Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Oh Very Young and other stuff

Murphy got to Daegu yesterday to teach at Samduk LIKE. I'd been emailing with him, answering questions about what to expect, what to bring, and so on. He did me a big favor; at my request, he bought a pair of shorts at Sears back home and brought them to me. Shorts are absolutely indispensable when the hot weather comes and Korean men do. not. wear. them. You can't find them anywhere.

But here's the point: I took him around downtown a bit. We ate pasta and then he wanted some Starbucks coffee. So we stop in, I order my coffee, I look around and there are two attractive young Korean women sitting nearby. One flashes me a thousand-watt smile so I say hi. Murphy orders his coffee and comes over, and inside of thirty seconds he knows their English names (Olivia and Dorothy-- she made a point of saying she named herself after Dorothy in Wizard of Oj, as it's pronounced here)-- and their ages, where they go to college and their majors, where they spent a year in Canada (as they said in one episode of F Troop, "Ban-fuh-fuh"), and inside another minute they've got his email address and...

well, being middle-aged sucks sometimes. In my mind, I'm 25 and I should be talking to Olivia and Dorothy myself. Murphy, I bet, can have all the female companionship he wants. He's young, good looking, friendly, Navajo (he looks Korean enough that people have already asked him if he is Korean, but he must seem just a little exotic)... and he's taking a year off from Harvard grad school. :: envy envy ::

As long as I'm in Korea, I doubt I'll get any companionship of that sort. Korean women anywhere near my age don't speak English, and if they did, we'd have nothing in common. Maybe Cupid will send along a pretty 40-year-old who spent ten years in the States and likes her men roundish and extinguished (Oops... distinguished). I'm not holding my breath, however. At least I'm no longer sleeping alone; Tiki likes to cuddle up. Spooning, however, is strangely unsatisfying.


On the subject of women, but not romance, I really enjoy talking with Joanna, who's a 25-year-old teacher at our Samduk school. We have virtually nothing in common other than the fact that she's from Alaska and I've been over it, but we have really good conversations. I find I have always been able to talk more freely with women; somehow guys (in my experience) always end up playing a role, or at least always devolve into talking about beer, movies, sports, and Mrs. Emma Peel. (By the way, absolutely true fact: the character got that name because, in '60's telly jargon, Diana Rigg had "man appeal", or as they said, "M appeal.") You're welcome.


I hope they won't turn off my electricity. I guess they send bills every month, but I don't get them. The mailbox is actually on the house next door and nobody makes a point of giving me the bills. It's been four months. George at school helped me today and I found out that, theoretically at least, if I go to the bank and pay them 120,000 Won (90 bucks) tomorrow, I'm okay. I also ran out of heating oil this morning, but a call to George and his call to the oil company, and I was stocked up again with a half hour. None of that "He'll come between noon and five" followed by a call at 4:50 to say he's running late. Not in Korea.


Hami Mami's is closed. I'm sad.


I'm planning another Palgongsan hike on Thursday for anybody from school who wants to go. The cherry trees are supposed to be at their blossoming height this week. The trees that line the main road past school are all decked out in white flowers... not sure if they're cherry trees, though. Sadly, it's gotten cool and windy again, and the flowers are dropping. I hope we get out there before a really big wind comes along.


Raymond (not the Ray I've spent so much time with) is being let go at Samduk LIKE; a guy I know from another school is, too, and one more who's losing his job because the hagwon (school) owner is selling out to someone who's bringing in his own people. Hagwons aren't as secure as I'd thought. Raymond's my age and doesn't know what to do; apparently, public schools don't hire anybody over 55.


If you buy a new pair of earphones for your iPod and, that same night, leave them on your computer desk overnight, cats will shred the foam. Trust me on this.


You know how Monty Python, if they didn't have a good ending for a sketch, would just stop it cold? Well, I

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Everyone's got toothpaste down their demons

...is not a line from "Jumper" by Third Eye Blind. It's "Everyone's got to face down their demons," and if you heard it as "toothpaste", you're either dumb, crazy, deaf, or me.

Actually, that has nothing to do with the topic of this post, but I've been waiting to work it in as a blog title.

