Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Seoul-a Adventure

Me and Jen. Loken in Myeong-dong. Yay for my Italy friends! (I am sporting my new hat in this photo as well.)

My cold was cruel but luckily short lived. I could feel it creeping in slowly, like a lion stalking it's prey all Christmas week, but it held off on the kill until the day after Christmas. My head began spinning on Friday afternoon, or maybe the children were literally running circles around the room. Either way it was hard to tell as all I could focus on was the spinning, and not what was actually doing the spinning. I knocked on Nurse Ann's door during the break and was given a hot citrus drink and two unknown pills to take after dinner. The drink felt nice on my throat, and the slime inhabiting my sinuses retreated for a short time after wards. However after dinner, not only did the enemy retake it's position, but it also released some weapon to prevent any air from entering or exiting the nostrils without a drill hammer. Speaking was difficult considering the air that it produced had no where to exit but my ears and ear canals aren't built for breathing. Speaking was also basically pointless considering no one understood what I said, and then laughter (sympathy laughter mind you) would almost always follow.

I spent all of Saturday in bed, blowing my nose (which is considered rude in Korea, but spitting ironically is not), reading Les Mis, and wallowing in my misery alone without a nurse. My friend Jennifer Loken that I met on a study abroad program in Italy of 2005 was visiting another friend in Seoul. This weekend was our only chance to meet so of course I had to be stuck in bed. I considered for a moment throwing it all to the wind and going to meet her in the cold and windy city anyways, but I realized that my company in all honesty would not be enjoyable to anyone least of all me.

Sunday, after 12 hours of sleep, my head miraculously stopped floating above the atmosphere, and I was even able to breath, for the most part, therefore, I was well enough to visit Jen. I was ecstatic! We finally spoke at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and decided to meet up in Myeong-dong (the heart of Seoul) for some Korean shopping.

1st task: figure out how to get there, taxi, bus, subway, train? I had never been to Seoul with others let alone by myself, and up until then had depended on others for getting and using transportation.
2nd task: learn how to read and speak Korean as nothing is in English. (not accomplished)
3rd task: Don't get lost for I will never be found again!

Jen's friend was really helpful as she had been living in Korea for several months already. I called a number for English speaker and asked for much needed help. She gave me several bus numbers and I was on my way. Normally we take a taxi into town, but because I am afraid of phones when the other side only speaks Korean I cannot call a taxi, besides which, it costs $5 rather than $1 for the bus, therefore I opted for the bus.

I walked the ten minutes down the hill to where the buses waited. The bus driver was sleeping behind the closed doors. I knocked on the doors, said the name of the station I had just learned five minutes previously, he nodded and I sat down. We waited for 10 minutes before leaving. As the bus turned uphill, my heart rate increased, as I had only been on the bus once before, and it had been in the dark, in the comfort of all the other teachers who actually knew what they were doing from experience. But I didn't remember the bus going up a hill. Visions of a wandering Vanessa unable to speak Korean or communicate where she lived or where she needed to go started to flash across my mind. I hadn't even brought the SNET business card with the phone number in case something dreadfully wrong were to occur. With help from an old man and the bus driver, I got off at the correct stop. With sweating palms, I brought out my notepad where I had jotted down the bus numbers. A kind-hearted woman wearing a red jacket came to my aid.

"Do you need help?" she asked me in excellent English.

I nearly hugged her on the spot. I was so nervous and here was a helpful Korean woman who spoke English. God had surely sent her to be my guardian angel. And as it turned out, we were to ride the same bus. Not only had I gotten on the correct bus, but I had a bus partner. She was an extremely interesting companion as she traveled around the world as a business and life coach. In fact we were so engrossed in our conversation we missed our first bus, while waiting at the bus stop.

I exited the bus according to her directions, found our meeting point, borrowed a random Korean's cell phone and called Jen. My anxiety had taken form as a demon, gripping my muscles, and imprisoning me in my body until I stepped off the bus into Myeong-dong, when it transformed itself into jubilation at my independence and success. Never in my life had I traveled to an unknown place, without a cell phone, without knowledge of the language and most importantly without Kyle. In all of our fretful travels, I have always had the comfort of at least having Kyle by my side, always ready to protect me if needed.

But on my journey to Seoul, I had been utterly, frightfully alone and I succeeded all on my own. The journey in some curious way felt like a test. "Can you survive? Are you independently strong, or does your strength come from Kyle?" In truth, it was one of the most frightening experiences I have ever been subjected to, but from it, I felt stronger, and more confident in myself and my abilities to adapt and to survive. I would not wish to undergo that experience again, but I am grateful it happened. Just as I wish with all my might that Kyle was with me now, but in some ways, I think this separation is healthy. Through our heartache we grow stronger in our love and appreciation for each other. And through our separation we are allowing ourselves to grow as individuals, drink from different rain water, and flourish without the nurturing warmth of the other. Many people have never known me without Kyle, nor Kyle without Vanessa. We have been two halves of a whole for eight years, and although I feel a piece of me is missing, I am enjoying being seen as me, and only me, if only for a month.

