Friday, November 27, 2009

A Thanksgiving Miracle and a Thanksgiving Tragedy

Today started out pretty great. I woke up early for work so that I could spend as much time via computer with David and my family. I had a really fun time video chatting with everyone...although it was at bit confusing to have ten people trying to talk to me at once.

Once at school, the excitement was infectious...On the last Friday of every month the school holds a birthday party for all the students who have had a birthday during the month. See, in South Korea, children's birthdays are a HUGE deal. Take American Birthdays and multiply by a million. Thats a south Korean birthday. The children can do whatever the heck they want and they are presented to a large gathering and sat down behind a table that is piled with food and presents.

For the first three hours of school, classes went off as usual. We were told to keep the children in the classroom over the breaks because the secretaries and the director Kiana were setting up the previously mentioned food-slash-present table. Imagine my surprise and soul watering(eh David?) joy when I walked up to the table and encountered what could only have been a manifestation of all of my dreams.

...Turkeys. Two of them. Golden Brown and dripping with juices. A Ham with Crusty Brown Sugar. Mashed Red potatoes, sweet corn, stuffing, candied yams, and cranberry top it all off and flanking a huge chocolate cake were two pumpkin pies.

See, the parents of our children are wealthy. Thats probably putting it lightly, but they like to do things for the school. As a surprise, Eugene's mom ( you can find him in the pictures I took at school last week) brought all of this food which she cooked herself for the birthday party. See, Eugene's mom works at the Military base in Pyeongtaek and she wanted the students to experience a real live American Thanksgiving dinner. I can't tell you how many times I thanked her. Since being here I have never stuffed myself. I come away from lunch and dinner satisfied, but never full. I can check that off my list now. I all-out stuffed myself silly...and when I thought that I couldn't take any more - I went back for thirds. The tryptophan coma that I was in during the last three hours of work were totally worth it.

My director knew how blissfully happy I was and she sweetly pushed like four bags of leftover turkey and ham into my hands. My roommate was almost as happy as me. I mixed up some of the turkey, mashed potatoes, garlic, some rice and broccoli in the frying pan for a wicked good casserole type dinner tonight.

But all is not sunshine, turkey, and lollipops. When I got out of my last class today I was pulled into Kiana's office. To make a long story short, one of the three other American teachers quit today. This does two things. . . one: it forces the other two teachers and myself to pick up her classes...and two: while it makes class sizes larger, it might just help the school financially. I really don't know what to do anymore. I feel like I have adjusted to South Korea in every way but the school! I was really enjoying the children that I taught, and felt like I was going to run my classroom in a way that really made me proud. Now I find out that I will be switched to this other teacher's classroom/students. And while these students are of a higher ability, I think i will sort of miss my kids. Especially jenny. One way or the other - I really hope that all of these messes settle down and that I am finally allowed to meld with the school. If this keeps up, I don't think I can connect with anyone...Every day on my way to work I wonder if something else will change, if I will finally be able to teach like I dreamed when I was back in the states. I don't like feeling that going to work is a source of stress for me.

Anyway. Its the weekend. I have turkey. And so I will find some way to manage - as always. Hey, I'm a Wilborn...I come from pretty strong stock.

I love you, I miss you.


Oh Hey! If you want to see pictures from the birthday party and the children who used to be in my class, check out facebook.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Korean Thanksgiving

Well, being that its Thanksgiving and all, I feel an entry about food and smells are in order.

Lets see...If I were in Kansas right now I would be curled up on the old sofa in the living room of mom and dad's house, being warmed by the fire in the fireplace, and stuffing my face with goat cheese mashed potatoes, turkey, mom's sweet potato casserole, green beans, and apple pie. . . . . well, actually, being that its six o'clock in the morning in Kansas, I would probably be snuggled up in my bed.

Today however, I woke up as usual at 7:30 am, ate some frosted flakes with some delicious whole milk, went to work at 9:30, had kimchi soup, rice with black beans, and hard boiled eggs in some sort of brown sauce for lunch, got off at 4:00, went for a run, went to the grocery store and now here I sit...on the heated floor of my apartment watching Heros episodes, eating the chocolates that I brought from home alongside Korean waffle wafers and glass number two of a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.......

Hey, it may be different, but don't knock it till you try it. All I need is my family and my friends sitting here alongside me and I would be good to go. Geeze, there are a ton of commas in that run on sentence. I feel no remorse. Deal with it.

Hang on, I just finished glass number two...

