Thursday, July 25, 2013

India Blogging

The countdown to vacation has finally come to classes/hours (three more classes and 4 1/2 more hours as of 10:00 am) and not weeks and days. We don't leave for India until Monday morning but my summer vacation starts at precicely 2:35 today, where I will then progress to the nearest Family Mart, purchase something alcoholic and relish in my freedom that I have for the next nine days.

My plan is to blog a bit while we are in India so when I arrive back here to Korea to tell all of you about our fabulously exotic week, you won't be subjected to the same four-part ordeal that my trip to America produced. I know we have wifi in a few places we'll be, so I'm hoping to have some downtime to be able to write a bit and post some pictures from my Blogger app. I'll warn you now, when I post pictures from the app, they are enormous for some reason and I can't control the size, so it will more than likely look ridiculous if I do get the chance to post.

Be on the lookout on facebook for links directing you here next week! Have a good vacation in Myrtle Beach or Florida, peasants.

(jk, I'm poor, too.)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cue the Laziness

It's currently 6:32 PM Tuesday, dia dos of my 9-2:30 schedule, precisely three minutes until I would've normally finished teaching during normal school hours...and I've just dragged myself out of my bed where I've been lying for the past hour and a half flipping through my new ISLANDS magazine (thanks mom), playing Angry Birds, scrolling through Pinterest and trying (painfully) to get through the second Game of Thrones book.

I sit here on my floor in front of my six year old laptop amongst mounds of clutter that surround me in this 700 sq ft apartment. My mother recently sent a giant box of stuff (Forever 21 orders, meds, lotion, hair care, food...) that has exploded all over my living room on top of all the clean/dirty laundry that was already piled around there before. Clutter has to rise to a certain point before it bothers me (not the greatest personality trait) so our apartment would probably give some people a heart attack. Now, straight up dirty, that's a different story. Dirt? No. Clutter? Meh. Case in point:

My living room as I type this

My finishing early almost has a vacation feel in itself. I only work 5 1/2 hours on a normal my 5 1/2 hours seems to zip by at an alarmingly happy pace. Get in, get out. (That's what she said.) When I'm at school, I feel so productive and positive about what my afternoon/evening will entail. 

Thoughts at school: Yeah! I'm gonna get home and put on music and scrub my floors! 

Arrive home reality: I'm just going to look through Buzzfeed for a bit...(45 minutes later)...I wonder what the Lannisters are up to...(30 minutes later)...Die, pigs, die!...(10 minutes later)...Facebook...Facebook...Facebook...

And so it goes. I still sit here in my underwear procrastinating doing something constructive by writing this blog about how I'm procrastinating doing something constructive. Summer vacation hours, I tell you.

I do have SOME exciting news to report, on the other hand. Last summer, the aircon in our apartment worked very feebly. It spewed out only semi-cool air leaving us still sweating in here all the while receiving two monthly energy bills with the total nearing $900. We decided to get it fixed this year because it was doing the same thing (so we haven't been using it) and so I had a Korean at work set up a time for the LG guy to come take a look at it last week. He came in, walked straight to our storage closet (where there has always been a large machine of some sort taking up all kinds of valuable storage space), looked inside at how packed full to the ceiling it is, and said "wow!" as he took everything out and put it onto my kitchen table and floor. It turns out that large machine controls the aircon and because it couldn't breathe at all with my accumulated travel junk in there it couldn't get the air cooled down for the aircon. What? All this time I just had to take stuff out of my closet!? He cleaned the entire unit, charged me $20 and now I'm cool as a cucumber. 

I've sat here long enough, time get put on Pandora's 90s Pop Hits and get to cleaning. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

When Vacation Isn't Vacation

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Asian kids have the suckiest childhoods. Of course, this is just a generalized statement, not every kid I teach has a terrible upbringing centered around studying, but a very high percentage of them does.

Yesterday (Friday) marked the beginning of my elementary school's summer "vacation". I put vacation in quotation marks because in all reality, it's not a vacation in any sense of the word. Out of every 10 of my kids, maybe 1 or 2 have told me they are excited for break; the rest are dreading it.

