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Monday, October 30, 2006

Kids Say The Darndest Things...

Yesterday was a BIG day for me.

My boss and I travelled 45 minutes on transit to get to the Korean immigration office. Between buses, we were standing in a sunlit terminal and I had an embarrassing coughing fit: tears streaming, struggling to catch my breath, Kleenex scrunched by my bright face.

My boss looked concerned because I was to be teaching 5 classes in the span of 5 hours that evening. She insisted I see a doctor but, after hearing how much it would cost to walk in off the street, I gripped my wallet & convinced her it was only a chest cold.

As for the teaching, it went smoothly! I had nothing but a raspy voice at my disposal, but it was great. I taught various levels and gave all of my students miniature Canadian flags, bookmarks & cards which said: My New Teacher's Name is EVA! I asked them to draw the South Korean flag on the board and we had an open discussion: Canada vs. Korea.

The best chapter I taught was the 1970's one. I brought in my laptop to play a George Harrison song, along with a hippie-style shirt I happened to pack in my suitcase. When I showed them a photograph of Elton John, they asked if he was like "Jim Carrey!" ..... hmmm.

Here are a few questions asked by my Students:

1. Is Canada exciting?
2. Is everyone beautiful in Canada or are they fat? I tried to explain how many ethnicities live together in our country! Korea is so mono-cultural.
3. One student asked, "What do you think of Korean people?" When I said I hadn't been here long enough to judge, I asked what SHE thought. She said, "Korean people are angry!" I asked her if she meant the language sounds angry; Koreans always seem passionate about what they're saying... but she didn't understand.

I felt badly about taking over one class of puberty-aged girls who seemed to be in LOVE with Jacques: their former teacher. I don't blame them. I watched him teach a few times and it was like watching Mr. Holland's Opus- that cheesy inspirational teacher-movie. He's really good at making them laugh and opening the floor for interesting discussions.

I told them, "don't worry! We'll have fun, too, and Jacques will come visit you when I teach... Isn't he great?"

Well, they got mischievous smiles on their faces and said, "if you think he's so great, you should marry him!"

I explained that that wouldn't be possible because I have a boyfriend back home... They were tickled pink! They wanted to know everything! They wanted to see a photograph! They asked how long we had been dating and when I said 3 years, one firecracker piped, "you and him have the sex?" Now, imagine a pimply teenage girl in a plaid school uniform uttering the word, "sex," through a nervous smile. So funny.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Ow! Ow! Ow!

My throat is getting bad. I can barely swollow.

I was warned by my friend, Camille, that Korean schools don't recognize a teacher's illness unless you're admitted to a hospital. I get the feeling it's because Asia's strains of viruses generally ARE that much worse: remember the bird flu!!? I stopped into a few pharmacies before I found an English speaker. She handed me a box of anti-inflammatories and told me to take 6 a day. They only cost $3.00 so I doubt they're strong enough to do the job.

The principal of the school assured me it was unnecessary, but when I spoke to Josh today he was convinced I should have had shots. Entering the Korean airport, I saw an immunization booth with a man prepared to shoot the living daylights out of travelers. When I asked Jay if I should inquire, he said the shots were for "people from poor countries like Africa," whatever that meant.

In other news, I'm ready to teach tomorrow! Now all I have to do is put on a big smile and act my way out of this strept throat.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

My First Korean Friend! Yay!

His name is Jang Lim Chung, or Chung Lim Jang.

In order to communicate effectively, we have to write down what we say to each other, like the deaf. He understands my words on paper better than with inflections. Koreans' 'English names' are often their Korean names written backwards. He explained: "James Dean would be Dean James."

He is also alone- not because he's white and speaks English, like me, but because most of his friends are still training in the South Korean army. It's compulsery for all young men to join, because of the situation in North Korea. He finished his 2 year training at the end of September and has returned to work in Suwon.

I haven't been out at night, yet. We were supposed to go for dinner and Korean beer tonight, or to an American movie with Hangul subtitles, but I'm under the weather with this cold and need to prepare for my first real day of teaching tomorrow.... so we're going out next Saturday night!

