Monday, September 30, 2013

Halloween & A Trip to the Hospital

Last week Al and I were informed that we have to go get another medical check done at the hospital. While this may seem routine enough, we know very well simply going to get a medical check is just the tip of the iceberg with a very large and complex story behind it as to why this needs to be done.

Before teaching here, one must get a medical check to ensure you aren't bringing in some kind of scary foreign disease into their utopia. From what I understand, this only needs to be done annually if working for a public school under the Ministry of Education...not Al and I. Since we did our check when we first arrived nearly two years ago, there is no reason this should be happening.

Let me sum up working for a Hagwon (Korean private school): Imagine, if you will, the company you work for is untrustworthy, unorganized, ill-prepared for anything, money hungry, uncaring, disrespectful and the boss is constantly doing things that are generally illegal i.e. squandering your pension. Those kinds of companies are rampant in this this lovely country and are better known as Hagwons. Teaching here is just a roll of the dice. You may or may not get a good school and it will probably be some varying degree of shady no matter where you teach.

With all that being said, after Al told me this had to be done he also told me that about a month after we did our first test, a former Korean coworker told Al that they needed to be redone for some reason. Well, they never were and so it's just now come to the attention of our school owner. I'm guessing someone in immigration caught on to this error just now and told our boss that it needs done pronto. The reasoning they gave Al was that a foreigner in Busan was caught with drugs so now all the schools have to re-test their employees.


1. We're not stupid. 2. If that was the case there is no need for a full medical check. 3. Why are the other two foreign teachers in the office not coming? 3. Why, oh why, are you in such a rush to get us to the hospital?

Basically the owner told us this huge lie (that we can see straight through) to cover for his mistake a very, very long time ago. One thing to know about Koreans is that there will never ever be an admission of guilt. They generally refuse to take any responsibility in anything that was obviously their fault, this just being one of the bazillions of cases we've run across while living here. Oh well. We know the real reason, so now...Medical Check #2!

There are hospitals and clinics all over the place. When you think "hospital" don't imagine the mega hospitals like we have at home. Here, the hospitals are very small but they have all the basic necessities. We go in with a Korean teacher from Al's school and get down to business. Vision and hearing tests, weight (not too shabby) and height, chest x-ray, blood and pee test. The pee test is different and seemingly much more unhygienic than at home. They give me a cup (no paper bag or anything) and send me down the hall. I a squatter mind you...and then put my hand over the top of the cup because I'm very uncomfortable walking down a hallway with a dixie cup of my own piss. I walk back into the room and they indicate I set it down on a table...a table that has multiple other cups containing various shades of yellow liquid just sitting there. JUST SITTING THERE, out in the open, no lids, just asking to be knocked over.

As I'm trying not to barf, it's time for my blood test, which is in the same room as the pee cups. The chair I'm sitting in is directly beside the pee cup table. So far this is a fantastic day. She rolls my sleeve up and I'm sweating to death because I hate needles and the pain that comes with getting blood drawn. She sticks me, I whimper and turn my head and wait. Apparently I'm so nervous that nothing is happening so she has to stick me again in my hand to try and get more blood. Great. I come out looking like some kind of heroin addict with all these pricks in my arm.

The Korean teacher with us pays the probably $10 all that cost with Mr. Song's credit card and off we went. It wasn't the greatest start to a Friday.


I love Halloween! Al and I are usually always people from pop culture and this year is no exception. Yesterday we ordered my costume and some components of his. This year...we will be...DUM DUM DUM...Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo. It's going to turn out pretty rad, I think. I need to find a toy dragon to attach to my shoulder and I'm good to go. We have to make a lot of Al's but we ordered him a wig and a long beard to shape into Drogo's. I wanted to be Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus but he said no one here would know who we are...bummmmmerrrrrrr. Here's to October 31! Can't wait!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

It's That Time Of Year Again

Autumn is usually a pretty nice time wherever you are. The temperatures become bearable again! It's time to put a fall wreath on the front door, set some kind of gourd out on the stoop as decoration, hear the crunch of leaves underfoot, throw on a cute scarf and go grab a pumpkin spice latte all while enjoying the wonderful cool smell of the air that accompanies September and October.