You see, here in Korea (Japan also), summer vacation simply means that they don't have their regular 8:00-3:00 school classes. During the regular school year they all attend after school "academies" (hence my job). You have the basics: Math, Violin, Piano, Science, then venture farther down the line of absurdity and you run into Chinese Calligraphy Academy and a few of my kids even attend Jump Rope Academy. All children (and I say all with 99.9% confidence) attend at least one of these after they are finished with school in the afternoon. The older the kid, the more they attend. Two of my oldest students, who, in my opinion, have Nazi parents, have TEN of these to attend...after which they still have mountains of school homework to do. One of them, let's call him J-Student, told me he has about 10 minutes of free time a day. Ten minutes. (This kid is 13 years old, by the way.) No wonder Korean children get an average of five hours of sleep a night.

During the month that regular school is not in session, these academies are still up and running, so the kids still have hours and hours of studying/tutoring/violin playing to do. Not only that, but the month that school is out, countless "summer programs" pop up to ensure that there is no downtime during the day. Usually my students will have more academies to attend during summer break than during the school year...on top of the "summer vacation homework" they are assigned from regular school. The previously mentioned J-Student told me that during break he leaves his house at 10am and gets done with all his academies and heads home at 11pm. I wish I were joking.

Starting Monday my hours shift from 1-6:30 to 9-2:30. Since school isn't in session the kids can come earlier and get their dose of English. I also can't use the English Room next week because they are hosting "English Camp". I don't know about you, but unless it's Fat Camp, "camp" usually indicates fun. But here, it is just a more concentrated version of what they usually get in English classes during the rest of the year.

Last week in one of the classes I hate, I started talking about vacation and they all groaned and whatnot so I went on to tell them that in the US and Canada there is no Academy. (Yes, of course there are opportunities to stick your kid in anything from piano to math tutoring but he or she isn't in some kind of educational jeopardy if they don't attend them like here.) They then asked what kids do on summer break. Because I really hate this class, I gave them a big smile and said, "nothing". After the audible gasps, I continued on and said, "Yeah, summer break for kids: Wake up, play, eat lunch, go swimming, play, eat dinner, play, go to sleep." And although it's a terrible class, I still feel bad for the dismal summer break they are all about to endure, but the looks on their faces was priceless.

I've talked to fellow teachers about this before, but we're all really curious about what the next generation of Koreans and academies will be like. I've been told that the intense you-must-attend-34-academies-or-you-will-fall-behind structure has only been an integral part of their lives the last 20 or 25 years and recently has it gotten all-consuming in the way that it is. Are the students I have now going to take a stand knowing how hard they studied and not do that to their children? (Some of the Korean friends I have say they are in no way putting their kids through what they went through...we'll see.) Or will they grow up being huge hypocrites making their 9 year old kids study all hours of the night even know they know how miserable they are? But I've also seen first hand what happens if you don't put your kids in them...and that's just English. A new kid started with us last week who is in, I think, the 5th grade. He can't read. He barely knows his letters. But since they can't put him in a class with Kindergartners, they put him in the lowest level they can that has kids similar to his age. He's now in a class than can read perfectly well using their learned phonics and who can string basic sentences together and can answer non yes/no questions...all while he can't sound out words at all. All this is because of the system in place here: your kid doesn't go, your kid falls behind everyone else. Too bad. As a parent, you basically have no choice. (Except in the case of J-Student and others like him whose parents are just horrible.) And don't even get me started on the cost. Parents spend thousands of dollars a month to send their kids to these things whether they can afford to or not.

And don't think that all this studying guarantees any sort of good job. Usually, it's all for nothing. Because here in Korea there is such mass competition for the high paying jobs, very few actually get them. Back home, if you study your face off and have a lot of extracurriculars, you have a chance of getting into a good university. If you want to be a doctor or lawyer you will also study your face off in univeristy and continuing education. If you know you want that fabulous job, you study, study, study to attain it. But here, they study, study, study because they have to...despite the kind of job they want or will get as an adult. Basically, that guy who just made my Big Mac studied until his eyes were about to fall out of his head while in middle and high school and now, well, he's making Big Macs. I always feel bad for those I see working low end jobs here. I'm sure some are just like at home, the slackers who didn't do anything, who didn't go to college, or who really just can't find a better job that suits their degree, I know, I get that. But I also know that a lot of them did study just as much as the successful guy who owns his own business next door...but they're flipping burgers because of the agonizing competition here. I hate that for them, but all I can do is contribute my part in teaching them some English before I head back to the homeland in eight short months.

