I’m feeling ambitious, I may carry my laptop over to PapaRotti’s coffee shop, which is a hot spot, and have one of their incredible buns (war, amd wheaty and just a little sweet) and some coffee and send this to you.

Maybe after a nap I’ll think of a snappy ending.

(Later: then again, maybe I won’t.)

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