...Wait! What are all these things again?? Oh, right, they don't happen in my neck of the woods. My facebook is overflowing with friends and acquaintances going on and on about how fabulous fall is and building fires and sitting on their porch with a blanket and pictures of them sipping on said pumpkin spice latte. I don't even particularly like pumpkin spice lattes, but to know I could get one if I really wanted one would make the season transition here much more pleasant. (I prefer those whatchamacallits from Starbucks that taste like liquid apple pie.) Living in this somewhat smelly, concrete hole makes me miss good old America even more this time of year. Fall isn't even my favorite season, I'm a summer girl, but for some reason everything about fall just screams...HOME. Everywhere you look there are signs of autumn and the upcoming holidays. Bails of hay here, wagons of pumpkins there, cartoon turkeys hanging in that window...none of that exists here. The only smidgen I get is on my way to work there are a few blocks of trees that turn pretty colors. I suppose I could venture out to the countryside one afternoon, but it's not like I would get the full impact of an American autumn. Here in a few weeks, I'll just sigh and slap on my tights and wait for my mom's annual Thanksgiving-themed box to come so I can get a little bit of a feel for home. But, I keep reminding myself that this is the last time I'll be away for major holidays, so appreciate what time I have left here and next fall? I'll be sitting on a porch in my own blanket watching the leaves change, and that, my friends, is something I'm majorly anticipating.

This time of year is also the time for colds and I have a doozy as I type this. Early last week I felt that tickle in my throat indicating something was coming on and so a few days later I had a pretty good cold. I felt much better over Chuseok (Korean holiday that gave us a five day weekend this year) and so I decided to go out with everyone on Saturday night. Well, I think I was just very unlucky and picked up something else while my immune system was on the fritz because by Sunday night, I was dead sick and felt 1000x worse than I did just a few days prior with the first cold. Usually a long night out means I'm in constant contact with a large cloud of smoke wherever I am. Not being a smoker, the next morning usually has me hacking and coughing while my poor lungs try and recover from what I involuntarily did to them. This is what I thought was wrong come Sunday afternoon when my chest was on fire, so we went on to the beach anyway and I had a pretty good day despite my feeling sicker by the hour. By the time we left the beach I was going downhill and downhill fast, resulting in another, and worse, full blown cold. After a five day weekend, going to back work very sick Monday morning was not fun and on top of that Mondays are my full, busy days. Today, Tuesday, I'm feeling much better and from now on I plan on basically drowning myself in those Korean vitamin C miracle drinks and trying as hard as possible not to come in close contact with those walking petri dishes known as elementary school children.

Other than that, things are the same old same old around here. Gina and I are going to Japan next week because...well, because we that will be a nice getaway. Still just enjoying the last bit of warmth before the biting Busan winter air hits!


Friday, September 13, 2013

Apparently I Have Some Motherly Instincts Afterall

I walk into my office like any other day on Wednesday and I wasn't in my chair for 60 seconds when one of my kindergarten kids, Charlie, comes straight to me and says, "Teacher!" I swivel around, he opens his mouth indicating I look inside and it's filled with blood. My first thought is obviously to get him some help, but the second thing to cross my mind is that this kid who is bleeding considerably from somewhere in his mouth can speak about 10 words of English that may or may not include things like "cow" and "sunny", neither of which would help in this situation.

This small office contains myself and five or six other Koreans normally, three of whom are present and only one of whom is a fellow English teacher. I let out an audible gasp, steer him over to Korean #1 (incidentally the one who has been mentioned in my previous post) and say, "His mouth is filled with blood!" hoping she could, you know, speak to him in his native tongue to help him out. All she does is squeal, throw her hands over her face, lean away from us and say, "No, no no no no". Fail. I turn him around to Korean #2 and she also throws her hands over her face while gasping and leans away.


Something inside me like, snaps. All my focus goes to poor Charlie. He's obviously not getting any help from someone who can actually speak to him, so I grab my bottle of water from my desk and lead him over to the sink that is located in our office. Because I can't properly give him directions on what to do, I demonstrate drinking some water, swishing it around and spitting it into the sink. He does it three times while I'm patting his poor little 7 year old back. I lean down to him, say, "open" (this word he knows!) and I see that he has a huge gash cut into his cheek and I'm guessing he fell and bit it. The Koreans are nearly ignoring everything that is happening here, seemingly not even caring. I took him back over to my desk and I sat down in my chair so I was at his eye level and shrugged my shoulders trying to ask how? He made a hand motion that looked like falling so my guess was right.