Even though the kids are miserable during break, I love going in at 9. Getting off at 2:30 means I have the whole day to do whatever I please...and usually that means going to the beach. Next week school, the next week...INDIA! (this is all ironic considering what I just wrote. Poor kids.)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Busan Famous

The past few weeks here have been pretty eventful. With the summer fully upon us that means that there is no shortage of things to do. Each and every weekend there is something going on leaving us all with a great sense of what Al likes to call FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) if we don't attend one of these blessed events.

July 4th fell on a Thursday which means that a lot of us didn't get to the beach until pretty late, as most teachers work until 9pm or after. This was, I believe, my fourth Independence Day celebrated outside of the United States. Apart from the one I spent in Canada, wherever I've been the Americans will gather together and let off fireworks and sing the national anthem and be obnoxious (just like at home) which is always nice when you're apart from the homeland. This one was no different. We gathered at Gwangalli on this very, very rainy July 4th and waited for downpour let up so we could play with the fireworks. There were a bunch of very drunk marines that came down from the base that seemed to be trying their hardest to be as annoying as possible and disrupt our very fun evening, but we carried on and had a blast despite them.

"Busan Famous" is a term I heard coined last summer by Al and some of the other guys in my group of friends. I read that in 2011 there were nearly 40,000 expats floating around here, which means that getting yourself known around town seems quite a feat. But there are always those people who manage to set themselves apart and get themselves known...that's Busan Famous.

Now, there is a big difference in being Busan Famous and say, Tokyo Famous. That takes some work and probably many years of being completely and totally awesome to get known within the Tokyo expats. I guess you take what you can get.

My husband, bless him, loves to be the center of attention and does anything and everything to get himself known wherever he is and usually succeeds in doing so. (I am the same way, I just usually let him go out and actually find the spotlight and reel it in himself.) In an unbiased opinion, people seem to like him. He's funny and fun and goes with the flow and I guess for all those reasons and more, people just seem to want to have him around. (I'm sure there are people who don't, but whatevs.) He and his friends were the Kings in college; they had the party house and everyone knew who they were...albeit in a town with one stoplight and a college population of 1,500. He had Big Fish In A Small Pond syndrome and has been chasing that feeling ever since. Being a big fish in a small pond is great, sure, but being a big fish in a big pond is even better.

The weekend after July 4th there was a new club opening in Haeundae called Tao. The guy who opened it owns one of the biggest clubs around here, FIX, so we figured it would be legit. He wanted a "foreign presence" that night so Al was asked if he wanted on the list to get in. (Some people we met outside said they wanted like $50 for them to get in.) He and I got two of the last few spots open and off we went. It wasn't all the pomp and circumstance hooplah that I had imagined for a club opening, but we did get in free and were introduced to the main outside guy in charge of letting people in and the owner. Al has a method when in places like this of keeping himself remembered: Talk to as many people that look important as possible and high-five all the bouncers and security guys. I'm not going to lie, this has gotten him into many VIP rooms and countless free drinks/bottles of liquor. The owner gave him his card that night and said whenever we wanted in, ever, contact him and we're in (and FIX also). This gives Al a high that no drug on earth could ever give him.

He has already expressed his worry over moving to Nashville next year because it is very unlikely he'll ever get anywhere close to being Nashville Famous. I mean, you can't compete with the people in that town. The Nashville Famous are the singers and bands and people in the music industry. That won't keep him from trying, guaranteed.

EDIT: Al has informed me that this somewhat makes him look like a fame-hungry douche. For those who don't know him personally, keep in mind that a lot of his shennanigans are done mostly jokingly or ironically. For example, he took his shirt off at the beach the other day all while announcing, "Contain your gasps, ladies". Yeah, it's that sort of thing. For those who do know him personally, none of this will come a a surprise to you. 

