Friday, April 22, 2011

My students' notebooks are cuter than yours.

No, seriously; they are.

Any foreign teacher in Korea will tell you that the school supplies here are off-the-charts adorable. Usually when I walk around my classroom, my students get all nervous because I peer at their desk. They think I'm thoroughly checking their work, but it only takes approximately 0.7 seconds to proof-read, "Go straight and turn right." Nay, I am desperately trying to memorize their Konglish-riddled pencil cases and notebooks.

For those of you just tuning in, I'll elaborate. Depending on who you ask, 'Konglish' is a term referring to either
a) The Korean words that sound exactly like English ones (although this linguistically would be referred to as a dipthong)
or b) The poetic, romantic and completely incorrect English sentences crafted by Korean manufacturers and put all over t-shirts, billboards, and-- of course-- school supplies.

I've been wanting to snap some photos of the rare and beautiful[ly silly] Konglish notebooks for some time now, but it looks a little suspicious to whip out a camera and start taking pictures of merhandise in a store. However, while grading notebooks the other day, I realized I had the perfect opportunity in front of me, stacked 18 inches high.

So without further adieu:

 It may or may not come as a surprise that the phrase, "Let's go together" is incredibly common here...
so much so that I find myself using it in everyday conversation now. Oh boy.

Pictured on this notebook is a shot of the London Eye. Notebooks here often show cityscapes of famous locations around the world, and come complete with a caption that either a) was lifted directly from Wikipedia and is incomprehensible to most Korean schoolchildren, or b) has a lot of advanced English words, but is not applicable to every day English (pictured above).

"Special day!"... "How are you?"... "Love is a splendid thing"... what do all of these phrases have in common? Nothing, but the smiling ice cream doesn't seem bothered by that.

This caption's intent is supposed to be romantic, but kind of comes off a little stalker-esque.

That's right. People have to be redeemed redeemed. 

 Not related but really cute: my student wrote "over" at the end of their homework. I gave them a smiley.

Even Snoopy is not free from the powers of Konglish.

This one is actually pretty cute. It's a stunning example of all the times mushy love quotes go right on Korean notebooks. I can't tell you how many times I've seen "I'll wait for you forever" on a book, pencil, eraser (okay, maybe not an eraser; that would be kind of an oximoron).

The thing that amuses me is that, no matter how many jokes I make about these damn school supplies, I know I will be returning to the States with a box full of them.
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

What I really love about sick days is...

If I were to finish that sentence, you would probably get something depicting the rituals I did in elementary school on sick days that have carried over to present time, like watching Boy Meets World. Don't kid yourself. We all do these kinds of things.

The one thing about being a foreigner that really annoys me is how sick I always am. A lot of other foreign friends have the same problem. We always have a little case of the Cruddies, which I chalk up to Koreanitis, the random illnesses that we would've already built up immunity to if we grew up in Asia. My little Western T-cells just don't stand a chance sometimes.

When I was sick for the first time in Korea, I pretty much panicked. If there was a high-speed jet that would get me home so I could let my mom make me Top Ramen with extra veggies I would've hopped on it and been on my couch. In short, being away from family when you are sick can really suck.

However, I've learned to cope, and although I so feel the Catholic guilt/ Korean shame try to creep into my day as the afternoon comes around, I try not to let it get to me.

Today, I'm paying homage to my sick day. So although my head feels like it's about to explode, and it took all the energy I had to convince myself to pause Legally Blonde mid-way and visit the doctor (both a mental and a physical feat), I do find comfort in a few things on these days of rest:

The fact that my visits to the clinic have no co-pays, and I am guaranteed to walk out of the clinic and down to the pharmacy and out the door in under 30 minutes... for less than $7 USD.

Feeling how much I can do on my own to take care of myself.

Letting my apartment get a little messy, because it's my place and my day and I don't have to clean 'til I'm healthy again.

Orange juice.

Making myself Korean Ramen (actually pronounced ram-yeon, which is the original version of the ramen we eat in the States). Although I still like yours better, Mom.

Buying those little Vitamin C bites that may or may not be vitamins at all because they are in the candy section, but who cares? They make me feel better anyway.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Anecdote and a lot of rubbing alcohol.

Sometimes at the point in time of incident, some stories seem a little so strange to share.

However, now that there's been enough time, I thought it would be fun for all the readers out there to hear about the time I got my ears pierced in Korea.

Now, a bit of background information: ear piercing is semi-illegal in South Korea. By that I mean that the lines between it being taboo and it being illegal are somewhat ambiguous. Those who do desire to get their ears pierced are supposed to go to a doctor, so little piercing parlors like Claire's just don't exist here, because they are thought to be an unsterile environment and are therefore outlawed.

Much like the social issues of marajuana and (in some ways) abortion in the States, when something is only partially enforced, and  its accessibility is taken away, regulation and safety can go out the window.

Maybe some of you see where I'm going here.