You know those cheap kid tissues with prints on them that you can get in little packs around the holidays? Those tissues suck and are thick and stiff and just hurt your nose further if you're sick and need to blow it. Luckily my mom, who wonderfully sends me a care package nearly every month, likes to throw completely random things in the bottom of the boxes, things she may or may not have had laying around her house for years. One of these things she sent last Halloween was a pack of those horrible tissues, emblazoned with smiling pumpkins. I took them to school last fall figuring you'd never know when you'd need a tissue and whaddya know, I have a bleeding child that could use a thick, cardboard tissue. I dug it out, wadded him up two pieces and showed him to put it in the back of his mouth, gave him the other as a spare and sent him on his way.

When he left, Korean #1 was like, "Oh, Sam, I'm sorry I just don't like blood." Ummmmmmmmm, what? There is a bleeding child in here and you can do nothing to help him but shriek in horror at him? I was more than slightly appalled at their behavior, if you can imagine. But then I thought, why did he come straight to me and not to a Korean? Maybe he knows that's how they would react and he would get no help so he thought he'd try Sam Teacher? Whatever his reasoning for coming directly to me, I'm thankful I was there to help him.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dreams: Shattered

If you know me well, you will know that my life goals don't include lofty things like making my first million in my 30s, publishing a book or meeting Oprah. I have goals I want to achieve yes (none of them too specific or planned), but 90% of them, at least the ones of which I have a clear view, are travel-related.

My main priority before I die....wait for to spend some vacation time in an overwater bungalow somewhere on earth, preferably Bora Bora, Moorea or the Maldives. For the geographically challenged, Bora Bora and Moorea are in the South Pacific and the Maldives are located just west of the southern tip of India. Basically they are on opposite sides of the planet.

You know that Islands calendar you have hanging in your office? There's a good chance it has a lot of Maldives photos.

Al and I will be finished teaching, permanently, March 31. I've been sort of frantic about all the travelling opportunities I am going to be losing once back in America and if it were up to me I'd spend every last penny we have on trying to see as many places as possible before heading home. But because that's, you know, not the brightest idea, we decided we are going to head home via Europe and travel around there for a month using, much to Al's half delight, half dismay, only some of our savings.

Because scouring the internet for travel deals seems to make me happier than most things, I decided to put in Seoul-Male (Maldives capital) to see how much it would cost to add a dream location stopover on our way to London. My logic going into this was sound: It's close, it's on the way, why not! Yes, I know the Maldives are one of the most expensive vacation destinations on earth...who cares. So when the results showed that it was only $350 to fly there (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) it sent my travel planning into overdrive and I immediately delved into major Maldives research. After about two weeks of major reading, emailing travel agents and pretty much exhausting the internet for prices and information, I found some really amazing deals for packages. I found some with water bungalows for 4 nights or beach front 3 nights/water bungalow 1 night. Both of these, including flight there, came to under $3,000. That is a STEAL for the Maldives, especially when all the rest of our vacations have cost that much anyway. Even a vacation to Myrtle is going to run you into the thousands. So to me, this is well worth the expense. So then it's time to bring the final numbers to Al.

Al is vacation cheap. He's not really cheap in real life, he will easily spend a few hundred just on a night out with everyone here, but when it comes to vacations, it doesn't matter how badly he would want to go, all he sees are dollar signs flying out the windows. Really, I think it's because he doesn't have something to show for it when the money is paid. If he's going out, he pays money, he gets a beer, he pays money, he gets a karaoke room, he pays money, he gets something. But travel, you shell out a lot of money for flights and hotels and experiences, not things that he can physically hold and see he paid all this money for. I am the exact opposite, so there were a few disagreements on this subject. I did some final number crunching and realized that if we did the Maldives, we could only do one or two cities in Europe. Now I was the one questioning things. Was I willing to give up a lot of Europe travel for time in the Maldives? Was I willing to give it up and not stay in an overwater bungalow and just have a fab vacation on one of the most beautiful beaches on earth? Yes, that will do. So then I spent another week doing more research on how cheap it would be to go to the Maldives cutting out the water bungalow. Disappointment was an understatement, but my desire to step foot in this island nation and see those beaches for myself took over. Found a resort for $1300, with food! Score! But with flights to there and then to London adds a lot more cost...ugh. I give up. If we did both places and did them right (ie overwater AND more than two Europe cities), it would probably cost upwards of $10,000. I could easily tell myself that it's completely worth it, but not when we have to buy two cars and have expenses when we arrive in the US. Impossible. 