So I guess...I should talk about the smells now. Well, they range from phenomenal to gut-wrenchingly awful. From spicy and exotic to month old baby diaper. The variation is just amazing. On the wonderful side would be the maddening smell of cooking fish and fresh vegetables in the various soups we have every day for lunch at the school. On my walk to my bus stop after work every day I can smell bulgogi (barbecued beef dish) and Bibimbap (a popular rice, vegetable, and egg dish) coming from the restaurant across the street and "fish cakes" (a molded and fried fish shaped pastry filled with a sweetened black bean paste) being sold by in little stands by vendors on the side of the streets. Three for a thousand Korean Won (or one dollar). You can't beat that. On the terrible side would be the smell of rotting vegetables. For a country that is so obsessed with recycling, the smell of the compost that they save permeates the city like their fear of the swine flu virus. The city is just too compact to handle all of the smells in one place. When I am running along the Tongbok river, about two miles outside of the city, not only do I smell those vegetables, but I hit the smell of a dairy factory. Mmmmm...manure. Imagine that while running. Also, do you know how when you run/work out, you sort of burp a little? Does that sound gross? I just mean that my body is being jostled a lot by running and I end up burping a little bit during the first part of my run....when I was living in the states I was burping the taste of pasta or the banana I always ate pre-run. Here - well its fish-in-red-sauce-taste or spicy kimchi taste. Yummy. I like a lot of Korean food going down - not so much coming up.

okay, okay. I know I am getting gross, and I should stop now. I will leave you all with one more random fact.

Large bath towels. Koreans don't have them. My roommate told me where I would be able to find one at the huge supermarket in town where they cater to the Americans who live on the military base but I had the choice between green and blue. Two options. Seriously. I asked my director at the school why this was, and she explained that Korean people think that smaller hand towels are easier to wash. So they dry with them.... until my shower tonight I have been drying off with a towel that is the slightly larger than a dishtowel. I can't wait to break this bad boy in.

Happy Thanksgiving! If you can figure out a way to send me a piece of pie, please do so.
I love you all, I miss you all.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

What do you mean I have only been here a week?

Today marks the 7th day that I have been in Korea. Almost to the hour, actually. Things continue to improve here - except, of course, for missing David. Honestly, I don't think that will ever get any better....but it is so hard to believe that it has only been 7 days; it feels like I have been through a lifetimes worth of emotions during my brief stay.

So here's an update on the school. Kiana (the school's director) is staying. Today was supposed to be her last day but Ryan ( the school's owner ) came to the school and begged her to stay at least until the end of the school year. All of the teachers are pleased to have her continue on - especially me. She really is great. In order to celebrate her staying, as well as celebrate my new position, all of the teachers and Kiana went out for dinner at a nice little sit-down on the floor restaurant across the street of the school. Kiana surprised us with a bottle of apricot champagne and Korean cheesecake (its a lot more cake-y and less custard-y than American cheesecake) We all had a really great time - I kept trying to speak in Korean and with the exception of one silly mistake I was told that I have a good ear for the language.

I went grocery shopping the other day. This time, not at the tiny little grocery store across the parking lot from my apartment complex, but at "E-Mart" which is like Korea's answer to Super Wal Mart. Man, they sell almost everything there: squid, dried octopus, even live baby rabbits which I was about five seconds from buying. The few things that I could NOT buy, are the things that I want more than anything else in this world. . . . sour cream, good cheese, basically anything dairy. Man, i miss Goat Cheese....really, I miss any sort of cheese. American slices are considered the "good stuff". Also, Broccoli here is worth it's weight in gold. One head cost me 2,000 won or 2 American dollars. Yogurt here is thinner and a little bit more sour which is a little strange to consume on its own, but you throw in some Korean Frosted Flakes and "they'rrrrrrrrrre great!" Milk, and maybe this is just the milk i have consumed so far, but the milk here is what i would have to describe as being a little on the thick side. Not gelatinous or gloppy or anything, but somewhere along the consistency of buttermilk. I know that sounds gross, and it took some getting used to, but now YUM! I am assuming that the milk is probably WHOLE in ways that Americans with all their fat concerns are not used to drinking so I am really only having it over my cereal. I did find Skippy peanut butter there, which was exciting, until I realized that the small jar cost 6,500 won ($6.50). The part of me that is my dad said "are you freaking kidding me? You don't need peanut butter that badley" and then the part of me that is me and misses home said "get over yourself and buy the peanut butter if it makes korea feel a smidge more like home" So i bought it along with expensive strawberry jelly, made myself a sandwich, ate it, and it was totally worth it.