The championship game of the World Baseball Classic was a classic, with Korea coming from two runs down with a run in the eighth and another with two outs in the ninth to tie the game. Sadly, Japan got two in the tenth to win.

The sports-fan segment of the Korean population is terribly let down, of course. The two countries, who have the strongest baseball teams in the hemisphere, are fierce rivals on the field (and in the East Sea [Sea of Japan], where they are disputing ownership of a few tiny worthless islands that the Koreans call Dokdo; "Dokdo is Korean!", the posters say.) The Japanese, as a rule, look down on Koreans, and Koreans must feel about Japan as Poles would about Germany if the German government had never really apologized for what they did in both World Wars.

Think of Korean baseball fans as Yankee fans when the Bosox came from 3-0 down in the playoffs, or Bosox fans when the Yankees made up a 15 1/2 game deficit and won the pennant. There is no joy in Koreatown.

...but it's only ten days till the Korean League season starts! Go, Samsung Lions!

A Roh by any other name...

If a Korean's name is actually pronounced "Ee eon hey", ("eon" is one slyllable) it may be written in English as:

Lee eon hey; Lee, eon hey; Lee eon-hey; Lee, eon-hey; Lee eonhey; Lee, Eonhey; Eon hey Lee; Eon-hey Lee; Eonhey Lee; Rhee eon hey; Rhee, eon hey; Rhee eon-hey; Rhee, eon hey; Rhee eonhey; Rhee, eonhey; Eon hey Rhee; Eon-hey Rhee; Eonhey Rhee; Yi eon hey; Yi, eon hey; Yi eon-hey; Yi, eon-hey; Yi eonhey; Yi, eonhey; Eon hey Yi; Eon-hey Yi; Eonhey Yi.

...and that's ignoring differences in capitalization. Also, in North Korea it's usually spelled "Ri".

Now consider that 45 percent of the population is named Lee, Kim, or Park (actually pronounced "Ee", "Gheem", and "Baek".)

...and there's very little chance for a Westerner to distinguish male from female names
...and some kids use English names and some don't
...and virtually everyone has a one-syllable family name and a two-syllable personal name
...and they use a completely different alphabet
...and some kids write their names in English and others in hangul.

The old canard that they all look alike is bunk. But they do all sound alike. I don't even feel a little ashamed that I can't remember the names of the vast majority of my students, but it makes building relationships harder.

At least I'm secure in my identity: Kohnmehn Seuteebeun Jeon.

The rock is rolling

Imagine that you have to proofread this paragraph:

Second, the second and third cons can solute by this pro. It the government loan money to only poor people, two problems can solute. First, most poor people who use this system, don't borrow money for their new business or succeed. They borrow money for decrease their doubt. So, they don't need big money that can make new business. If government borrow money just poor people, their money is enough. (sic [very sic])

Now imagine that this essay has four more similar paragraphs. And you have about a hundred of these essays to proofread and comment on. And as soon as you turn them in, you'll receive another stack to do. And most of the kids won't read what you've written anyway, and those who do won't understand it. Now imagine the sweet, sweet release of death.

Actually, English and Korean are so very, very foreign to each other that it's amazing the kids do as well as they do. It's nothing personal against them. It's just... remember Sisyphus and the rock? Yeah.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I am still learning

The Cornman banner (a field, azure, bearing a man passant, holding an ear of corn, or, and a cup of coffee, sable) is at half-staff today. Hami Mami's at Club That is closing. (Club That is a funky little bar that's a major hangout for expats; Hami Mami's is the brunch restaurant on the ground floor.) I can't overstate how much Hami's has been my emotional home base downtown; I went there often for comfort food and the homey atmosphere, the Christmas dinner was there, the Writers' Group met there, Hami arranged for me to adopt my cats. I don't know if I can find another such place downtown. It's been my Central Perk.

Speaking of Club That, last night Joanna and I went there to see the local production of The Vagina Monologues. I went just because a couple of my friends from the Writers' Group were in the cast, but I'm glad I did. For a local production, the performers were terrific, and the play is alternately funny, moving, and horrifying. The proceeds went to the elderly Comfort Women in Seoul, so it was a good cause. Oh, and the waffle with scoops of pomegranite and cabernet saugignon ice cream I had afterward? Good stuff.

