Sunday, 9 December 2012

Up too late...

Found another old post that just never got finished...this is from when I was stranded and job-less in Wisconsin in 2010:

I definitely should be sleeping, but so far the phone has rung from Korea about 4 separate times - only one of which was pre-arranged - so I feel a little like this is part of my current job. My current job being job-hunting of course. I have a spreadsheet and everything - never let it be said that I do this stuff half-arsed. Oh, and an interview might (note the cruelty of that 'might') be scheduled for 7am tomorrow. Good times.

So, America. This is what I've been meaning to write about. I have now been in the US for much longer than any time since I was 9 years old. My accent has totally changed: an interviewer today told me I have 'no trace of a British accent'. This was more than a little disturbing. But I like it here. I like it a lot better than I ever thought I did. I mean I wasn't totally self-loathing about being American before, but I feel more comfortable with it now than I can remember. Obviously as a little kid I really was just American - I knew I was 'half-English' but I knew it in the way I knew that my favorite color was purple.

I think my favorite thing about American culture is the willingness and energy put into trying to improve. Misguided though some of these attempts are (ahem... Tea Party) there's an awful lot to be said for trying. I also hadn't realised how much there is to life here beyond what you see in movies and tv. Shameful for an American I know, but I've been seeing the country in 2 week bites for over a decade now - and most of those 'bites' have been confined to small-town Wisconsin. It isn't all Wal-Mart for sure. And honestly I do not understand why Americans think they aren't friendly. I've been told this by a few extremely friendly people, and I really think they need to visit the UK to see what 'not friendly' looks like. I mean really - I knew the Midwest was known for it, but there seems to be an epidemic of people who like to chat to other people. Nice ones who want to say nice things at that. No wonder people started tipping service staff here.
I've been meaning to write about how it feels to live in America after almost 20 years. Everything I wrote before still applies: I'm still learning about things that aren't on tv and movies, and I still have "no trace of a British accent" most of the time (which makes it more confusing when I get idioms wrong - like saying 'done in one' instead of 'one and done'). There are some things I don't love (fast food chains and the healthcare system come to mind), but it's really interesting to live here after so long in other places. And I'm always surprised by how much I fit in: everyone I know is very accepting of my 'outsider status' - even if I eat weird food :)

A weekend in the country

I wasn't thrilled when I heard that Lacey and I would be on Caitlyn Duty this weekend. It wasn't the Caitlyn part - she's a delight - but the being stuck out in the country part. And honestly I'm not good with 'obligations'. I still pout like a four-year-old when asked to do things I didn't choose to do. And I chose to live downtown. Near bars and coffee shops. With a kitchen full of dairy-free goodies. So packing up two days worth of food and having no option to go out felt like a lost weekend. I'm not proud of this feeling. It's not one of my finer traits, this always wanting my own way thing.

And in this case I was being even more daft than usual. Because my usual Saturday involves making bread, wearing pajamas, opening 4,000 tabs on the internet and watching lame tv shows. And today? Only differences are some laundry, feeding the chickens, and slightly better tv choices (Caitlyn's taste is better than mine).

This got me thinking about an old epiphany of mine: It's Better To Buy Stuff For Each Other Than To Only Pay For Your Own Stuff. (I was at uni. I was obviously talking about buying drinks at the pub.) You end up spending the same amount as you would if you split every check, but you build a web of obligations - and that web is cozy. It gets cozier when you're doing more than just buying each other 50p shots of vodka. And especially when the people in your web appreciate the things you do - and I've managed to land myself a whole new family with a giant web. It's a little cozier than I'm used to, but it's super warm in here.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Home at last. Kind of.

I had a lot of quiet time on the train from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, hence the sudden flurry of posting!

Lacey and I started planning our post-Korea life soon after my arrival in Busan last winter. It was clear from the beginning of the year that Korea wasn't going to offer the life we wanted, so to help keep ourselves sane, we daydreamed about our end-of-contract trip, and where we would live 'one day'. We did a lot of research, and found a lot of dead-ends, and we finally decided on two months in South East Asia, and then settling, for a year or so at least, in the U.S. (The cat made it rather too difficult to include a stop in the U.K., but a cat that can do forward rolls is worth keeping around, so she's forgiven.)

So here we are, a month into our 'return' to the good ole U.S. of A. Obviously it is less of a 'return' for me: I haven't actually lived here since I was 9 years old. I don't have a driver's license, a credit rating, or a mobile phone, but I do have an American accent (we can all thank my school's strict policy on American English for that one.) This last one is probably the one that causes me the most consternation. Because I look and sound, and indeed am American, my 'foreignness' is in many ways stranger than it was in Korea. In Asia, I knew where I fit: it was clear that I was a foreigner, and if I couldn't count out my money at the till, no-one found it strange.