Myeong-dong was fantastic, filled with street vendors of every shape, size and kind. Boiled octopus tentacles hung off the table corner of one food vendor, while diagonally, beautiful scarves and stockings littered the table. It felt completely normal to meet Jen in a foreign country as our original friendship began and flourished in Italy. And as I had received my first paycheck, I was excited to finally allow myself to splurge a bit. Besides a cheap pink watch, that I am sure will break within the month, I bought myself a beautiful new coat and hat (which were both on sale, thank you very much, so not too much splurging!) I am so thankful, my cold released me from it's clutches allowing me to meet my dear friend Jen and to finally see a bit of Seoul. I can't wait to go back for more shopping, however next time hopefully Kyle will be with me!

My new coat. Notice the girly ruffles on the sleeves, and the sparkly buttons.

Monday, December 29, 2008

My Christmas in Korea

My apologies for being neglectful of my blogging for so long. The day after Christmas, Friday, I came down with a dreadful cold, also known as the snot monster! Since then I have been attempting to release the helium from my brain and the fluid from my nostrils without completely deflating my entire being. There was a weak attempt two evenings ago to write this same exact blog, but after five minutes of sad, uncreative writing, my head tried to float off my body and the attempt was aborted. I spent most of the weekend sleeping, drinking water and trying to ward off the evil germs that inhabited my body to cause such havoc, and so far it seems to have worked. I feel tons better, therefore it is time to reconvene in blogosphere.

Christmas in Korea

Christmas morning was sad indeed. Away from family, friends and my wonderful husband, I felt lonely and disconnected. I was not able to connect to my hubby Christmas morning when I planned to open my one gift (from my Secret Santa). After nearly succumbing to tears from loneliness, I ripped open the package alone in my room, only to be enjoyed by yours truly. Luckily, it was a fantastic present, a beautiful white scarf with pink snowflakes and a wine glass (so that I don't feel like a hobo when drinking wine out of my only tea mug.) I dragged myself downstairs for the morning meeting for our regular day of work only to be delightfully surprised with a Christmas wonder. In our meeting room which is held in the yoga room, the projector was displaying a wood fire. A small Christmas tree, delicately decorated in lights, was in the corner with 30 or so coffee mugs filled with candy and treats littering the floor underneath as Christmas presents would on Christmas morning. Two of the staff had secretly made chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, (not a simple task in Korea considering the ingredients are not found at the normal grocery store) and oranges, croissants and hot cocoa packets were set out in celebration. My gloomy Christmas morning was instantly lifted to a higher notch in the sphere of celebration and joy. I enjoy the people I work with, and if I had to be away from my family, friends and hubby, I was glad to be with them.
The children in Korea, despite what the websites say about Christmas here, don't really understand how significant Christmas is nor how much it means to westerners. I have read many websites that talk about how Christian Koreans (which is 50% of the population) will celebrate Christmas similarly to westerners, but from questioning the students, it seems it is just another day off from school and nothing more; no presents, no turkey, other special foods, nor family gatherings. Few of them spoke of Christmas, Santa Clause or the spirit of giving. One teacher who is dating a Korean said that his parents planned to spend Christmas with their friends separately, and that it was night out on the town with your girl or guy friends rather than a time to spend with your kin. Our joy of this wondrous holiday was foreign to them despite what I had been told by others before coming. Few of them even seemed to recognize that the day held any special significance except a normal day off from school.
We requested to do a special event to recognize the day. This year was the first ever to do so in this school, and the event was to hold a Christmas Carole sing-a-long during the last hour of class. Each class was taught one Christmas Carole, and then everyone was brought into the lounge for an event which was obviously held much more for the staff than for the children. A very skinny Santa Claus came a "ho ho hoing" throwing out mini Snickers as he paraded through the hall. Our only Jewish fellow played his guitar and led us in the sing-a-long of classic Christmas songs including Rudolf, Jingle Bells, Jingle Rock and We wish you a Merry Christmas. The children did enjoy the event, but as I said before, the event was held for the staff, so that we could feel a bit of the Christmas spirit that we might have felt if we had been home.
After the sing-a-long, we congregated in the kitchen for some adventurous cooking. There is a kitchen in the "Cooking class" and although there are 6 stove tops, there is only one tiney, itsy bitsy oven that is somehow also duely a microwave. Don't try and ask me questions about this contraption because I understand it not at all! For Thanksgiving, evidently all 22 teachers had participated in cooking a marvelous feast, however it was quite an undertaking with one oven/microwave and 20 people trying to cook at the same time. So for Christmas it was decided that we should break up into groups and only cook for 6 or so rather than for the entire group. My contribution was gravy- an interesting undertaking in Korea considering we didn't have drippings nor could I find chicken broth. Rather my gravy was from veggie broth (which could only be found in the western grocery store), flour water and butter and I did make enough servings for everyone, since we seemed to have depleted Ireland of all her potatoes. The teachers live on the fourth floor, while the kitchen is on the first floor of the school. We brought all of the tables up to our floor for our Christmas dinner together and placed the small Christmas tree in the middle as our Christmas decoration. Our small group was comprised of British, Canadians and two Americans and as it turns out, we have different ideas for what is a typical Christmas dinner, but as we were all in Korea, and had limited options, we choose to buy already cooked chickens and heat up some veggies. One group even decided just to have take out from California Pizza Kitchen (interesting choice for Christmas dinner but it made the kitchen less crowded). We weren't able to start dinner until 9pm and quiet hours start at 10pm. It was hard for us to care that the kids were supposed to go to sleep, since we know they don't ever go to sleep at 10, and when all we wanted to do was have a proper Christmas celebration, but we held our laughter and whispered across the table. Regardless of all of the adversity to our Christmas, and maybe a little because of it, it felt really special. It wasn't like being at home, but it was the next best thing to it. We all were a little of afraid of Christmas escaping right out from under us without as much as a whisper, and although we had to work at it, we did the best that we could to remember what Christmas was all about and to share the Christmas joy with all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