I spoke up for another good cause on Facebook. The Daegu Friendship Club is taking a field trip to see Korean bullfighting. It's a series of bulls fighting each other, rarely involving death, but with a fair amount of blood; it's an ancient tradition being promoted by the government as a gambling attraction. I posted, hey, if you care about animals, please don't support this. (I quoted an International Herald Tribune article that talked about the handlers binding young bulls' horns with wire to shape them, feeding the bulls live octopus for protein, and giving them soju [liquor] and sharpening their horns just before bouts.)

That got a bit of a discussion going; I found an ally and was attacked several times ad hominem by one guy who called me sanctimonious and belittled my commitment to my "cause du jour", saying that if I was a hypocrite if I didn't go and take undercover pictures and send them to PETA. Because, you know, Koreans care so much about what PETA says. The outcome was that I finally posted that he could impugn away, I was out of this petty squabble, and he sent me email apologizing for getting carried away.

It was a kind of test for me that I guess I mostly failed. My spirituality has been deepening lately. I don't think any religion has it just right, because human religions can't; I've learned things from Christianity, Taoism, Buddhism, New Thought, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, and any other source that rings true to me, and I listen each day to Marianne Williamson's five-minute podcast. I'm content with what I believe and how much I don't know, and more positive and peaceful at heart than I've ever been.

The little beaded bracelet I bought at Donghwasa Temple has been a great help; when I find myself getting worked up about little things, which is too often because I have a lot of anger below the surface, I touch the bracelet, take a deep breath, and calm down. But it didn't work with the bullfight conversation; that really got under my skin. But as Michelangelo said at age 86, "I am still learning."

And Tiki's sleeping a foot from my hand and two feet from the electric heater, the morning is calm, and the spring sun is coming in my window.

I think I'm here to learn to trust and to have a peaceful heart, and I am still learning.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From my third little corner

Mark Twain wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

I should have followed his advice a long time ago.

Monday, March 16, 2009

You prob'ly think this blog is about me

Okay. So. I'll try not to forget anything from the last four days. Hmm... let me see...

Oh yeah, did I tell you I got hit by a car?

Downtown traffic is bizarre. There's one long pedestrian mall, a fairly wide street (Rodeo Street, where Club That is) with sidewalks that everyone treats as suggestions, and a lot of little streets without sidewalks, where pedestrians coexist uneasily with cars. Walkers kind of casually sort of get out of the way of cars, when they feel like it, and cars ease through at five or six mph (that's eight or nine kph, for you more cosmopolitan, modern types).

A bunch of us from LIKE were walking down Rodeo Street on Friday, on our way to waffle euphoria (big, hot fresh waffle with vanilla and green tea ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, grapes, orange slice and tomato wedge [seriously]). Suddenly, what should I feel on my right calf but a car bumper! This guy had run into me at about 4 mph! (Okay, 6 kph, but stop asking for special treatment.) I whirled around, might possibly have loudly alluded to the title of Britney's new single If You Seek Amy, and stared at him. He looked blandly at me as if he and I had not just had a steel-to-denim encounter. I don't know if he did it on purpose to get me out of the way-- blowing your horn is rude, you know-- or didn't know he'd done it, or was too abashed to acknowledge me, or what. The older kids at school tell me they'd never heard of someone bumping someone like that on purpose, and I'm not sure that "abashed" is something that any Korean man has ever felt, so I'm guessing door number two, Monte. But I don't know. What I do know is, damn, you're not supposed to bump people with your car.

It was only later that I remembered Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark: "You can't do this to me! I'm an American!" But we just walked on; it would have been waffly dumb for me to have made a bigger scene.

After we finished our waffles and I finished (until now, anyway) my whining, I walked Joanna (Samduk LIKE) and Leo (newcomer to same) down to the YMCA at Banwoldang Junction, where they signed up for the entry level Korean course I'd just finished. Joanna has a linguistics degree, so I expect it will be about five minutes before her Korean is better than mine.