I am sitting here writing this now after many days of not being able to think or even say aloud that we can't go to the Maldives. I made the suckiest, most disappointing, heartbreaking decision of my life. But then...I realized...because we're not going to the Maldives I get to see more of Europe. It's not my dream trade-off, but I'll definitely take it. I could label this something like WAHH WAHHHH, Cry Cry, #teachingabroadproblems, I get to go to Europe instead of the Maldives cry cry cry. I realize this and I also know how lucky I am, don't get me wrong. But like I said in the beginning, if you know me well, you will know how much an overwater bungalow means to me and you will also know how much I'm giving up. 

So now I'm in the constant pursuit of European deals. We are really close to narrowing down our itinerary and I'm hoping to get our tickets there booked within the next week or two. We are definitely doing London, Paris and Marrakech (not Europe, it's Africa, I know, but it's super cheap to get there and Morocco? YEAH!). We would like to do Amsterdam and Iceland and Al wants to play St. Andrews golf in Scotland. We also plan to rent a car and drive around France (wineries!) so all those will be add-ons depending on how much he's willing to spend. 

I'm just anxious to actually be booking our last flight out of Asia. Lots of weird emotions about that. 

I'll keep everybody in the travel loop! 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Korea Cool Down

Busan is no longer the inferno it has been for the last month. Once September hit, it was like someone snapped their fingers and BAM it's super comfortable outside. It felt very drastic and instantaneous, but I really feel like it was just the timing of that insane heatwave; it just happened to clear out at the very end of August. It's finally comfortably in the low 80s every day and the nights are finally getting down into the low 70s, which means we can open our windows instead of having the air conditioner exhausting itself 24/7. All of August I don't think there was a single night when it even got INTO the 70s; 80 degrees at night is very, very uncomfortable.

The seasons here are dictated by month and not by the weather. For example, "beach season" is from July 1-August 31, no earlier, no later. Outside of those dates, whether stifling hot outside or not, the beach is nearly deserted, keeping the expats happy and satisfied at not being crammed on the sand like sardines. I'm sure this Sunday will be another toasty, empty beach day despite that it's September.

On the school front, things have changed a bit. The teachers consist of one foreigner (myself) and three Korean teachers. I worked with the same three Korean teachers for well over a year, and it's here recently that they have all left, replaced by new faces, those of which all speak very good English, thankfully. I now have seniority at Avalon: Nammun Edition. One of the new teachers, who shall remain nameless, sometimes likes to treat me like I have no idea what I'm doing despite me having a year+ on her. She also has spent significant time outside of Korea living and travelling, meaning she doesn't think exactly like her Korean counterparts do. She's a bit conniving, sneaky and somewhat lazy, doing as little as possible and always trying to get out of things by making the other teachers think that it's the best way. But lady, I know what you're doing, the others might not, but I do, because I do the same things. I'm not dumb. For instance, new books arrived this week. The kindergartners usually take the first 15 minutes of class writing their names and all their information on the covers of those books because they're 6 years old and slow. That's 15 minutes of chilling and not teaching. I'm sure she knows this and tries telling me not to worry about doing their names on Monday and that she would take care of it on her class. I KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING! So I say, "No, really, I've been doing this every two months for a very long time, I've got it." So then she gives me one of those looks like awwww maaaann and I continue on my way to class where the kids happily spend 15 minutes writing all over their books while I enjoy those minutes of not having to teach them the new, nearly impossible lesson: the difference between "fl-" and "fr-" blend sounds. Good luck teaching that to small children 1. Whose language does not even have an "f" sound and 2. Who cannot differentiate the difference between "r" and "l" anyway.

...but she's a nice lady, really.

As I finish this up, it's slightly drizzly and hovering around 71 at 11:30am. I still refuse to put on a pair of pants to go outside. I've worn nothing but skirts, dresses and shorts for the better part of four months and putting on pants means that I'm giving into the fact that WINTER IS COMING. (a little GOT reference for your day.) Nope, no pants today.