what I woke up to this morning

It was difficult crawling out of bed this morning. My body was listless, flem seemed to be slowly creeping into my breathing canals, and overall, I just didn't feel my greatest. I am hoping that these signs are not actually signs of an upcoming virus/flu/cold/illness, but since I am no fortune teller, I cannot say for sure. However after dragging my useless body from the cave of my bed hovel, dressed myself, skyped with Kyle, I walked downstairs to the office for our daily morning meeting. However, this morning, the view out the window was drastically different than the mornings before! Everything was covered in white. When I lived in Lubbock breifly for two years, it snowed a couple of times, but if this stays for Christmas, it will be my very first White Christmas! Yay! Only 2 days till Christmas. Moral around here is low since we have to work Christmas day, and it is difficult to feel the Christmas spirit. Korea does celebrate Christmas, but it isn't an important holiday and considering that the children are here at an all week camp over the Christmas holidays tells you a little bit about how unimportant it really is. Hopefully this snowfall and the Christmas caroles we are singing on Thrusday will help to lift everyone's spirits.

Monday, December 22, 2008

One Crazy Saturday

It began with a simple invitation to a FREE company lunch. As we are all poor teachers, trying to make our way in the world, without good reason (aka: being deathly ill) nearly no one dared turn the offer down. We were told to meet in the office at 11:30 am and we would walk down the hill three blocks to the restaurant. I had no idea what to expect, but I would never have in my wildest dreams guessed what actually happened that Saturday. It began with meeting some of the representatives of the company and a short tour of our facilities. We then were herded outside to wait for our transportation. After shivering in the cold for nearly 30 minutes, a short bus/van picked us up for the backbreaking trip of 3 blocks which we could have walked in less time than we had to wait.
Once we arrived we were instructed to take off our shoes, sit on the floor, on little green, square pads under miniature tables with burners in the middle of each. Our drink choices consisted of water, beer, soju (their national liquor), rice wine (which wasn't sweet enough for me), lemonade and coke. Also on the tables were mountains of unidentifiable nibbles. One dish for sure was kimchi, and then there was some type of cabbage in a stew, also lettuce with spicy stuff, along with crab that had to be sucked out of the shell, a lettuce pancake thingy which was delicious and other items that I just didn't try.

After everyone was seated including all of the Korean company members whom I had never met, speeches in Korea commenced. We clapped along with everyone else on cue even when we had no idea what was going on. Waiters came by to turn our burners on. Shortly afterwards, they brought out the meat. As it cooked, they came around with scissors to cut the meat into chunks, seeing as we were using metal chopsticks and had no knives at our disposal. The meat was nicely season and mouthwateringly delicious. I was full from my first helping, but evidently that was not to be our last, not even close. Waiters came by with more meat, cooking, and chopping with said scissors. They brought chunk after chunk of raw meat to be cooked in front of us for seemingly hours after we had finished our first gorge. We were brought at least 5-6 rounds of meat, which I am told is not uncommon in Korea. I looked around at the teeny tiny Koreans and wondered where it could all go. I have yet to see an overweight Korean since I have been here, and yet they seem to eat like gluttons. The food continued for a couple of hours and then the party began. We (the foreign teachers) were asked to stand up, introduce ourselves to the group, after which we were given a glass of Korean beer to chug! ( I am not really a fan of beer so I gave mine to my neighbor) Never in my life have I been to a company event that encouraged chugging of beer as part of the introduction.

The crab as I sucked it out (it also dripped on my skirt as I posed for this photo! Classy!)

Later, a jug measuring at least three gallons filled with rice wine was brought around to each table. A bowl was filled with the milky substance and passed around the table. This rice wine was much sweeter and more to my liking, however, the communal sharing made me weary, considering half of our staff is sick, but I tasted it anyways. An hour of mingling was followed with group singing of some classic English (language) hits. One Korean even stood up and did a dance with his rendition of a Big Bang song (the most popular pop band here in Korea which sings all of it's choruses in English).