I'm just not getting it; on Saturday morning, Luke, Joelle, and I had our second session of the next level class and I'm lost two-thirds of the time and frustrated three-thirds of it. Part of it is flaw number 739 in my personality: I loathe feeling stupid in class, especially when everyone is called on to speak. I've been thinking seriously of just leaving the class; now I'm considering going in a half-hour early every week for the in-case-you-missed-class catchup session, but Joanna thinks I might better go to EJ (the director), tell her I'm not getting it, I paid my money, can't I take entry level again (with Joanna) and then go on to this level, with her, next time. Dunno.

After class, some of us went to lunch at that little Mexican place, then Joelle and I walked to the Bell Park to meet Ray from school, Joanna, and Justin from Writer's Group and trivia, whence we took a cab to the art exhibit at the Daegu Design Center. I'd discovered that there was a show of art, mostly etchings and engravings, by people such as Dali, Warhol, and Manet (rather eclectic bunch) at the Design Center, and sent out a bunch of emails, which resulted in the trip. I've never been into art, never really understood, or frankly cared, much about it, and I discovered two things: I still don't, and it's okay. I'm just artistically tone-deaf, so to speak. It was good to go-- I'm trying all kinds of things I haven't done before-- but I'm at peace with the knowledge that I don't get it. It's like trying to explain Facebook to my cats, or personal responsibility to George W. Bush.

I did my six-hour teaching stint on Sunday, and got the awful news from Heeduk that he wants me to do an extra eight hours of proofreading each week, dozens of academic essays by kids who've only been learning English for a few years; it's, if I remember my Inferno correctly, what they do in the third level of Hell, just below an eternity of paper cuts and just above eternal reruns of Howard Stern. That also means postponing taping my video lessons, which I was looking forward to. Later, at dusk, I went for an hour-long walk and talked to the first Westerners I've ever seen in my neighborhood, three middle-age, USAF, shaved-head guys. (Have you ever noticed that white guys who shave their heads look like roll-on deodorant?) I also refreshed my memory that it doesn't matter where you walk in Daegu, because it's exactly the same everywhere: convenience stores, tiny little restaurants with tanks of doomed sea monsters in front, signs for PC bangs and noraebangs (places where, respectively, teen boys gather to play endless hours of computer games and drunks sing karaoke in little private rooms). But it was a beautiful spring afternoovening.

And today, Monday, was a gorgeous spring day, sunny, high in the mid-60s/upper teens, depending on your scale of choice, God's or Celsius. I'd asked bunches of people if they wanted to go out to hike Palgongsan with me. Luke was in Seoul, Kristen and James in Busan, my non-LIKE friends working. But I went out with Joanna and we had a lovely time. For some reason, the bus and the mountain were not packed with septuagenarian Koreans, as they usually are, and we had a quiet, peaceful ascent, descent, and walk around Donghwasa Temple. By mutual agreement, neither of us (chatterboxes both) spoke for ten minutes on the way down, and it was lovely. I always feel an incredible sense of serenity at Donghwasa, and I laid out 5000 Won ($3.50) for a little wooden bead bracelet to remind me to keep a peaceful heart. Then we came back to town, ate pasta at Italy and Italy, and I came home and took a nap.

'Cause, you know, I always like to lie down for a bit after I'm hit by a car.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kangaroo weekend