A couple months ago, I thought it would be a grand idea to get my ears pierced with a friend one girls' weekend in Busan. Through online forums I found some potential places we could visit to get 'em pierced (because it was pretty obvious we weren't going to try to explain to a doctor what we wanted!).

We went to an underground market so common among the subway lines in Asia, and after puttering around for a while, decided that we wouldn't be able to find the piercing place without some help. It's not exactly like illegal operations are handing out business cards or posting neon signs in their windows advertizing their services.

I found a man with one ear piercing and pointed to his ear. Then I pointed to mine and asked him in broken Korean if there was a shop I could get a piercing at (which, let's be honest-- was more like me pointing and saying something like, "Where is it? Does it exist?"). Even though he was supposed to be watching his shop, he stood up and took off speedwalking, motioning for me and my friend ot come along. Suddenly we were following him at what felt like breakneck pace through crowds of Korean families (and if the little ones aren't getting underfoot, the elders are body-checking you as they walk by). After the mini-Olympics of Korean Speed Racing, we made it to a jewelry shop. Once in side, the guy asked the shop owner if she did ear piercings. She nodded and he left, gone back to his shop. This is so Korea... the man left his shop just to help us, and didn't leave our side until we were okay.

The shop was small and unfrequented, as the jewelry racks were a little dusty. And as I suspected, there was no sign advertising the piercing. Sketchy. Adventurous. So cool.

We picked out some earrings and showed her where we wanted them on our ears. Just like Claire's.
She sat us down and marked our earlobes with pen. Just like Claire's.
She let us check the placement out in a mirror. Just like Claire's.

Then she took the earring out of the package and stabbed them through our ears in one skin-popping motion.
Not like Claire's not like Claire's not like Claire's!!!

Before we really could process the event, it was over. We paid and left, and as we walked back to the subway, a million little facts began to trickle in. No piercing tools. No hand-washing. That lady had just eaten lunch. It was now crystal clear to me why people are required to go to the doctor for peircings. Otherwise, they get a grandma running the underground market to stab dusty old earring posts through their ears using her un-gloved, kimchi-coated hands.

Needless to say, we took an immediate field trip to the pharmacy and got a bottle of rubbing alcohol to douse our ears in. Over 2 months later, my ears have not fallen off, so I now felt it safe to release this story to the general public.

Moral learned: don't get piercings in underground markets. Or is it, "While traveling, always have sterilizing agents on hand"?

Either way, no more piercings in Korea for me.
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

A haiku in honor of my afternoon snack, V.

There's so much to say.
Ice-cream-rice baby.
And don't forget beans.

I've heard of meshing cultures before, but this is pretty literal. Rice cake snacks are very popular in Korea, filled with red bean paste (what would be the green and brown layers in the concoction above). The other 2 layers (innermost and outermost) would be ice cream and waffle cone.

At first, I was scared, but it turned out to be okay. Or maybe it's because I've been here for 7 months and, like this ice-cream-rice baby waffle snack, I too am becoming a mixture of Korean and Western culture. Hmm.
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Thursday, April 7, 2011

For poop's sake.

This is a class schedule in one of the 5th grade classrooms, created by the female homeroom teacher. When I mentioned the irregularity (har har) of the theme this teacher chose, my co-teachers didn't seem to understand what I meant.

As someone who has probably spent too much time being distracted by this schedule when I teach in the classroom where it resides, allow me to point out some of the finer qualities you see here:

1. The vindictive look on the faces of each crazed child as they send turds raining from... well, you know where.

2. The color-coded pooplets. By the way, English class is red.

3. The squatter toilets! They don't make 'em like that in the States.

This post could easily branch out into an entire questioning rant about my confusion regarding Korea's obsession with turds. However, I'm going to leave it here, because there are really no answers to be found at the moment, and with each sentence I type I'm tempted to make some kind of joke about the digestive system. It's getting difficult to constipate. I mean, concentrate. It's getting difficult to concentrate.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Thought for the day.

Being lonely and being alone are not only two different things, but the latter can help to cure the former.

In being alone, we can find peace. And not just the kind of silent, easy 'peace' we think of when someone tells us about it, but the peace in our minds and hearts that come from knowing ourselves.

So, in being alone, we can be with ourselves. And in being with ourselves, there is not only peace, but comfort.

Comfort that, at the end of the day, you won't dread going to bed without somone to say 'good night' to.
Comfort in the sound of your own thoughts filling a room, be they verbal or non-verbal.
Comfort in making decisions for yourself.
Comfort in the times when you really just want to dance in your underwear.
Comfort knowing that you don't need to seek others to be happy.
Comfort in ordering food for one.
Comfort in asking yourself what you want, and then letting yourself have it.

This may seem a bit out of place, but as a traveler it's always important to know how to be alone. And furthermore, it's okay to admit to being lonely. In Western culture today, potentially sad emotions like loneliness aren't discussed because they represent vulnerability. But isn't it when we bring them to the surface that we realize they aren't so formidable afterall?

Let me end with a video I've loved since the first time I realized I had to learn to be alone:

With love; know you are never completely alone.
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