Thursday, April 29, 2010

I've been promoted!...I think....

As of last Friday, I (Kyle) am now the Foreign Teacher Coordinator here at the Village. The guy that held the position previously finally cracked and went streaking across the campus. ;) Just kidding! Or am I... So now the mantle has been passed down to me to be the beacon of hope and sanity in the swirling chaos that is English Village. My task is rather simple but no easy cross to bear.

Job 1; Get info from Korean Admin and convey it to the Foreign Teachers in such a way that it prevents rioting.

Job 2; Get "feedback" from the Foreign Teachers and convey it to the Koreans in such a way that it prevents tears and bloodshed.

Job 3; When needed, inform Foreign Teachers that they are being scheduled to work overtime and that they will be compensated with hours instead of pay. Then endure the cursing and yelling that follows and let the Administration know when the Foreign Teacher has declined the work.

Other than that, it's kind of up to me to decide what else can be done to make life easier for all of us. Essentially, KEEP THE FOREIGN STAFF HAPPY!!!

I'm excited and a bit overwhelmed but We'll see how I do.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The monk mantis

Teaching ESL students is always an interesting experience. Sometimes I am surprised when looking down at my hands that I don't have clumps of my hair tightly gripped within them. Each strand tightly wound around my finger tips cutting off the circulation. Other times however, my stomach hurts from laughing so hard at their comments, cleverness and/or silliness.

Here are some fun examples of comments that caused tremendous laughter!

Koreans have a difficult time pronouncing my name because the "V" sound does not exist in this language. So instead it comes out "paneso" or "banessa" which they generally think is identical sounding to banana. Almost every school has at least one class that insists on calling me banana teacher. However this week, one class decided that "Kyle's wife" was the best choice for my name. Explaining that I had my own name was futile and from that point on, the entire class referred to me as the second part to Kyle instead of addressing me as an individual.

I was teaching a theme class this week called "Insects." The students goal was to name the insect. Depending on their level, the students knew at least a few, but when they didn't know they would sometimes make up names that might seem to fit.

Did you know that the Horse bee is otherwise known as a WASP? I didn't either. Probably because it isn't true. But that is what the Korean children suggested as its name.

The previous slide was a honey bee, the obvious guess for the wasp was a hose bee, clearly. I thought this was a very clever guess. Especially since an over-sized fly in English is called a horse fly.

The Monk mantis aka: Praying mantis
The students all know mantis. I don't know if it is a Konglish word or if they are just taught it in school, but regardless "mantis" is the word they yell out when the picture fades in. We were prompting them with our hands in the prayer position to help them come up with the beginning word when one boy shouts: "Monk mantis!" I love when the kids actually try as opposed to the usual blank stares and although his guess wasn't EXACTLY correct, I was very grateful for his effort.

I would say it is pretty typical of students not to pay much attention to classes they don't see much value in, even in the states. So either the students this week really didn't pay attention, they got confused or their teacher taught them wrong. But more than one class told me that mosquitoes drink pee. Yep, pee. They're so funny!

Did you know that fireflies have a fire on their HIP?

This is typically how the conversation goes.
What insect is this?


"Its a firefly. Why do you think it is called a firefly?"

"Fire... hip..."

I really don't understand this national misunderstanding, but for some strange reason, Korean children are taught that "the butt" is actually called "hip". They often giggle when they say "hip" as if it is a naughty word they might get in trouble for using. I continuously try and correct each class that comes in, however pointing at ones butt isn't always considered appropriate.

Despite "other issues" there are always fun times to be had in Korea!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Unhappy? here's some food, forget about it!

The administration has been making...umm.... interesting....choices since Kyle and I arrived. Typically these choices are ones that don't make us smile. In fact, when speaking of how things work around this place, you can often find an upside down smile plastered on my face, and even what Kyle refers to as my "scary eyes".

We have been told that once upon the time, teachers actually smiled when someone from the top spoke. Once upon a time in a far far away land, teachers were happy. At this point we are so far removed from those times, these stories seem as fantastical as fairy tales. You might as well have told us that half the population is an alien race and that we can ride unicorns to work everyday. How was it possible that at one time teachers were listened to and respected? How did we get so far from that time?