Back in Yore, when I used to play half-penny poker with my friends, one of the wacky wild-card games we played had a special hand, the kangaroo straight. A kangaroo straight might be, for example, a 2-4-6-8-10. Discerning intellects will decipher why it was called that. At any rate, the LIKE contract specifies one three-day weekend a month, and it's coming up on Saturday. Unfortunately, since I agreed to take Thursdays off and work Sundays, my three-day weekend is Thursday-Saturday-Monday. Very marsupialesque. I guess I won't run that three-day ultra-triathlon from here to Pyongyang after all. But in that spirit, here's some kangaroo blogging.
Several of the Korean class members, my new friends, are also in the Daegu Writer's Group. Several people in the DWG are working on a local production of The Vagina Monologues, to be put on at Hami Mami's/Club That (as everything I do is), with the proceeds going to a group of aged "comfort women" from World War Two. My new friend Emma from New Zealand, who is in the cast, invited me to a show via Facebook. I answered that I couldn't go, as I work Sundays and don't actually have a vagina. She answered that there's a Sunday show and anyone could go who has one, or likes them. So of course, now I have to go... kidding; I'm looking forward to it. (I suspect that a play called The Penis Dialogues would run about a minute and a half; not all that much to say.) But, of course, the penis mightier than the sword.
Since Han Solo Rocks' triumph in trivia last week, my friend Justin has invited me to be on his team in a couple of weeks, and to help him run another game a couple of weeks after that. I have to pick a category to ask questions about. I'm thinking maybe War and Peace. Or Higher Education. Or Compassionate Republicans. Wait, I have to come up with ten questions...
Longtime readers of this blog (all right, me) may recall that back in October I posted my favorite name for a menu dish here, Sausage Nude Toast. I think I have a new contender, though, which I saw in a downtown window: Lips of Chicken Omurice.
It occurs to me that I leave the USA for a month or two and you guys let it go all to hell. At least here, there are jobs for Americans. Also, radio doesn't play Rush Limbaugh. The green tea ice cream is way better here, too.
I intuited that "juseyo" meant "please", as in "Bibimbap, juseyo." Turns out that "juseyo" means "give me". Now I'm trying to think of what I've accidentally asked people to give me. My favorite Korean word is for "here": "yogi". That's one I can remember. "Chabal" means please. I think. I'm kind of scared to say it now.
English-language tv shows and movies are subtitled in Korean, except for children's shows and films, which are dubbed into Korean. I was really pleased a couple of weeks ago to find"Doctor Who on tv... till I saw it was dubbed! Okay, if you really think it's a kids' show... why are you broadcasting it at 2 a.m.?
To make a long story short... oops! Too late. Bye!

Monday, March 9, 2009

And I only am escaped to tell thee.

(Photos: Daegu's greatest writers' group, with too much coffee, and Korea's greatest trivia team, with too much beer. What do these two "greatest" groups have in common? Modesty forbids...)

...okay, the title of this post is a teense melodramatic (it's from Job, and Moby Dick), but it's been one whale (ha!) of a four-day stretch and I'm exhaustipated.

Thursday, I had off as I've agreed to work Sundays. It was cold and drizzly all day and all I did was work out and, in the evening, go see He's Just Not That Into You with Joanna from the Samduk LIKE. Well, actually, there was a huge kerfluffle about where she was (not where we were supposed to meet), so having bought two tickets, I left her a note, got to the theater late, and did my best to sprawl across two seats. She found me, though, a half-hour into the movie. Not a good movie. I don't mind chick flicks and I especially don't mind looking at Scarlett, Jennifer, and Jennifer, but there were too many characters to care about any of them in a dramatic sense and it wasn't nearly funny enough to be a comedy.

Friday, E.J. Koo, the head of the language program at the YMCA, helped me buy a cell phone. There are literally well over a hundred little phone stores in a few blocks downtown, all with the same products and services, and they apparently fire anyone they suspect of speaking any English. E.J. overwhelmed me with her generosity; she doesn't really know me at all and she gave an hour of her time and donated a cell phone charger. Then I ate lunch at Hami Mami's, my number-one hangout (American brunch! French toast! Hash browns! The only place in Korea you can get food without hot-pepper paste and garlic!) Hami is the one, by the way, who set me up with my cats; she's really nice. Then I went to school.

After a long day's work, I caught a cab downtown for a midnight trivia game at a dark cavern of an expat bar. I got hooked up with a bunch of strangers, mostly friends of my new friend Justin, some of whom had come down from Seoul for the weekend, who also didn't have teams. Going into battle under the team name "Han Solo Rocks", we kicked ass. There were three rounds; I helped carry us through the first round, history and politics. (Sample question: Mentioned in the movie Die Hard With a Vengeance, who was our twenty-first president?) I was practically useless in Round Two, rock and roll (not a single Carpenters question!) The third round was movie quotes: name the movie, year, and Oscar winners (for any category in any movie) who appeared in the movie. I helped a little, but my teammates did the heavy lifting, and we won easily. Each team put up 20,000 Won and HSR took home all the cash. My share basically paid for my cabs and beers. God, I miss trivia. I miss Hogwarts.