You know what else i miss? Dryers. I did my laundry today, and may I just say that I miss the ease and comfort in which I used to do my laundry? I used to hate having to go down into the cold basement at home to wash my clothes. HA. Silly, spoiled Anne. In Korea washing machines are out on the back balcony.... where it is cold...because it is the middle of November . So in order to do laundry here, I have to put on my winter coat. Once the wash cycle is complete my job has just begun because see, there are no such things as dryers here. People hang their clothes to dry on hangers installed on, you guessed it, the balcony. Where it is cold. So clothes can take forever to get dry....oh how i miss the feeling of my sweaters all fluffy and hot from the dryer. If you really loved me, you would ship me a dryer.

I went running for the first time on Friday. I knew there was a river (the Tongbok river) nearby and that it had a trail, so I set out after work to see how far it would go. Presently Pyeongtaek is under a Rejuvenation of is the home of a US military base and in 2005 they began the renovation. The Tongbok river is the most current of these projects and so while the ending result will be gorgeous, right now it is a mess of bulldozers and dirt piles. They kept the river walk open during construction and there are always a few people on it, not runners though, just a lot of speed walkers. I don't know a lot about what has been in the food that I have been eating here, but there must be some kind of magic bean sprout because I hadn't run in a full week, and I had an amazing run. This could have something to do with the fact that my ipod had randomly shuffled to songs like Journey's "Don't stop Believin" and Wilson Phillips' "Hold On," that I was running towards a sunset over the Korean land, or it could be that all the people on the river walk were staring at me as I was gliding over the asphalt.

Here's something cool: Koreans don't use keys. I could be making a generalization, but from what I have seen, everyone has electronic key pads for locks on their doors. Once I learned the combination this made my life so much easier. Going for a run without being tied to a key (literally) has been awesome.

I have some apologies to a lot of my friends and family members. Many of you have been wonderful to me and graced me with special notes, gifts, or deeds as I prepared to go to Korea. I never wrote you thank-you notes. See, I really wanted to wait until I got to Korea so that I could send you a Korean thank-you card with the Korean symbols for "thank you" but I have looked in countless stationary shops to no avail. I have asked my Korean friends, and they all say that there is no such thing. Interestingly enough, Koreans think that English writing on American thank-you cards look more elegant and thus - no Korean cards. So, I promise that eventually I will find some or make some....your notes are just a little delayed at the moment.

To sum everything up: Korea is really interesting. I am really starting to adjust and things are getting so much easier. I am fascinated by this culture and to be honest, I am impressed with the idea that I might one day consider myself to be apart of it. I love you all.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

And it begins.

Well my friends, be VERY glad that I resisted the urge to blog about my first few days in South Korea. For the sake of catching everyone up and not wanting to forget any of my experiences, let me say that they were a rough few days.

It was hard enough leaving mom, dad, sibs, and friends. Getting out of the airport went relatively smoothly with the small exception of my driver being late and me having to hang out at the airport for about an hour. It took two hours by car to drive from Incheon airport to Pyeongtaek. My roommate (a BOY roommate - what a surprise to me) was out of town in Seoul for the weekend so I was unceremoniously plopped down into my apartment by the owner of my school, and told to be at school on Monday. The second that door closed behind him, I just about lost my mind. I tried to unpack - the light in my room was out. It was dark outside so i had just enough dim light from the hallway to find my pjs and my picture frames. I tried to plug in a electricity adaptor so I could get online and I promptly electrocuted myself. No joke, by that time i was pretty much in hysterics. I can laugh about it now. Kind of. Like I said, my roommate was out of town from the time i got in at 6:00 pm saturday until about 6:30 or so on Sunday....So I spent that time alone. In my apartment. Terrified to go out of the apartment. Not able to speak a word of Korean. oh, and hungry. I didn't want to eat any of his food without asking so i put a huge dent in my granola bar stash.

So things were bad. real bad. I just felt so out of control. I couldn't change anything or do anything for myself....i don't like feeling that way. For the longest time I couldn't, or didn't want to rather, talk to anyone from home because I would start to cry the second i saw their faces over the webcam and wouldn't stop until 20 minutes after I got off the computer. I was a Hot Buttered Moist and Red Mess for the first three days straight.