It should be an experience! I said, "no night clubs," imagining glowing sticks pulsing to the beat of Korean techno music. He wrote, "I hate clubs too." Now we're getting somewhere! The funny thing is he thinks it's an honour to be my friend. He kept thanking me for agreeing to spend time with him. He exclaimed, "I am so surprised you want to be my friend!"

Video of Suwon

I have yet to purchase a digital camera so here's a video I found to tide you over.

Ach-ooo!


I was bound to get a cold, moving to the other side of the world. Luckily it doesn't feel like I'm getting the Korean flu which apparently knocks you out for a good two weeks. Most people who come down with it are hospitalized for a few days.

My throat is swollen, red and craving Vitamin C! When I went for lunch today, I brought with me the word "vegetables" translated to Hangul by a friend of mine. The waitress nodded as if she understood. I stressed, "only, only vegetables," pointing to the note, but she brought me a surprising platter of food (for a family of 20)... all at 4,000 WON, or $4.60 CA.

I got a big bowl of sticky (sticcccccckkkyyy) rice, spicy hot Kimchi soup with veggies and tofu inside, along with side plates of seaweed, clam, crab, some kind of papaya fruit, watery vegetables and egg. Koreans eat the strangest combinations, sometimes! Really though, I could FEEL my cold being cured as I slurped down the spicy soup.

Do I like the food? Not yet. It has a distinct taste... maybe eventually.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Arg. Superficiality.


Josh recently e-mailed me an ad posted on a Korean site: American Male Model willing to tutor English in his off time- like his being a male model has ANYTHING to do with his credibility as a teacher! As Josh said: "Dork." Sadly, the guy will likely get a stampede of interest from Korean parents.

Everyone I meet at the school gives me the standard Korean greeting: a compliment refering to appearance. It isn't just because I'm white- and, let me tell you, that is "special" considering I haven't seen a SINGLE non-Asian on the street since I arrived, Monday. Not a one. People stare and stare hard.

40% of Korean women get plastic surgery. A student I taught between 9 & 10, tonight, showed me her contacts. She's about 14 years old but looks like a child. I asked her if she needed glasses. No. The contacts are colored black and give the apprearance of bigger Irises. She told me, "big black eyes make a beautiful face." She also worried she ate too much today and would get fat.

It's usual for Korean parents to reward their children with plastic surgery. All young Korean girls seem to want eyelid enlargements: the most common practice.

When I went to Home Plus today, I stopped into a department store selling clothes and cosmetics. Imported American (fashion) goods sell for 3 times the price. On the plane, when I was flipping through the duty free catalogue, Jay wasn't surprised that a tube of Clinique lipstick sold for a whopping $85. You can buy the same thing in Canada for less than $20.

On the street, there are a suspicious number of perfect women; skinny, long shiny hair, tiny stilettos... and they all seem to be rattling keys in their hand on their way to a lavish car.
Even the vehicles look the same! Factory made cars in Korea only come in 3 colors: grey, white and black. If you want a colored version, you have to order it for a hefty fee.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"Home Plus"


I'm surprised at how quickly I'm settling into Asia. The transition hasn't been bad at all! I've only been sleeping about 6 hours per night, which probably isn't enough to combat jet lag, but I feel well rested.

It's Friday morning in Suwon. I'm guilty of stopping into a Dunkin' Donuts earlier. I just couldn't resist a taste of America! "Cream cheese" is odd here, like a liquid. The server looked at me like I was from the moon when I asked for butter on the bagel. ("Butter??") And yes, she understood English.

I took advantage of her RARE skill, and asked her where I could find a grocery store. Not pigs hanging from their feet, not slippery pink chickens for sale, not big jars of peppered cabbage or raw fish all sold from markets, but, "like a... shopping mall."

She took my map and pointed out where we were. I had no idea! Suwon is a large city of a million people and although it's CALLED a fortress town, only about 1/20th of the city is inside the famous walls. No wonder I couldn't find the fortress I was "surrounded by" when I went exploring.