On a different note, all the air conditioning is finally on at school. In one of the classrooms I had it set on the lowest possible (18 degrees C) and that classroom teacher came in and very snottily told me to "keep it on 26 degrees". For all you American folk, 26 degrees Celsius is a cool and refreshing 78.8 degrees. (not.) That woman is now on my never-ending imaginary hit list.

Beach days are now many and we're back in the weekend routine of packing the cooler and heading to the coast every Saturday it seems. We went to Gwangalli this past weekend and the sand and water were surprisingly clean and clear. The boys bought a 90,000 inflatable boat so we all happily floated around in that all day. The Korean lifeguards ("lifeguards") are just power hungry 21 year old douche bags that ride around on jetskis and get an extreme rush feeling like they can tell the foreigners what to do. You get that a lot here, actually. Some Koreans get a huge boner from telling off foreigners for (usually) doing nothing, or very little, wrong. They just like to think they have a hand over us, I suppose. I don't know, but it's usually unfounded and always very annoying. For instance, there are buoys that indicate the swimming line and sure, I get it, you swim past them you might get your head knocked off by a Sea-doo or a wind surfer. Whatever. They generally start frantically blowing their whistles if you even get close to that line, as if you can't see where you're going. Our boat, which has not yet been christened with a name, is no exception. Will and I were rowing out there having a good old time and were floating along the buoy line. Not past it, mind you, just along the line. Those penises on jetskis came roaring over to us as fast as possible and in broken english told us that our plastic oars were dangerous (there isn't another person in the water around us for hundreds of yards) and kept pointing to me saying, "woman, woman". I sat up and yelled "WOMAN WHAT?" all while Will was getting somewhat irritated at their attempt to thwart our boating adventure for absolutely no reason other than that we aren't Korean. They then turned their jetski around and did a donut to splash water all over us and shot off. Like, seriously? Idiocy. Oh well, it won't stop us from bringing it back out next weekend.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Logic...

Here's an update on my school air conditioning situation: It sucks. All last week it was cloudy and rainy a.k.a. humid. But because it wasn't sunny, the air con was switched off. They don't realize that muggy days are far, FAR hotter feeling than the sunny ones when you're stuffed into a building with no air conditioning. All the kids had sweat running off their heads all day and it was just all around very unpleasant. They just see no sun, no air con.

Let me try and give you an inside look into the brain of many Korean people. This is an excerpt from a book and I've never read anything so on point to what makes Asia, Asia.

I can’t speak for your educational system, or, indeed, for that of any other country, but ours was based almost entirely on fact retention. From the day we first set foot in a classroom...Japanese children were injected with volumes upon volumes of facts and figures that had no practical application in our lives. These facts had no moral component, no social context, no human connection to the outside world. They had no reason for existence other than that their mastery allows ascension...Japanese children were not taught to think, we were taught to memorize. -World War Z

This is speaking of Japanese, but it's exactly the same here in Korea. Because they are just melting their brains with memorizing facts, they are not learning other skills that get them through, you know, life. What they are bombarded with in school (and all the many hours after school) really does not help them get through their day to day. It will help them get a higher education and possibly a good job, sure, but all those hours studying and not playing with others and learning the social aspects of life has a huge impact on how they think as adults. 

Don't get me wrong, I am in no way saying that the Western mind is far superior than that of an Asian person. Not at all. What I'm saying is that because we grow up differently, we think differently. So while in, say, Canada or the US I walk into McDs and I want to get a sweet and sour sauce independent of anything else, I'm handed one no questions asked. In Japan, sweet and sour sauce comes with McNuggets and no other way. They will look at you blankly and confusedly, wondering why you would want a sauce but no McNuggets. In the end, you are without sauce because they come together and that's that and there's no way you are allowed to separate the two. (True story, I witnessed it). In the classroom, when there are some questions with no obvious right answers, my students have no idea what to do with themselves. No right answer, whaaaa? When  the questions are why and there isn't an answer staring them in the face, a lot of my students just can't grasp it and squirm nervously in their chairs until I tell them what to think.  

With the insane studying comes great things, though. I mean just look at all the crazy things Japan comes up with...and that's the result of hours upon hours studying. The American education system, I believe, is some of the worst, isn't it? But would I switch my education with one of a Korean student? Never in a million years. I like being able to think outside the box. 