But that wasn't enough singing for everyone, so we headed up stairs to their Karaoke room for some more fun. It began simply enough, with one or two people at a time going up to sing a song. (Christy, LD and I were actually the first volunteers to sing. We sang "All I want for Christmas is you" and I thought about Kyle the entire song) But after a few songs, our nice karaoke session turned into a rave of sorts, with the entire room crowding around the television which blared random pictures of Koreans acting out the different songs, to dance. Even the CEO was up and dancing with the rest of us. Albeit, he probably has no memory of the event, since he had had a few beers too many, and then some more, but it was great fun. Jumping, swinging our hips and swaying our hands we danced and sang the afternoon away, literally. When we were finally kicked out, we walked out into darkness, it was 6 pm. We started our lunch at noon and didn't leave until 6 in the evening. That was probably the longest lunch I have ever attended, but it was also the most entertaining I have ever been to as well! A cultural experience I shall never forget!
The nibbles
Sorry this pictures sucks, but I was trying to take it as others were taking off their shoes.
The begining of the Karaoke with only a couple of the Koreans dancing

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Feeling the Love

The other morning, I woke up with my stomach in knots. Kyle has been trying to obtain his much deserved diploma this week, and after everything that has happened in the past, I had difficulty trusting that everything would just work out on it own. (Still no news, but all the paperwork has been turned into UT for the diploma, but we are still waiting on a response from the office staff that may or may not be on Christmas vacation)

But I wanted to share two events that occurred today that helped calm my nerves. In our school/camp, the students meet in their homeroom class at the end of every day with their homeroom teachers. This week I am with the lowest level class (again) but this time at least there seems to be a life line, no more crickets chirping, and dead stares. On my doorstep, after dinner, I found this:

Notes from my sweet homeroom class telling me how much they like me. In the words of my new British buddies, "it is probably rubbish" but nevertheless, it made me feel good.
Here are some of the letters.
To: Veaessa teacher
Hello Veaessa,
My name is Yun. My favorite teachers was you vaessa teacher. your kide. bye bye
From: Yun

To. Venessa
Hello venessa. I am your Homeroom student Benjamin. You are very kind and pretty teacher. Do you like kimchi I like kimchi. You laugh face is very happy and pretty. Good bye. Your home room student.

To Venessa
Hello Venessa? I'm Hadsome? Alex
Do you like pizza??
I like pizza
I like homeroom
Homeroom very fun
Your homeroom student Alex
2008 (in bold letters)

The second event:
As I was stepping off the makeshift eliptical, the only workout machine available to us here in our cozy dorm, a ladybug landed on my hand. I am not normally one who looks for signs or really even believes in them, but instantly, my body relaxed, and I felt all of my worries take flight as the ladybug landed. I have been trying to think postively these past few days, but I have found it a difficult task, as everytime we have have trusted in the system, we have been failed. It was as if the ladybug was a reminder to keep the faith, keep believing that these wrongs will be righted and all will be well soon enough.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Intesting news regarding South Korea and randomness

Note to subscribers: The last post had a video attached, that did not show up in the email. It is worth watching, but you must go to the actual blog to see it.

I came across an interesting story today regarding South Korea. It turns out that South Korea is one of the only non-Muslim countries which still has a law against adultery.

Korean adultery actress sentenced

South Korean actress Ok So-Ri leaves the court, 17/12/08
Ms Ok apologised for stirring up a controversy

One of South Korea's best-known actresses, Ok So-ri, has been given a suspended prison sentence of eight months for adultery.

She admitted the offence and the court suspended the sentence for two years.

The trial took place after Ms Ok failed to get the constitutional court to overturn the strict law that makes adultery a criminal offence.

In her petition she said the law was an infringement of human rights and amounted to revenge.

According to the BBC correspondent in Seoul, John Sudworth, the scandal has kept South Korea's tabloid newspapers and internet chatrooms buzzing for months.

'Damaging to social order'

South Korea is one of the few remaining non-Muslim countries where adultery remains a criminal offence.

A person found guilty of adultery can be jailed for up to two years.

South Korean actress Ok So-Ri cries as she speaks to the media (October 2008)
Ms Ok failed to get the Constitutional Court to overturn the law
More than 1,000 people are charged each year, although, as in this case, very few are actually sent to jail.

The law has been challenged four times, but the country's top judges have always ruled that adultery is damaging to social order, and the offence should therefore remain a crime.

In this case, Ms Ok was sued by her former husband, Park Chul.

She admitted having an affair with a well-known pop singer, and blamed it on a loveless marriage to Mr Park.

The 40-year-old actress sought to have the adultery ban ruled an inconstitutional invasion of privacy, and in a petition to the Constitutional Court, her lawyers claimed the law had "degenerated into a means of revenge by the spouse, rather than a means of saving a marriage".

But the adultery ban was upheld, and judges in Seoul have now given her an eight-month suspended sentence, and her lover a six-month suspended term.

"I would like to say I'm sorry for stirring up such a controversy," Ms Ok said after the court judgement.

According to a survey carried out last year, nearly 68% of South Korean men and 12% of women confess to having sex outside marriage.

Other randomness:

You know when you are in Asia when...
In one class, as a game we were asking the children riddles. The riddle was, what is useless until it is broken? Do you know the answer? Think a little bit.

Well the answer we were looking for was "egg," but instead the entire class gave the same answer: wooden chopsticks. We gave them credit since they do have to be broken before they are used, but we found it quite hilarious.

Also, today one of the children called me Rudolf because he said my nose was bright red. It was cold today. Maybe it is a cultural thing to comment on the redness of ones skin. If you recall, the Korean interviewer in Houston said my face was red and then related it to my looking tired. Complimentary these Koreans huh? hmmm....