She directed me to a place called, "Home Plus" where I'll be able to find everything I need: laundry detergent, a hammer and nails, a lamp, dish soap etc... Not only that but a wide array of fruits and vegetables! I haven't seen any for sale since I got here, other than tangerines sold out of a man's truck. I bought a box at night for 3,000 WON (about $3.45 Can.)


Teaching is going to be both fun and challenging. The only other foreign teachers are these big burly guys around my age... maybe a little older. They constantly work out at a gym. They talk about Bon Jovi, motorcycles and extreme sports.

Anyone who knows me know they aren't my "type" but they're nice enough and funny. They're white but grew up together in South Africa. Apparently when they went out last weekend, an incident with a cab driver had them locked in a Korean jail cell for a night. The cab driver wanted more than the said fare & they refused to pay.

I'm taking over a lot of their classes on Monday so I got to co-teach with them yesterday.
Even the older students' English comprehension is very low. The phonics classes should prove most challenging because the small children have never even heard English before. A letter from the English alphabet looks like an obscure shape. Lots of singing, miming and dancing will be needed on my part!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Arrived in Korea Last Night



I'm here! The sun is shining brightly. It's a smoggy bright; kind of dull. I'm wearing a light shirt and still I'm too warm.

I just came back from a long walk around Suwon, after dining with co-workers. My boss and the others were a joy to lunch with. I said I'd try anything but prefered vegetarian so they ordered a massive vegetarian platter of Kim-Chi, sticky rice etc. We sipped water and talked about the school, hiking, the differences between our cultures. My boss even offered to teach me some Hangul! He's a short man around 35 who's always joking.

We made a stop at the school and the director of foreign students showed me my classroom. I teach several classes but all in the same room. Our private campus is on the 5th 6th and 7th floors of a highrise building and everything is new as of September. It's actually really classy!

Lots of glass windows let in light, there's a sophisticated reception desk and bright colors everywhere. My classroom has 12 desks lined up, windows, a big whiteboard and is modern in style. I took a quick look at the (simplistic) textbooks while I waited for my boss to get me a map of Suwon. I'm the conversational teacher.

I return to the school today at 5:30 for training. During my walk, to put in time this afternoon, I was in awe of the tangled streets with colorful shops, highrises (the land is costly in Korea), small markets selling anything from hair accessories to worms to seafood and dog meat.

Searching for a bathroom, I ended up in a large, private elementary school. The restroom was filled with giggling girls who asked me if they could touch my hair when I came out of the stall. They were actually waiting for me to come out! I've noticed the bathrooms rarely have toilet paper, soap or towels here. Luckily, I carry around a package of Kleenex!

The plane ride was long but I was seated beside a Korean man named Jay who was willing to discuss Korean culture all 12 hours (from Vancouver to Seoul). He watched me fade throughout the ride. I was awake for 20-some hours straight and had was almost too exhausted to carry my baggage at the end of the flight. I hadn't slept the night before.

Jay was shocked no one from the school offered to meet me at the airport. He helped me with immigration, money exchange, baggage pick-up and finding out where the limo bus was to Suwon. When I was dropped off at the Castle Hotel (in Suwon), I waited for 2 hours before I decided no one was coming to pick me up and I had better call the school and remind them. A bell boy made the call for me and 20 minutes later my boss rolled in with his car.

On the bus ride to Suwon, I saw so many curious things: a barn overflowing with naked manniquans, trucks full of live chickens in cages, some sort of rural ostridge race through a man made pond. The buildings are huge, marked by gigantic numbers, and often decorated in an Asian-style cartoon. The rural land from Seoul to Suwon is extremely industrial and unattractive. There are mountains but they're squat and unimpressive.

My apartment is surprisingly nice! It seems to have been newly rennovated. When I was tired last night, I actually walked into the glass doors seperating the kitchen and bedroom! I'm sure I said a few choice words!

There is a working television but their entertainment is so different than ours, with actors breaking out in song and dance and contorting their faces with expression. The only English channel I found was playing Pulp Fiction with Hangul subtitles. I'm a fan of the movie but it's a little dark for someone experiencing severe culture shock!