Just a week ago they told us they were broke. So they turned off our hot water except for four hours a day. Planning my day around the times I can take a hot shower turns me into a green Godzilla! I find it so infuriating especially since we pay them for utilities.

This week they bought a moon bounce for the steal of a deal price of $7000.

Something doesn't add up. We haven't been able to hire new foreign teachers so instead, a moon bounce will just have to take the place of an English speaker for now I guess.

But we have noticed a pattern recently. Any time they bring us bad news such as, "you will have no prep time, and will have to teach 7 hours a day." They accompany it with food as if we are children who can be easily bribed.

"We are going to make your life a living hell and we have no respect for you, but look at the food we brought you. Don't fret. Don't worry, think about the food."

And we nearly fall for it. What can we say, pizza, chicken and cake all make us smile no matter what you have just told us. "You have to donate one of your lungs to us, but don't worry, eat some cake." And we would probably smile for the next thirty minutes. And we have been served a lot of food lately. Take that as you will.

I am hoping this place doesn't turn me into a rolly porker who doesn't remember how to smile unless bribed with food. Don't worry though, I'm not bitter. I laugh at the absurdity daily. Forest Gump's mother was certainly right. Life is a box of chocolates. But when you are here (at my place of employment), you pretty much know that the one you get is going to make you laugh hysterically to keep you from going coo-coo.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cherry Blossom trip (part 2)

If you read part 1, part 2 will make much more since :)

We found the lake without too much hassle and it was delightful and even had blooming cherry blossoms. However, once again we took the wrong way turn around the lake and discovered, that bikes were not allowed in the commercial area: Our solution, ice cream. Ice cream solves everything.

After the lake the plan was to head home. According to our map, it should have only taken an hour. Of course, we went the WRONG way again, because evidently having a Korean with us, access to a map on an iphone and an ill-proportioned map did little to insure that we actually took the right turn. Our mistake unfortunately was extremely painful, and as penance by the God of Maps, we were forced to climb the never-ending hill. And by never ending, I mean that we were at least climbing for thirty minutes-to an hour. I don't actually remember as I lost consciousness and allowed my body do all the work while my spirit floated above laughing at our struggle.
The ride lasted forever, and once we arrived at the hostel, five minutes after 7pm, I thought I might topple over. My bum ached as if it had had the beating of it's life, and I dreaded another day of riding on that hard bicycle seat.
At dinner, I could hardly keep my eyes open, and by 10:30pm I was sound asleep.

This is a crazy building we saw on the wicked hard hill. In case you can't tell, it has a giant hole in the middle in the shape of a traditional tower. Kinda weird looking, very expensive, very Korean!

Sunday, after nine hours of zzzzz's, I woke refreshed all except for my bum. I understand now, the purpose of those butt padded shorts. Had I known the pain I would be in every time I sat that I couldn't help but making a pained noise, I would have searched out these specialized shorts which have the effect of making your butt look adorned with a tumor.

My bicycle stood there mocking me and my sore bum as I walked with trepidation towards this torture machine.

Luckily, the only uphills we had to brave was the steep demon hill to the most famous temple in the area. The one temple we were told couldn't be missed. It also just so happened to be the first road we were destined to ride. The temple was amazing, but honestly, once you have seen one temple in Korea, you have seen them all. They are almost all the same, except for small detailed differences. And as far as I know, none of them are the originals.

(the temple's garden)

These kids were so done with having the stinkin foreigners wanting to take their pictures!

Our friends Su and Danielle just chillin under a Cherry Blossom.
Our path back to the bike shop was along the highway, but rather than ride with the crazy Korean drivers who must all take lessons from the same insane asylum fugitive, we rode along the concrete paths of the rice paddies. Riding on flat land is so much more enjoyable that the uphill torture paths we rode Saturday.

The only other event worthy of note was running into our Polish American friend.

After returning our bikes, we found ourselves needing to waste an hour before we were supposed to meet back with the group. Walking along the streets searching for tourist shops an urgent voice calls out, "English speakers!"

