Saturday, June 25, 2011

Half and Half

As we approach our halfway point -- I. KNOW! -- it is time to reflect on the first six months of Our Year in Andong, Korea.

I suppose there is an argument to be made that we haven't spent six months here at all, seeing as we spend a good chunk of our weekends galavanting about to other parts of the country. But I do so love to galavant about. At any rate, we are spending the current weekend at home. I'm talking never-left-the-house-or-even-put-in-my-contacts-today at home. That is serious, for me. I actually loathe not leaving the house on a given day and I am kind of creeped out by people who have more than one day every, let's say, year that they don't leave the house. But, I had a lot of things to get done today in the apartment and on the computer, plus the monsoon rainy season has arrived and there's basically a biblical flood outside our window the past three days, so you really don't want to go anywhere unless you have to, and you bring a change of dry clothes.

Speaking of that, I had this handy dandy emergency poncho - and it disintegrated! I bought it several years ago and I've had it with me on my various journeys, especially the Habitat trips to Honduras and Tajikistan, but I never actually ended up using it so it has just sat in the little plastic travel-size bag it came in when I bought it at Target or wherever. Yesterday I got it out of the closet because the aforementioned rain was doing its thing but we totally had to go on an errand and to work, and I couldn't take the poncho out of the plastic bag because it was in tatters! It was made of polyethylene. Wikipedia tells me that it shouldn't dissolve unless it is exposed to UV rays from sunlight (it was in our darkened entryway closet) or maybe if this one Canadian bacteria eats it. I am so confused. What happened to my polyethylene?! So much for having an emergency poncho.

Anyway, back to reflection. For the most part I am satisfied. Our job is very laid back and I love our boss, co-workers, and lack of people breathing down our necks as we carry out our job duties. I like my students and I like the books we use and I love living a three-minute walk from work. I mean, we really have nothing to complain about whatsoever. We are still making our way through trying all the restaurants in our neighborhood, and I seriously have become a frequent EMart customer -- it is so handy having an EMart so close I can see it from our apartment building. Eyeglasses, haircuts, wine, even the occasional Chee-zuh De-luk-suh Pi-ja can all be had a stone's throw away.

It has been fun hanging out in Daegu, taking the Korean class (which has now ended), and occasionally popping into the Commune, my favorite watering hole on the planet. I have enjoyed our weekend sojourns to Seoul and other cities. I was devastated to discover that Mi Casa Loca, the Mexican restaurant in Seoul to which I pilgrimaged once a month during my first Korea tour of duty, apparently closed both its locations, but we ate at On the Border in Seoul on our last trip there. We have enjoyed other weekend trips to Yeongdeok on the east coast, Mokpo on the southwest coast and Jeju Island. We have hiked, attended random festivals, seen a few Buddhist temples, been to at least various norae bangs, hit up an oncheon bath, and otherwise done the basically required awesome things to do in Korea.

As everyone knows, I think, by now, our trip to Japan in February over the Lunar New Year holiday was a mega highlight, and we are planning to go back there for our upcoming summer vacation to see a bunch of cities we didn't see the first time around.

I have been reading but can always read more. My most recent endeavors have been The Aquariums of Pyongyang and my latest prez bio, Franklin Pierce. He was BFFs with Nathaniel Hawthorne and I am really digging learning about U.S. history from 1820-1860. It's fascinating stuff. I think I am in the mood to start reading a bunch of fiction, now, for the summer months. I've been writing a bit but not enough. I recently started a kickboxing class at a gym a few minutes walk from our apartment. It's a great workout and I'm so glad that a friend who also teaches here in Andong told me about it!

I could definitely go without ever drinking Cass beer again, but our local foreigners' favorite bar that we gather in many weekends has some decent imported bottles. I get in feisty political discussions from time to time. We've started having a monthly book swap among the Andong English teachers so we don't have to spend all our money (and room in our suitcase) on books we buy here. There are barbecues and other adventures. It's an OK time in Andong, I must say. I just have had so many other things on my plate - I am never actually looking for things to do. I'm not even going to the movies every week - we've only seen a handful in the theater this year! Super 8, Paul, Source Code, True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau, Morning Glory, Harry Potter 7.1, and maybe another one I'm forgetting.

So Korea is going well! But now that the halfway mark is approaching, it's time to start thinking about what is next! Craziness. Last time I left to Korea, I moved to Long Island and went to Hofstra for law school. I definitely won't be making that mistake again. Actually, we do have several tentative post-Korea plans, which shall not be revealed at this time.