The small things are proving difficult. For instance, I showed up at this internet cafe and tried to tell the receptionist that I wanted to pay for one hour. 10 minutes later, after even using my finger to demonstrate one hour on the clock, I had to take to the streets and ask people to translate "one hour" to Hangul. I targeted the younger generation who are more likely to know a little English but it was 16 people later that I found my guy! He laughed at the ease of the question and jotted down Korean script into my notebook. I thanked him and ran back here to the cafe to point to the information. She took my WONS and ushered me to a computer.

At my apartment this morning, I had difficulty figuring out where the "shower" was because there are 3 taps up high in different parts of the apartment. A shower in Korea means a half-foot drop in the cement or tile floor. I thought maybe the shower was the floor of the laundry room or the nozzle in the kitchen... but eventually discovered it was indeed the shower head beside the bathroom mirror. Water falls on the floor next to the sink and toilet!

I had to laugh because in Canada Mom scolded me for dripping all over the floor, after a shower, and here my sink and toilet were immersed in several inches of water as I showered!!! I'm not sure how hygenic that is. Everytime I walk into the bathroom, I'm walking on the shower floor.. and my own filth. I'll have to wash it every day or so.

I will write soon but should do a bit of grocery shopping and stop home quickly before I start training at the school around 5:30PM. After the lunch and encounters with people on the street, I'm feeling more settled. My heart has stopped racing!

I live in the hub of downtown. My windows have bars, I have a security system and 3 locks on my door.

Already I miss everyone at home. : )

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Swapping Countries

Hwan: "Hey Eva, did you know the REASON Koreans don't sleep on beds is that the floor is the heat source? The hottest spot is considered the place of honour!"

Eva: "Hwan, that's facinating! Tell me more!"

On Saturday, my old roommate and I met up in Montreal one last time. I can't wait to experience his country. He is, in turn, prolonging his stay in Canada until February. He taught me how to say "hello" and "I love you" in Hangul and, as Josh amusedly looked on, I tried it out on a couple of Koreans at the internet cafe. They may have snickered at my pronunciation but I was pleased they understood me at all!

My flight out of Ottawa was scheduled for 8AM this morning but there was a VISA processing delay at the Korean Embassy in Toronto so I had to postpone departure until next Monday. My bags are packed, I've already said goodbye to family and friends (photos posted soon) so this 'waiting' thing is pretty darn anticlimatic! It's a rainy, sluggish day in Brockville Ontario... Suwon awaits.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Date of Departure. I have my ticket!

Tomorrow morning I'll be taking a bus to Montreal to say goodbye to friends and my boyfriend of three years. I've been toting a disposible camera so even my last days in Canada will be documented.

In Montreal, I'm meeting with a South Korean: my old roomie, Hwan, who wants to lend cultural advice and introduce me to an expatriate from Suwon, South Korea.

Hwan has already advised me...

- to bow when meeting superiors
- to refrain from dying my hair a shocking color
- to scrap the French Canadian kiss on the cheek thing (people might get the wrong idea)
- to bring tampons if I don't want to buy them on the black market for 15 bucks
- to bring bedsheets because most Koreans don't sleep in a bed
- to accept the idea that I will have to give into cell phone mania; most koreans have at least 2 cell phones!
- to wait to buy a digital camera because Suwon is the "home" of Samsung

Map of South Korea

My city to be, often tagged "Happy Suwon," is a one hour subway trip from the capital: Seoul. Located on the outskirts of Suwon is a traditional folk village. I can't wait to check it out!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

11 Day Countdown . . .

SHOPPING DISTRICT IN SUWON

Thanks to a book from Mark, I learned the basics of Korean culture and history. An acquaintance who recently moved to South Korea admitted the transition is no lark. She's having difficulty adapting- especially to Korean cuisine!

When I run across a photo of Suwon, I look for my future self. Maybe that's me, at the right, lugging a big red bag of....
kimchi?? It's surreal to think I'll likely step foot on that very street in less than 2 weeks. With a life altering move on the horizon, mentally I'm anywhere but here.

KIMCHI: The most popular food in Korea. It's a spicy pickled or fermented mixture containing cabbage, onions, and sometimes fish, variously seasoned, as with garlic, horseradish, red peppers, and ginger. (mmm.)