A tall, broad shouldered white guy dressed in kakis, collared shirt, tie and red vest stops us in our tracks. His face was not quite desperate but his excitement was bubbling over and spilling all over his shoes. He looked as if he hadn't seen a familiar face in years. In fact we were to learn over tea and milk shakes, that this Polish Catholic guy raised in New York, schooled in South Carolina (just imagine the accent here) was fresh off the boat. (Not literally) He had just arrived in Korea for the first time not three days before. He had casually looked into teaching abroad, sent out a resume and found himself in a foreign country, in a small town far outside of Seoul (where anyone who is anyone lives) in about a months time. However within those three days, he had found a church and gone to an Easter service, found a gym, and found new friends with whom to spend the next hour. I think he should do just fine in this country. The first few months are the hardest because you really have to put yourself out there. Shyness and timidity gets you nothing in this country.

And then we returned to the bus for the long ride home. It was a fantastic trip. I was extremely appreciative that at least a few cherry blossoms bloomed for us. The beginning of spring is upon us. Patience is my friend. I can wait. I can, I can!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Our "cherry blossom" bike tour (part 1)

When we learned about the cherry blossom bike tour last February, we were one of the first to sign up. Cherry blossoms in Korea are a true cause for celebration. Not only are they delightfully delicate and paint the nearly dead looking trees with pink and white, but they also (generally) represent the end of frigid winter's paralyzing touch. However this year, winter, as I mentioned before, has refused to release us from it's icy grasp. It's shivering fingers remain tightly around the neck of Korea. Cherry blossom festivals all over the country opened April 3rd, but because of mother winter's stubbornness, the cherry blossoms shied away, only peeking out on scattered trees.

The trip, which proved to be extremely popular filled up three buses of foreigners. The organizer, then opened the next weekend as well. As the weekend got closer, the realization that the cherry blossoms might still be in hiding by the time of our trip, the organizer offered a switch. Indecisive, we wavered back and forth, finally choosing to change at the last moment to the following weekend. However, cyberspace gobbled up our message and it never arrived to the organizer's inbox despite two emails being sent. We didn't realize the appetite of cyberspace however until we were snugly on a warm subway 8:30 pm Friday evening waiting to head into Yangpyeong.

"William, I never received a confirmation that we were switched." I told him on the phone as we sat waiting for the subway to leave the station Friday evening, a few hours after the email had been sent.

"I never received an email." he replied

"WHAT!!!??" I nearly screamed into the receiver, "Are there still spots open?" I asked frantically.

"No, in fact there is now a waiting list." he replied

"I don't understand. I sent two emails not one hour after your email that there were spots open. Is there anything we can do?" I asked using my sweet voice and using my puppy dog eyes for emphasis and sympathy fecklessly.

"I can give you a refund of 50% if you don't want to go." he said plainly.

"Humph. Alright, thank you." I said quickly noticing the cue that the subway was one minute from leaving the station.

"Kyle, we gotta go!" I said grabbing his hand and pulling him off the train before the doors closed. "Sorry, we gotta go" we apologized to our astonished friends with whom we had planned to go to quiz night.

We jumped in a taxi, sped like little demons around our apartment throwing clothes, books, toiletries and other necessities into our bag for our biking weekend. The bus for the trip was scheduled at 6:30 am which meant in order to make it, we had to spend the night in Seoul with a friend. I tried not to grumble at our unfortunate luck, but it was difficult as the situation was immensely irksome.

The next morning we slept walked to the bus through brisk air. The quieter bus being more appealing for sleep, we made a b-line towards it. The bus ride was a daze. Anything anyone said to me was only an addition to my dream and not real life until Kyle grabbed my hand and placed me on a bike.

"We're here already?" I asked in my zombie state.

"It's been over three hours sweetheart. We are all supposed to meet at the tower." He replied
We got lost on the way to our first destination. This first wrong turn proved to be foreshadowing for the rest of our trip.
Coming up to the tower, I noticed oddly placed grassy hills.
"What are all of these hills?" I inquired.
Maybe this had been discussed as I was dozing, maybe it was just common knowledge, but in any case, I was the only one in the dark.
"Those are tombs of the kings" someone replied.