I'm sure all this is much more awkward for me than anyone I encounter: I can, mostly, speak the local language and know the basic customs after all. I guess it's just a case of getting used to not being strange anymore. In Korea, your 'foreigner card' allows certain freedoms, because society already has you pegged as an outsider. And after two years of that, being 'normal' is actually kind of weird.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Oh kindie

I love teaching kindergarten. Just love it. I get why other people don't – it's noisy and they cry and they're messy and they don't listen and lord knows someone's not going to make it to the bathroom in time at least once in a while. And in Korea, it means an early morning schedule too. I definitely get the downsides. But man, teaching kindie is awesome. They will laugh at your tired,corny old jokes like you're the Eddie Izzard of teaching – and once you find a joke they like, you can just reuse it everyday. They'll watch the most boring phonics videos, and absorb all that new stuff - just because it was in a song. They'll have chats in the bathroom about who is a princess and who is a a fairy. And some of them give you hugs in between driving you nuts.

Watching Christmas videos is serious business.
So even though I hated the 'job' parts of my last job, I still miss the teaching parts. And that made my last day more than a little bittersweet. It started with a lot of stress: Lacey and I ended up having to move all our worldly possessions to the school for the day. But my boss managed to rein in her natural awfulness, and didn't kick up a fuss about that (or my lateness...) And the kids were so thrilled about their moms coming to school, and not having normal classes, that they actually behaved themselves. Of course they looked adorable in their costumes, and of course the Korean teachers made the library look great, and of course nothing quite went to plan. But aside from a few tears, and scratched off face-paint, they pulled off a good show: the songs all got sung, the letters to Santa got read and the big kids remembered all the words to their play.

The moms all stayed to have lunch with their kids, and the atmosphere was about as relaxed as I'd ever known it to be. Maybe that was just the buzz from it being my last day... I managed not to cry in front of anybody, but when Andy (the monster) walked up to me and said 'Don't go home', well, that was a tough one. After lunch, I got a bunch of cards that other teachers had made with the kids and tons of photos to keep. I never get around to making stuff like that so I really appreciate having those. Lacey was even allowed to stick around to take photos (the boss must've been feeling especially festive!)

Who knew the monster would turn out so cute?

After our trip around South East Asia, we went back to Busan for a few days, and happened to be in the area one day when the kindergarteners were leaving school. I was a little nervous that they wouldn't remember me, or care about seeing their old teacher, but it ended up being kind of nice that they weren't that bothered about me anymore. I still got a hug from Isabelle, and, like all 6 year olds, they were all jazzed about showing someone their latest crafts, but they'd already moved on, just as they should.

Hiking, K-style

So I started spring-cleaning the computer, and found a few old posts that never got finished. This one is from two years ago(!) and I really don't know why I didn't just post it at the time....

Walking along an exposed ridge in unseasonably cold and wet weather, rain briefly turning into hail, while mist alternately covers and reveals the surrounding mountains. A rainbow briefly appears when the sun comes out, and the path gradually turns into a muddy bog. The summit is marked with a stone monolith, but the weather is only conducive to a short break for water and a quick snack. And no other hikers seen until we reach the bus. A familiar scene indeed to anyone who's gone for a walk in the Scottish hills. But this was Korea – a country with sunshine! And good paths! And hikers on every hill!

I haven't done as much hiking in Korea as I should have, but enough to have begun to understand the differences between Korean hiking and Scottish hillwalking.

Probably the most striking difference is the wilderness, or lack of it. While there are some very popular hills, and routes, in Scotland, there isn't nearly the same density of people that you find on Korean hills. Koreans absolutely LOVE to hike, and they love to hike in groups. You don't to go hiking to feel close to nature, or to be alone, it's a hobby. And like all Korean hobbies, it's a group activity. Paths are large and well marked, making maps largely unnecessary, there are benches, pagodas for picnics, even clocks tied to trees. When the going gets too steep, there are staircases on the more popular paths – and I don't mean stones built into the hill, but fully-formed metal staircases with handrails. Every time I see one of these giant paths, I remember complaints about 'motorways' going up the more popular Munros back in Scotland. The equivalent here is more like an airport runway.

Gear is another big difference. I'm certainly not above lusting after the latest kit, especially when it comes to rock-climbing, but Koreans take the love for gear to a new level. In general, people here like to be properly attired for whatever activity they're engaged in – and the mountains are no exception. At home, the outdoors shops usually sell everything for camping, trekking, climbing – anything you do in the outdoors. In Daegu, theere are plenty of stores for hiking, but they really just sell the clothes – no gadgets, no tents, no toys.