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This Christmas

This Christmas will be my first ever spent away from either my family or Kyle. It is not one I am particularly excited about since what I most enjoy about Christmas is spending time with the people who are important in my life. Of course I love the food, and the presents, but sometimes I feel like we loose the true meaning of what it is about, and get too wrapped up in the pressure of topping last years gift with something even more spectacular and expensive. I found this video on a cool blog I have been reading lately and I felt that it really helped to put things into perspective. Please don't take offense because, I, like most people love presents, and I don't feel that I am better than anyone else, but this video definitely makes one think?

What are some things that we could do to help simplify Christmas? One thing I was thinking about was since I am out of the country this year, anyone who wanted to give me a gift could donate money in my name. Unicef is a great organization that helps children specifically in many areas including education, nutrition, medical attention etc. There are so many organizations and non-profits that do amazing work all around the world, assisting others that have much more need than you or I have for a Christmas present. It is something to consider anyways.

In other news, today I made my first teacher blunder. I used a permanent marker on a white board. The kids found it hilarious as my face began to change from pink to tomato red. After class I payed three kids in red stickers (reward stickers that they equate with gold) to clean the board for me. They discovered regular pencil erasers will do the trick if rubbed hard enough! It wasn't my proudest moment :)

Monday, December 15, 2008

The First Week in South Korea

Dec. 8 Sunday- Zombie, grumpy Vanessa steps off the plane into jetlag land of sleepwalking down dark hallways in the middle of the night and getting lost in the maze of her new school.
Monday- After getting up at 4 am and wandering around, going back to bed and sleeping until 9am, I meet with some of the staff to finish and finalize some paperwork. Also my first chance at eating true (cafeteria) Korean food. Pretty yummy if you ask me, even though sometimes disturbing since much of it is unidentifiable.
Tuesday-Friday- As I explained in the previous post, the children are given proficiency tests and sectioned off into classes according to their ability. The rest of the week, I followed around the lowest level class to all 20 of their classes. As their home room teacher asked them questions about how their day went, 11 pairs of Korean eyes stared back at us blankly or meticulously began studying the carpet. Crickets began to chirp, and then the crickets out of boredom started to serenade the class of harder times in some classic blues numbers. I was with this class for an entire week, and from that time, I can tell you that they understood most of what was said, and they were a smart bunch but getting them to speak was like trying to brush your dogs teeth, even when the toothpaste is chicken flavor, nearly impossible without personal injury. But rather than being bitten, injury in the form of exhaustion from using every ounce of energy to engage and entertain these silent little Korean sixth graders. Several teachers commented that they had never had such a quiet class. Not a soul spoke, and deathly silence would take form in the room, as it's own entity. That is until a kid who had named himself Top (they all pick English names for the week) after the hugely popular "Big Bang" pop group, would look up from being distracted and just start to yell out random answers. He was our saving grace, the only energy, and the only seemly life force in the room. And to be honest I think Top had ADD from his inability to pay attention, but when he did pay attention he gave it his all. In the end, we gave Top the "Best Effort Award." I have a feeling Top was not the typical student to receive awards. He wasn't ill-behaved, but he did needed to be reminded nearly every class to pay attention to the lesson, but once you did, he gave you almost all of his attention until distracted once again. I had a lot of fun with this silent group, and by the last day, a couple of them began to crawl out of their self-made hermit shells and participate a bit more. (I don't know if I can take pics of the kids for legal reasons. I will find out though)
Friday evening- A group of us went out for something similar to Korean BBQ, but isn't exactly the same. It is pronounced Duckgabi. I am not going to try and describe the difference because I am not entirely sure of the difference myself, but I was assured they are not to be mistaken for the same type of cuisine. Nevertheless, in both styles, the food is cooked in front of you and often eaten with lettuce leaves. Yummy to my tummy, but man oh man spicy!

Sat-Sun- I was extremely lazy. My days were nearly identical but for my outing on Friday evening. Woke up, called Kyle, layed in bed, read my book, called Kyle again, refused to change into anything but my sweatclothes, and maybe took a cat nap. On Friday evening I did venture out with a group of teachers to a "Mexican Korean restuarant." Let's just say, the food wasn't exactly Mexican food, a proper attempt, not quite there, but all in all not bad. I ordered seafood rice, which I think was an attempt at Paella (actually Spainish) but with wimpy seafood and a fried egg on top, very typically Korean.

So far, I have really enjoyed my time here, the teachers and staff are welcoming and terrific. I feel like my one week of independence from my hubby has done me well, but I am so ready to have my lovebug here with me and can't wait until Kyle is here to venture on the this journey together!
My first bite!
The quaint restaurant

Random dog in the middle of Samsung Plaza. I thought he/she deserved a picture.
Me with the dog, but you can't see her colors quite as well.

Friday, December 12, 2008

About SNET

SNET is the school here in South Korea for which Kyle and I are working. SNET stands for Seongnam English town. There are several types of schools in South Korea, there are private schools or Hagwons where kids go after school to learn more English, there are public schools that have 40 kids to the classroom and they have English villages which is like what SNET is. So what happens at SNET is the public schools in the city of Bundang sends their entire class of six graders at one time to stay at SNET for an entire week learning English. It is like camp, a fun English camp. The kiddos stay in dormitories, go to class from 8:30-8:30 with several breaks in between and are fed Cafeteria style. The 20 something foreign teachers plus some of the Korean teachers at SNET also live in the school, on the top floor, the furthest away from the kiddos as possible. Living at the school has it's advantages and drawbacks.