As surprised as i was to find out that i had him, my roommate seems great. His name is Chris, he's from Seattle, 23 and attractive ( I add this part for any of my single girl friends. I have already been asked for this information by several of you) He has been really helpful in showing me or telling me where to eat/shop/ catch a bus or taxi....really the only negative comment I have about him, is that he likes country music. Blugh. And he's not david. ( I couldn't help myself)

Obviously, life here is starting to take shape. I don't think my homesickness is ever going to go away, my nights are still really rough, but there is a lot to distract me during the days...and I am starting to feel like i can get around and take a little control of my life. I used the bus today for the first time. the 2-2 takes me from the school i work at to my apartment and it takes me by some really interesting parts of the city!

Ah, my school. Little Crispin school for language. There is an interesting topic. The school itself is the fourth floor of a building in a relatively nice part of town. Its hard to qualify what is "nice" in Pyeongtaek, as everything is covered in the same posters and looks a little "busy." There are only 6 very small classrooms, but it really seems cozy and eclectic with bright colors and oddly shaped rooms. The director Kiana just quit. Which is terrible, because all of the teachers, students, and parents love her...the scuttlebutt is that she doesn't agree with the tactics of Ryan ( the owner of Little Crispin and the very same guy who dropped me in my apartment with little to no information and advice.) Im pretty sad to see her go. When she found out that I was feeling so bad, she took me out during the school day to help me buy towels, show me the city, and she even bought me a "learning Korean for children" book. When she found out that I liked the Korean tangerines and the seasoned potato dish that they serve at the school she put like 10 tangerines and a bag of the potatoes in my bag. So Kiana told us that she may be around for a day, a week, a month - she really didn't know. Another kicker - is that the school may be closing. See, unlike a lot of the Hogwans ( private language schools ) Little Crispin is a really nice school. From what I have heard, many Hogwans are run by glorified slumlords who pay teachers next to nothing and squeeze in a lot of students to bump up revenue. The cost to keep little Crispin running with all their science experiments, specialized workbooks, and other activities must be ridiculous. I was actually hired to allow the school to open up another classroom and bring in more students and thus more revenue, however with Kiana gone, everything seems a little tenuous. I can tell you one thing: if this school closes I am G.O.N.E. I can see myself settling in at Little Crispin - the other teachers are so nice and the students are amazing so I could find myself happy here but I will flat out refuse to look for anther post. If I changed schools I would have to go through the visa process again, change apartments, possibly have to change cities? No. just. No. you are all filled in. thats what I know. I guess from now on I will talk about all the little things that are odd or cool here.

1. Being White. Man, I never thought of that as a point of interest....but here? I am like a freaking rock star. Kids at my apartment complex stare at me wide eyed like I am the boogey man. When I say "HI!" they back away and stammer out a "hi" back. Moms poke their little kids when they see me on the street in order to talk to me and practice their English skills. My roommate Chris told me that I would have to wear headphones if I want any peace from that. When I went grocery shopping at the grocery store across the parking lot of my apartment a worker kept following me around the store until i got to the freezer section where he obviously finally got up enough courage to ask "I hep you?" I can't wear my hair down anymore. Some children at my school asked me why my hair was "yellow." Whaaaaaaaat? Never in my American life have I been considered a blonde. I guess my hair is the lightest that they have encountered and they just want to touch it all the time!

2. The water tastes like Dis. Gust. Ing. You CAN drink it. I asked before I brushed my teeth, but it tastes really gross- sort of metallic. Fortunately, there are like five taps of fresh clean spring water in the park across from my apartment so Chris and I fill up large water bottles to keep in the fridge for drinking.

3. Eggs. Koreans don't refrigerate Eggs -I can't tell you why, but it freaked me out when I went to the store and they were just chilling (not literally) in the middle of the store near the sweet potatoes. Also, their yolks are bright orange. Not yellow, not yellow orange....ORANGE. Bordering on Brown orange. I try not to look at my plate as i eat. Oh, Quail eggs are no big deal here. You can buy them anywhere and they cost next to nothing.

4. Floor heat. I LOVE this concept. At school, i have taken to sitting on the floor while I teach. Its like this cool way to heat in a really efficient way. On this note -

5. Buildings are not heated. None. Stores, apartments, shops, and schools are heated, but only once you are inside. Its hard for me to explain, but lobbies, stairwells, elevators, and hallways are not heated. I really dislike this concept. When i walk in my apartment building I have to keep my coat on until I get into my apartment itself.

Okay, its 6:50 - I have spent over an hour on I am going to stop for now. Pardon the grammar and spelling. I just want to get this stuff out before i forget and before dinner. ( potatoes and rice )I love you all. I miss you all.