(During the day, George, the Guy Friday at school, had told me the government allowed teachers a cut-rate cancer screening. This is good, as the bar resembled a fire at the R.J. Reynolds factory. I got home, scratchy-voiced and red-eyed, at 2:45 a.m...)

...and found email that the teaching job in Seoul for next year, the one I really wanted and would have had already but for a timing mixup... is basically mine. This may be the only thing in this post of lasting value, so don't bother reading anything above or below it, okay? Uh...

On Saturday, having had five hours' sleep, I attended the first class of the second-level Korean course. Felt totally lost. Went to work most of the day, then caught a cab downtown to see Watchmen with a few friends and friends' friends. If you don't know Watchmen, it was an incredibly brilliant, multilayered, dark comic book series in the eighties and long considered unfilmable. (Time called the comic compilation one of the 100 best novels-- not comics-- of the century.) The movie was astoundingly done but so brutal and nihilistic that I can't say I enjoyed it. If anybody likes royal blue male appendages, though, that's your movie. I'm not kidding. I have always kept this blog family-friendly, so I won't make any jokes about "blue jobs".

On Sunday, having had five hours' sleep again, I taught a new three-hour class on critical thinking and essay writing, then walked downtown to the writers' group meeting at Hami Mami's. It's really nice to have new, like-minded friends. For five months, I didn't know anybody I didn't work with. Daegu is a different, better place now for me. Then I got home, took the arduous trek to and around Costco (as the boys and I agreed that we needed a thirty-pound jug of cat litter, stat), and came home and fell asleep in front of the tv.

And now it's 1 a.m. Monday and I'm awake. Good night!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

This place is full of surprises.

Downtown Daegu is funny, a grid of major highways, little narrow streets with sidewalks where cars and pedestrians commingle, and little dark alleyways lined with teensy shops, or sometimes just bricks; you never know.

Luke, Ray, Joanna (teacher at our Samduk school) and I went down one of those alleyways today, to a nice little Mexican restaurant, very cozy, good food (I had nachos grande, as I knew that was one thing not cooked in lard). The cook speaks Korean, English and Spanish (as his grandfather is from Spain). And it just isn't a real Mexican restaurant without free side orders of Korean popcorn and vanilla-tasting herbal tea, is it?

The restaurant is called Yeon Chow, which I understand is a traditional Mexican name.

Just down the alley from Yeon Chow is a little restaurant with a round sign that depicts a cartoon cat head, out of which are sticking an apple stem and leaf. What is in the restaurant? I'm glad you asked. In the window, driftwood and cat condos, covered in a collection of cats (live, fluffy ones, that is). Further back? People having lunch with cats perched on the backs of their chairs. Considering that most Koreans apparently consider cats to be vermin, I thought that this was one of the most amazing and delightful scenes I've seen in this country.

Later, in my tenth quixotic attempt to find jeans that fit me, I went to the department store attached to the movie theater we frequent and actually found some that are close enough! I was about to give up and ask someone back in North America to just buy me some Wranglers and ship them; I've looked and looked, but hadn't found any that didn't have flowery stitching or "FUBU" or "Ask Enquired" writ large in swirly English letters across the ass, and that also were both big enough in the waist and short enough in the legs to fit. I finally did. (LEVI'S!) They fit fine, as long as I don't want to breathe and don't mind wearing platform shoes. I've already breathed many times during my life, so they'll do.

By the way, it's good to be able to ask (in Korean) "Men's jeans you have?" and be pointed to the correct floor. I even used the correct syntax.

I was waited on by a jolly middle-aged Korean woman; to try them on, I had to go behind the counter, which sits right out in the middle of the store, let her pull a curtain around me, and change really fast, as she wasn't all that patient before deciding I'd had enough time and she should open the curtain. (Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!) Then, after running my Visa, she motioned that I had to follow her up a floor on the escalator. Why? Credit card declined? Jeans warranty? Complimentary snapshot from behind the curtain? No; she picked up a scratch-off card and scratched it off for my magnificent surprise prize: a small tube of Vaseline hand lotion. Can't use it; I need some take-years-off-the-face lotion. Oil of Oy Vey, perhaps.