  • I leave my room at the last possible moment before I actually have to be in class or in a meeting. Ex: If I need to be in the office at 8:30 am, I leave my room at 8:29 am. I have to say a one minute commute rocks.
  • Meals are prepared for us- less time spent working on meal planning and cooking, more time I have to do things I want.
  • Always have someone to talk to. It has a dorm-like feel, something is always going on.
  • I live in a school, which is sometimes kind of weird.
  • The food isn't always what I want to eat. Especially when my stomach has qualms with the spices and whatnot.
  • I can hear the wake-up calls for the kiddos at 6:45am. They don't play it on our floor, but the floor underneath us but it is loud enough. After which music is played to help them actually crawl out of bed. Normally at the time in the morning, I am not ready to get down and boogie.
  • It is also similar to a dorm in that even if you don't want there to be people around, you don't have much choice. And my room is directly in front of the commons room with the couches and TV, where people congregate. I am working on getting a room change, too loud for me.

So how it works: About 130- 200 plus kids are sent here every week. The first day, kids are given a proficiency test and split into 20 different classes depending on their levels ranging from can't speak much to nearly fluent. The kids then attend about 2o something different 1 hour classes ranging from; cooking class (make cookies) , science lab (make soap), karaoke (sing English songs), broadcasting (video tape in a studio and interview in English), global connections (learn about different countries) and more. The classes are designed to be very fun and game oriented to hold their attention. The classes are entirely in English, not even the Korean teachers will use Korean, which for some of the lower classes requires much sign language, picture drawing, and basically requires one to make a fool out of themselves until the kids understand the mumbo-jumbo emitting from our mouths. But SNET's goal is not just to help the kids learn English, it is to help educate them on becoming global citizens of the world while learning English which is something I really support and think is a really great idea.

Here are the official goals of SNET:
  • improve students' English communication skills
  • connecting students to the global community via relations with foreign teachers and global education curriculum
  • increasing their confidence and interest in learning foreign languages through having fun while learning
So here is home and work. We are surrounded by wooded areas making this a very serene place to live.

There are also a lot of trails around the school that I can't wait to try when the weather isn't so cold.

Just decoration but pretty cool looking.

The karaoke room

The cooking class

The commons room.

My address:
200 Yul-dong, Bundang-gu, Seongnam,
Gyeonggi-do, 463-742, Korea
(Inside the Saemaul Institute)

Phone Number from US:
011-82-31-725-5681 or you can try to skype me. (also, if I do change rooms, this number will change a little)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Happy 8 year (dating) anniversary my darling honey bunches of oats!

(Warning: If you don't like lovey-dovey mumbo gumbo, skip this post. No fake vomiting sign language allowed. )
Today is our 8 year anniversary and unfortunately the first ever spent apart, but not only apart, but in different countries, across an ocean and several other bodies of water. The reaction I receive often when I say that we still celebrate our dating anniversary is a face of confusion and sometimes constipation, communicating in not so many words (or none at all) "why would you celebrate your dating anniversary now that you are married? Weirdo!" I can't speak for Kyle, but for me, our dating anniversary is just as important if not more than our wedding anniversary. When we began "dating," which cannot really be refereed to as dating at the age of 16 and 17, especially when dates weren't a regular event, rather " romantically hanging out" might more accurately describe our true activities at the time, (but come to think of it, I don't think that has changed much since we go on dates hardly never), we were young, too young, some might even argue, but early on we were fully, deeply, heart and soul committed. (Could that run-on sentence be any longer or confusing) And although the delectably formidable "M" word wasn't breached for at least a year into our relationship, had we been in different places in our lives (not dirt sandwich poor, and perpetually in college) we would have married much earlier because we knew much earlier on that we were perfect for each other and our lives would not be complete without the other. For me, our wedding was a formality, legalizing what I had felt and held in my heart for many years. Please don't misunderstand, I loved our wedding and I love that we are married, but our relationship's emotional, and committal level grew at it's standard growth rate the day of that blessed day, not a giant leap. Therefore I argue, that it is just as important for us to celebrate the day of our albeit awkward first kiss, the day that began what was to be the best thing that ever happened to me, the day when I found my true love. So happy 8 year anniversary my darling, and here is to 121 more years to come!