This isn't just my own opinion. It's just something that we expats know and deal with. It's also known to some Koreans. A Korean friend of ours, let's call him Kman, told me that on tests (Koreans are tested for anything and everything, even applying for jobs as adults) the logic portion is what they do the most poorly on. Again, I'm in no way saying my brain is better than a Koreans. I just wish I had more insight to why some seemingly simple ideas woosh right over my co-teachers' heads. Like turn the EFFING air con on when it's 95 degrees with 93% humidity. Yes, they are energy saving nutcases, but when my shirt is soaked from sweat and the kids smell awful because it's so hot...I mean come on. I don't care that the sun isn't out. 

I walked into school yesterday, a sunny day, mind you, and the air in my office was still not turned on. I about lost it. I understand that it's not their fault there in my office, but they won't go say anything to the main office because that's not now things work here. You do not, under any circumstances, question the higher ups. When the Koreans are hot, the foreigners are ten times hotter, and all the Korean ladies in my office were fanning themselves profusely, so you can only imagine that I was on like Heat Level 9999273. Finally, after my first class, I walked back into the office and tried the button again. Miraculously it turned on and it worked in the rest of my classrooms after that, at least until 4:30 or so when it turns off automatically. But by that time it had cooled down tremendously and was very comfortable the rest of the evening. It's always a toss up when I get to school, and it's starting to make be beyond angry, but there's nothing I can do but  keep my fingers crossed. 

I also do apologize for all the air conditioning ranting :)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Sky Cow

I think India is doing its best to try and deter tourists from crossing it's borders. Before booking our plane tickets I knew India is one of those countries that you need a shiny new visa put in your passport before you're even allowed in the airport, I just didn't know how strenuous of a procedure it would be. And not one of the easy visa-on-arrival deals either where you just show up, pay some money, wait 30 minutes and voila, you have a visa. India, it turns out, requires an obscene amount of redundant paperwork to be completed and sent to the Embassy where it takes like 9 days for them to process it and send your passport back to you. Finally, yesterday, we got it all finished and mailed up to Seoul to start waiting (with some slight panicking). All in all, it was an application asking everything from where your father was born to your religion (about 7 pages filled out online then printed out into two, uh, what?), three other forms asking basically all the same questions, two copies of our passport, one copy of our Korean alien registration card, two passport photos (which I had to trek all the way to Seomyeon to find one of the booths that did the right size), and our passport...all mailed off to Seoul just so India says we're allowed in. I've never even been there and I am already dreading having to fill out all that paperwork if we ever want to go back. Now it's just waiting around for it to return...

This week at school started a new semester for the English after-school program (every two months) and therefore a new influx of books and craziness arrived Monday. They get new books every two months and every four months they take evaluation tests to level up or not, so all the students also move around and the schedule changes. July 1st started the new schedule with the kids all over the place and no one knows where to go and yadda yadda. My highest level class previously had four students but now has five because one, Nicholas, has leveled up. Nicholas is one of my favorite, yet also most hated students. He's absolutely hilarious and usually just strings together whatever English he knows to make conversation, no matter how ridiculous. But when he gets around certain other students from different classes, he turns into a nightmare child who refuses to listen. He's a bit of a nerd so I think he acts like the other kids to try and fit in. Luckily the bad influences (aka the dumb ones who can't level up) have stayed in lower levels while he keeps ascending the Avalon English Ladder. Yesterday in that particular highest level class, because the air con turns off at like 4:30 (don't get me started) all the windows were opened. In the middle of my life-changing lesson, in flies the most giant insect I've ever seen outside of a zoo. I thought it was one of those killer Asian bees the size of my head and was about to run for cover, but I realize it was just some giant...bug. The kids got on their phone and translated it: "beetle". Okay, beetles I can deal with, they won't bother you, but I still couldn't get over how gargantuan this thing was. I didn't even have my phone to take a picture! Nicholas kept saying "sky cow, sky cow..." and I'm like sky cow? Apparently, this particular insect is called a 하늘소, which literally translates to "sky cow". Yes, if that doesn't give you an idea of how impossibly huge this thing was, then I don't know what would. Let's just say I don't want to encounter another one ever again.