Oh, and my sister is about to have her baby. Like, in the next 48 hours. A fourth nephiece for me, and I won't even meet her (they think it's a her) until 2012.

Well, keep on keepin' on, 2011.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

What CAN we say about the military?

I know people who either serve in, have served in, or have family members serving in the military. This means that every time that I, who would like to have an honest conversation, utter or type a word about the role of the military in anything, there is no shortage of people who want to tell me I am "anti-" or "attacking" or "against" the military. I find it so disheartening that people who apparently genuinely applaud freedom, courage, standing up for what is right, and a whole host of other qualities have such a knee-jerk reaction to any comment about the armed forces. There appears to be a resistance to using those noble qualities to speak truth to power if the military is even remotely tangentially involved, let alone if the military is implicated in doing something wrong.

It's highly distressing. I can't think of other parallel situations. People discuss things that are all over the map in terms of topic, level of seriousness vs. frivolity, local vs. global, personal vs. political, etc. But when you say something about the military, you are apparently supposed to refrain from critcism - even when you are crticizing higher-ups who make policy, far from the front lines - or else you are roundy condemned for not supporting the military. Why isn't there any room for debate? Why is everything divided into this "you're-either-with-us-or-against-us" mentality? Why are so many assumptions made about who the speaker is, what s/he does, or what s/he thinks as soon as s/he brings up the military in anything other than the context of "Let's have a parade for heroes."

I find it so, so sad and disheartening.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

All hail June!

A new month and a new Avalon semester have dawned. Avalon, the lovely hagwon chain for which I work, splits the year into 12-week semesters, so unlike my previous Korea gig, at this job my schedule changes regularly. At my old job, it worked like this: we stuck with the same kids unless they had to combine a class (usually due to attrition) or they changed things around when a new class of first day "Hello-my-name-is" beginners was added, or unless the kids reached the end of their progression through the 12 levels. At that point, though, some of them would invariably stick around and join a "special class" in the evenings, so the teacher might still have them as students. Here, at this current job, we have much the same drill of youngest kids first, later elementary age in the afternooons, middle school after that, and the most advanced English speakers in evening special classes, but here everyone's schedule changes every 12 weeks. And every class is on the same 12-week schedule, not staggered like at my old job, so here everyone is in oral tests at the same time, and final written tests at the same time, etc.

Anyway, all this is just to say that my schedule changed today and out of my three schedules I have had since working at Avalon, this one is my third best. Yeah. The main thing is that where we all used to have one (and, occasionally, two) free periods during the elementary school onslaught from 4p-7p, now neither Brian nor I has that break. We just teach the 40-minute classes back to back, with 5 minute breaks in between. My prep period is before that, and before that I teach my youngest kids in the "Pre-" class (they are first graders). I start teaching at 2:35pm, whereas in prior semesters I didn't start until 3:15. And, I also have four evening classes instead of three this time around. The evening classes are in longer blocks, and most of them meet twice a week.

No one is really interested in all this minutiae, I'm sure, but it's what my brain apparently wanted to spew forth onto the blog. My first semester here at Avalon was downright leisurely. Now, I still don't think of it as running me as ragged as The Bad Ones (the bad hagwon jobs, of which there are many), but I am just not exactly thrilled about the next 12 weeks. Ah well, in those 12 weeks we have two, count 'em, two three-day weekends, plus we will have a summer vacation of one week, turning the 12 weeks into 13 weeks, if that makes any sense.

Kids are always coming and going from this place, much more often than some other schools. Kids drop out all the time, probably finding cheaper English instruction elsewhere, to be honest. So the numbers are in flux, but we also just had one of our foreign co-teachers, a lass from Scotland, depart at the end of the semester, and we went from four native-English-speaking teachers to three. We probably won't get another one for this semester based on the looks of the schedule.

Let's see, what else is happening? Our boss took us to Munkyeong Saejae this past weekend, which is a mountain hamlet up in the north central hills. The weekend event was the 16th annual Barefoot Festival (exact name translation unknown, but something like that) where people walk barefoot up a mountain trail, or in shoes, whichever suits your fancy. We walked up the trail in shoes and saw mountain streams, stone walls, and the gate that served as a gate between Gyeongsangbuk-do (our province) and Seoul back in the day. There was also a concert and a raffle and we ate and drank. There is generally eating and drinking to be had whenever and wherever in Korea.

June! Summer! I am ready for some excitement! I am not ready for the vast amounts of students who will be keeping me away from said excitement.

A trip to China is the next item on my hoped-for agenda.