Reasons I love my Darling hubby dub:
1. His laugh is a highly contagious virus (a good virus) taking up the entirety of the space around, positively charging every particle within it's reach.
2. He somehow pulls off "the cool kid" and the "nerdy kid" at the same time. Truly amazing.
3. Kids and animals alike are drawn to him as if he were a kid animal magnet. You gotta love a man that is great with kids and animals.
4. His ginormous cranium is filled to the brim with useless information. There is useful info banging around in there as well, but it doesn't always find it's way to the forefront.
5. He still makes my heart go "pitter-patter" I love you baby!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hibernation awaits

I took my first trip out of my rabbit hovel (the school and my room) to explore the city of Bundang. The real reason for the trip was to gather and store necessities for the long winter hibernation, in which I fully plan to stay inside the confines of the school and avoid breaching the outdoors and frighteningly white and cold winter. Bundang is a very affluent city where many of the wealthy Koreans are beamed in by magnetized light rays branching from affluent brands such as Prada and Gucci. In addition, in order to live in this city, one must be immaculately dressed from head to toe, as if prepared for a photo shoot at any time. We were leaving for the city after dark, and I debated taking my camera for fear it would be too dark for the photos to show up, however after arriving to Samsung Plaza, I realized after being blinded by the layers upon layers of flashing neon lights, lighting would not be an issue.
Samsung Plaza in all of it's shining glory.

They decorated for Christmas too!

Things that I bought at the store: Cereal, they only had flakes, no Cheerios, no clusters, nothing but plain Jane, boring flakes. Breakfast is provided here, however, it is nearly equivalent to the Korean lunch, rice, veggies, kimche, NOT real breakfast food, hence the boring cereal. Shampoo and Conditioner were ridiculously priced, something near $7-8 a bottle. Sugar, peppermint tea- like I said, it is cold and tea is always a good warmer upper. Laundry detergent, also too expensive. And some other thingies that I can't remember right now. All in all I paid like $60 for all of this crap! It costs to be clean in Bundang! Note to self: Dirty is obviously better, take less showers, and wash clothes less ( just kidding folks, or am I?)

Me with my huge bag that could fit probably two Vanessas inside to help explain the previous post about lugging luggage by my lonesome.

Monday, December 08, 2008

First impressions

1. Before you enter a country, you always has to fill out an info card about the duration and reason of their stay and whether you are carrying narcotics, weapons or anything else illegal (like anyone would claim a bomb or heroine but whatever). So after you get off the plane, you have to stand in a god-awful long line to have this sheet checked out with the passport. It is normal to provide tables next to these lines for the people who didn't fill out the sheet on the plane. But in Korea, not only to they provide pens with chains keeping them attached to the table, but READING GLASSES for those travelers over 40 years of age. How considerate!
2. Korean boys are very affectionate with each other, like you might expect girls to be in the US, holding hands, linking arms, leaning on each other, etc. I did not see this behavior with the girls so far. But I have only been here one day.
3. Jet lag is starting to take over. Earlier, yawning was not only frequent, but I thought I might stretch a muscle in my jaw from performing the action too many times consecutively. Also attending Korean language class while severely jet lagged is not conducive to learning.
4. Yep, it's cold! It was snowing yesterday when I arrived. Even the Canadians said that it was cold and winter really hasn't arrived yet!
5. Web pages come up in Korean. There is an English tab, but since I can't read Korean, I have no idea which one it is!!
6. It is either more popular to wear glasses with Korean children or they have more eyesight issues because it seems to me that nearly half of the students wore glasses. It may be the fog of jet lag, we will have to judge that one later.
7. Time difference: In Korea it is 7:30 pm Monday while it is 4:30 am Monday in Texas. Korea is 15 hours ahead, I think.
8. I learned how to say "I love you" in Korean. This is how to pronounce it: Sarang hey yo. I don't have characters on my computer so I can't write it in Korean.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

In Korea

It is Monday 5am Korean time, but my bewildered body clock and anxiety has stricken me awake against my will. I have just returned from a nightly prowl around the school. The stillness and darkness were palpable, making my lurking feel mischievous and delightfully naughty. My mission was to find the computer lab since the internet in my room is not working as of yet. As I secretly tip toed around the school unsuccessful in my mission to find that which I have already been shown in the haze of my arrival, I felt a twinge of excitement. It possibly is the first I have felt since loading the plan in San Antonio. As the flutter of excitement began to flutter away, I snatched it and held it in my cupped hands, tucking it away into my candy cane striped socks. I want to hold on to any shred of positive adrenaline that flutters my way.

I have dreamt in my multiple daydream escapades about the miraculous moment of stepping off the plane into South Korea, and feeling overwhelmed with happiness for having overcome adversity to finally achieve what I had set out to do. Although my heart did wiggle inside it’s ribcage hovel with a tad bit more animation when our wheels touched down, my reality was far removed from my fairytale vision. Of course in my vision, my dear darling hubby was with me making the trip generally easier and more enjoyable. In my vision, I didn’t have to push a cart while pulling my bag the twice the size of me through the very large and unfamiliar airport trying to avoid crashing into other travelers as I difficulty maneuvered the cart with one arm all the while lugging the body bag behind with the other arm. In my vision, someone waited as I exited the baggage claim to welcome, hug, and empty my pockets of the anxiety. In this vision, the phone call I made to my homecoming party was received and did not end in confusing Korean with no beep indicating to leave a message. After hauling my luggage what seemed a mile, I exited to airport. With sweat dripping down my back, the explosion of cold air was welcoming, but only for the span of 60 seconds after which I hastily found my jacket to ward off the icy wind. found my bus counter, paid for my ticket and loaded yet another mode of transportation. The hour and a half bus ride flew by and as I slugged off the bus, the sweet sound of my name “Vanessa?” was said. Two fellow teachers greeted me, took my bags and loaded everyone and everything into a taxicab. Relief swept over me, as did exhaustion. Tucked away in my candy cane striped socks is still the fluttering of excitement. Tomorrow with any luck, other friendly flutterers might flutter their way either to my heart or my socks.