The basic uniform is: hat or visor, colorful neck scarf, pink or purple hiking jacket and shirt, black hiking trousers, brightly colored trekking shoes or boots, walking stick and a small bag or specially designed belt for carrying your water bottle. There is very little variation on this – overall the effect is very colorful, but I've only seen one or two pairs of trousers that weren't black. And it's worth noting that none of the above clothing is ever worn for any other purpose. If you're wearing the clothes, you are hiking. In Scotland, we used to say 'all the gear, no idea' when we saw climbers or walkers with a ton of brand-new kit – in Korea, the newer and shinier the kit, the better. Nothing ever looks beat up, or even very well used.

I'm sure I intended to finish this post with loads of profound and insightful cultural observations... let's just go ahead and pretend that's what I did. I never did end up spending much time on Korean mountains. The gaudy outfits were entertaining, and the scenery was often pleasant, but I was just too curmudgeonly to get into K-style hiking. That said, even I can enjoy a sunny afternoon wandering around local hills with friends and a bottle of makkeoli!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Oh dots!

Another testing day, another bunch of hilarious essays.  Sanah, recently returned to Korea from Texas, has quite the way with exclamations, which are often reminiscent of old-timey folks at church.  Here's her essay on what she would buy if she got a lot of money and had to spend it on someone else"
I want to give a Rilakuma sharpener with a card on it to Ginny.  I want to give her because I can't see her very much.  And she is very, very, so, so nice.  I love her too.  I hope she likes it!  But how will I get lots of money? I wouldn't suddenly have so much! (The money) I wish she says "Thank you".  I think she will be really happy. What if she hates it?
I want to invite Ginny to Christmas. That way I can say "Merry Christmas!" But I don't think I will see her for a lo~~ng time! Oh dots! Looking at my pencil makes me think doty. The end.
And here's a cute one from Ariel.  Ariel is generally a pain in the butt, and probably the only kid in the entire class that I don't wish I could steal.  She can be downright mean to the other girls, and despite endless correction, she constantly interrupts people.  But even I can see that this shows her cute side:
I will buy my mother a present because my mother bought me many things but I didn't have money to do something for my mother.  To buy [for] me, my mom save money what she had so she couldn't buy what she want.  She wanted some bags and earings so I will buy my mother many pretty bags and cute earings.  I will buy her a dress and rings.  My mother caught a cold so I think I will buy a soft blanket and pillows.  Then my mother will be thankful for me and most of all she will think I am a nice, kind and pretty girl just for her and love me more than now. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Imagine that your pet can talk to you!

Today is Level Test day.  Pretty much the most boring day.  We watch the kids take tests for almost every single class, and since the classrooms have podiums rather than desks for the teachers, I've been standing still for somewhere around two hours.  It reminds me of working afternoon shifts in pubs - guess I'm not quite as far away from the 'service industry' as I like to think!

Anyway, the silver lining is grading some hilarious stories from the writing part of the test.  Including this liittle gem from Heidi.  Heidi is (obviously) super smart, and she's so pale I was concerned at first that her mom had started her on whitening creams early. She has since said she hates to sit under the parasol at the beach, so perhaps her mother is just very careful with her.  She always has something to tell me at the beginning of class, and usually starts by saying 'I have one good news and one bad news.'  The good news items usually involve small gifts from friends, or an upcoming party, while bad news is often about a naughty boy at school or a test.  Whatever the news, it is always delivered carefully and with great seriousness.

My pet is an cat named Cutie.  She can talk!  When I went to a park, she said "Oh my! That cat is so handsom!"
I said "Yes, but we have to go!" She said "But he is to handsom! Lets go to him!" She pulled her neckelis. She was to strong!
I shouted, "Ahhhhh!!".  I fell down.  She ran to the handsom cat.  she said "Hellow, my name is Cutie. Who are you?"
"My name is Lano."
"Oh, Lano, lets go to  our house." He shouted, "No I already have an girlfriend!"
The cat ran away. Cutie cried, "He ran away from me!"
I said "It's alright. cutie he said he already has a girlfreind.  Our next door, there is an kind and handsome cat."
She said "Really? Then lets go!" Our next door cat is Looloo. Cutie said "Hello, Looloo?"
"Hi Cutie. I love you." And they hapily lived over.

I've been planning for a while now to write about some non-student related topics, but the second season of Downton Abbey only just finished.  Plus there are a lot of other shows out there that require my attention in the evening.  Plus I generally have about 2 brain cells left by the end of the day. Plus I am an gold-medal-winning Procrastinator.