On this trip downtown, I also found a book I've been looking for ("Inkheart"; really liked the movie) and got Kyobo Books to order me a copy of the nationwide events magazine (in English) I've been looking for for months. And I see there's an exhibit in town: etchings and engravings by Picasso, Warhol, Matisse, and others I should know more about. Now I just have to figure out where the dang building is. Oh, and Luke gave me a half-dozen cans of tuna for the cats.

All in all, a pretty good Wednesday, though Hump Day has not thus far lived up to the promise that term implies...

Sorry. I'm so ashamed.

What's eating you?

I had somewhere between twelve and seventeen cats in the States over the last quarter-century, depending on what the meaning of "had" is, and none on them did what my two vocal locals do. Tug and Tiki both like being petted, of course, but they both very quickly start gnawing on my hands every time I scritch their heads. It never hurts, they're very gentle (and, for what it's worth, neither has ever scratched me in the three months I've had them), but they both just love chewing on me. Ironically, Tug just gnaws, but Tiki tugs my hand to his mouth, using both paws, somewhat like grasping an ear of corn(man).

So... what up with that? Anybody reading this ever have a cat that continually chews on you?

Is it just a family thing, or have I happened upon another curious Korean custom?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Turning Japanese? I don't think so.

The Koreans began their uprising against Japanese occupation exactly 90 years ago Sunday, and March 1 is a national holiday. I came across a celebration downtown.

Korea rose up against its imperialist overlords, and all I got was this crummy t-shirt.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Halfway home and we'll be there by morning

...this post's title is from "City of New Orleans". I'm not going "through the Mississippi darkness rolling down to the sea", nor do I expect to come back to the States in September, but today marks exactly halfway through my one-year contract at LIKE, and I love a good blog entry title.

Next year is up in the air. The principal of the school in Seoul says they will have an opening and he's interested in hiring me (although he's not guaranteeing anything). There was a bit of a mixup, in that they've bought a new facility outside the city and will be splitting their operations, and the principal inferred that I'd said I would only agree to teach in the original location. But I've straightened that out (I think) and I hope to get an offer from them by spring. Staying at LIKE is a possibility, but they'd have to inflate my pay quite a bit. There are a thousand other options out there as well; there are always parents who are desperate for their kids to get into a top university, and they need English.

Yesterday, as I was on my way to my last entry level Korean class, somehow I knew that I'd give them the money for the next set of classes, and that I'd regret it. (I also would have regretted it had I not, of course.) When I got to the YMCA, I asked EJ Koo, the program director, if she knew of any cellphone stores where they spoke good English. She said no, but she or a teacher would be glad to go with me, and in a fit of puppylike gratitude, I signed up for the next level of classes, and of course then I was totally bewildered during the class; we were just going over Chinese-derived numbers, which are used for money, room numbers, bus numbers, and so on, as opposed to Korean numbers, which are used for counting and such, which we'd covered last week, and the teacher goes too fast and her English isn't really good, and I got lost and got my back up and my brain shut down, as it always does when I find something hard to learn, especially when that fact is obvious to other people, and oh my God this is a long sentence.

And then we had a wrap party, at which the teachers had one student from each class level speak to the group (which consisted of students from all four levels) in Korean, and I have no idea why they picked me to represent the newbies. It may be because I'd just signed up for the next set of classes, which many hadn't; it certainly wasn't because I was the star pupil. Anyway, I said just about every sentence I knew, something like "Hello. I'm not Korean. I'm American. Thank you." It seems as if every sentence in Korean ends in a four-syllable word that ends in "eyo" or "nida" and all the similar words run together, and it frustrates and embarrasses me to get them so mixed up. But I guess if I'm going to be here awhile, I ought to keep trying.

...so what have I learned in my half-a-stint here? I'm pretty content living alone, but I need somebody to care when I come home, and Tug and Tiki (who themselves marked their quarter-anniversary with me by festively napping) are my anchors. I can say "yes" to a lot of things I would always have said "no" to in the past. It's bearable to be functionally pretty much illiterate, as long as your complexion says, "I'm not an idiot; I'm a foreigner." I can make friends (eventually) with interesting people. My sense of humor travels pretty well, either verbally with the most advanced students or slapstically (shut up, I say it's a word) with the little kids.

And mostly I've learned that I'm going to be okay. That was worth flying 10,000 miles to learn.