Friday, December 05, 2008

One foot in, One foot out

Today is Friday and my official leave date for South Korea. Sitting in a white rocking chair against the wall of the newly renovated San Antonio airport, I stare out the window into the gray, gloomy and COLD day while I wait to board the plane to Seattle. My feelings are like grandma’s secret soup, a can of excitement, a spoonful of apprehension, a pinch of heartbreak and a squirt of nervousness. I have just said goodbye to my hubby, but I have come to terms with our separation. As we kissed our parting kiss, I felt those familiar sensations, a constricting throat, pressure behind the eyes and an uncontrollable trembling began in my lips, but I kept my composure. Hopefully if everything goes to plan it will only be one month apart, which happens to include our 8 year as a couple anniversary and Christmas, but we can and we will endure.

As I reflect on the week past, I consider how our relationship has already reacted to the preparation of our time apart. Distance helps bring into perspective what is easy to forget when faced with the day to day happenings in a structured and normal life. At the very least has helped us appreciate our love and the happiness we bring to each other.

Here is a reflection of this past week.

Monday- Kyle and I drove back to SA from visiting his grandparents at the coast. After acquiring Kyle's mandatory background check for the Korean visa, we headed over to visit with Leslie and her mom Carole for some Christmas merry making.

Merry making activities:

* Visiting the Christmas tree lot for Carole's tree. (My very ever trip shopping for a REAL Christmas tree. I had no idea how many different options there were!! My mom always had a fake Christmas tree to avoid an allergic reaction resulting in a grumpy mom at Christmas).
* candy making
* mimosas and margaritas
* The Grinch

All in all, a very successful bout of Christmas fun! I love Christmas, even if I won’t be in the states this year to celebrate it!


* A run in the park with Leslie and Kyle including a snake and an armadillo sighting. Pretty much a lazy day, avoiding thoughts of leaving my husband and enjoying doing just about nothing productive.
* Dinner with Dad. He brought us our Christmas gift and Kyle a book of Bob Dylan music for Kyle to learn on the guitar. ( He doesn't know how to play yet, but he wants to learn)


• When I was in high school, I put some money into stocks. ( I was such a savvy teenager) My $500 dollars isn’t doing so hot since the market is circling the drain, but isn’t as bad as it could have been. So we had a meeting to put Kyle on the account and discuss putting more money into stocks with our stock broker (that sounds so fancy). Result: Kyle and I are opening up ROTHs, that is right, at the age of 24 and 25 we are opening up retirement funds. That really wasn’t what I had in mind going into the meeting, but it seems like a good idea to prepare for the future- even if it is the far far future considering I haven’t even started my career yet and can’t even fathom what retirement will be like. But not only retirement funds people, we are preparing for death: Life Insurance. No, I am not crazy. It only takes like $7/month at our age to lock in a $100,000 policy for 20-30 years. I watched Kyle carefully through our discussion, scrutinizing whether my hub dub’s brain was scheming my strategic and untimely end to collect that mulla. (j/k sweetheart, I know you love me more than $100,000, now if it were 1 million dollars I might actually be worried ☺ )
• My mommy took us last minute medicine shopping. Anit-diarrheal, pepto, tums, nasal squirts, cold medicine day and night time, pills with names and functions unknown to me, and laxatives (evidently very important for the heavy rice diets). I felt like a freaking pharmacy- hypochondriac- drug addict all combined into one crazy girl with lots of drugs.
• Curried humus, white turkey Chili, cowboy caviar, hard-as-stone burnt pitas, air soft guns, great friends, Cranium, and a premium boys butt whooping by the girls team all combined made for a terrific second going away party. My favorite moment had to be when the boys were asked the question: What spendy spice is derived from the stigma of a crocus, and Kyle didn't even blink before he knew the answer: Saffron. My husband can't remember a conversation from five minutes previous, but he knows the answer to that crazy question? He truly is a special fella!

• Reality and stress started to set in as my comprehension of what was about to occur started to set in.
• Thank God for Kyle. As I stared blankly at the suitcase, Kyle stuffed my pharmacy, and electronics into my carry-on bags. Their weight combined is the equivalent of our entire house. It is like we disassembled the house, stuffed them into two carry-on bags and strapped them to a 100 pound girl, me. I gotta be prepared-even if I can’t walk, I will be prepared!

Friday/Today -When I woke up this morning, my body reacted to my conflicting feelings about my flight today. At 3:10 pm, I left San Antonio, connected in Denver to ultimately land in Seattle. Tomorrow at 12:40 west coast time, I will be on a flight to South Korea. I am excited, but I wish I could be more excited. I am alone and wish that everything would have worked out like I had planned in my head, to fly with my love to our adventure together, but life doesn’t always go your way, and I have accept that. The flight to Korea will be 12 hours. Once I arrive, I will need to find a kind soul to help me with my four bags and make my own way to the bus station. Once I exit a bus, someone will be there to assist me, hopefully. See you on the other side of the world!
The butt kickers!

The manly losers :)