Throughout the city we saw dozens of these tombs. It was explained to me that kwang-ju is famous for this reason. Many of the most famous kings were buried here.

After the group shot at the tower was taken, we broke up into smaller groups exploring the area. We were given a map with trails, tourist attractions and our ultimate destination- the hostel. The problem was, the map was extremely ill-proportioned. The length of one area which we had estimated to be near an hour proved only to be 30 minutes at a leisurely pace giving us an inaccurate perception of the rest of the trails actual length.
First priority- as always when Kyle is around- is food. Because of our misunderstanding of the map, we took a leisurely lunch before continuing our route. Had we known what was in store for us, we might have made different choices. But then of course our story wouldn't be half as interesting.

Our first stop was a temple, a lame and uninteresting temple. Kyle had fun taking pictures of the area however.

We then headed towards an out of the way tomb, up an exhausting hill, once again to find nothing but disappointment. The tomb, was just that, and nothing else. A mound, a grassy knoll with nothing of interest. We thought briefly of sliding down the side of the hill just to make the most of this waste of time, but decided against it. No point in stirring up ancient angry Korean kings. We don't need insulted ghosts cursing us on top of the curse of working at a more than frustrating school.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The orphanage video

I (Vanessa) wrote a few posts about my experience at the orphanage. (click on the link to read) Below is what Kyle had to say and below that is a composition video.
A little over a month ago our school arranged to do a teach away program to some of the local schools and orphanages in the local area. The idea was to give some of the lower income kids around the area an opportunity to spend some time with a native English speaker. I spent 2 weeks at an after school daycare in Yangpyeong, the next town over. I had a wonderful time. My partner teacher Kelly was absolutely fantastic with the kids and for the most part, they were adorable. Most of them were around 4 to 5 and a few were in the 8-10 range. They were very shy at first, but by friday of the first week, they had warmed up to us and started asking questions like; “Teacher, why hair on arm?” I guess Koreans don’t really have arm hair. “Teacher, you like Kimchi?” I guess most foreigners don’t but I sure do. In small doses mind you. That stuff is potent. Anyways, the kids were lovely and I was very sad to have to leave. Perhaps one day soon, some of them will come to the Village.

If you can't see the video click here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Teaching in my house shoes

Last Friday I noticed that I wasn't on the schedule. As we sat in our afternoon meeting, I asked, "So does this mean that I'm not teaching next week?" hopeful.

"Your teaching in the preschool" said the person leading the discussion as if it was something I should already know. There is a high chance that it was someone's job to tell me this before Friday, but as no one here knows who is in charge of what, or how to communicate (not how to speak English but how to communicate) I wasn't told until the ninth hour.

"What!" I said through the chuckling of the other teachers around me, "great. Thanks a lot."

Monday morning I arrived wearing normal shoes, but in the pre-school outdoor shoes are not allowed. Many of the students have what are called in-door shoes, but mostly they just look like house shoes. So that is what I brought and have consequently been teaching in all week. And I just have to say that I LOVE IT! I love being in my house shoes all day. Now if only I could wear my pajama pants and teach while vegging out on the couch eating pizza and chocolate, my life would be perfect. First step: house shoes, and we will work on the next steps later on.

As for where I will be next week in the preschool or teaching juniors, or if I will have the opportunity to teach in my house shoes once again, only God knows .... actually.. I take that back. I think God is probably even confused by this place. He is probably chuckling to himself right now, "Oh you silly pastors who can't run a school and believe that lying to your employees is the right thing to do, I find you amusing. Its better than watching a sitcom."

Seriously I don't think anyone knows, as it is common practice not to know anything. Maybe it how they decide to pay their employees. Whoever knows the least and, the person who doesn't believe in communication gets paid the most.

Just yesterday I was told I am supposed to work Saturday evening from 7-9 pm. "I'm sorry, I have plans. You have to tell me beforehand." was my response to the scheduler who was surprised I didn't know.

"But I posted it on the website." she replied

Let's go through where it was posted. On the website that no one checks, under announcements are many dates. If you click on a date, it takes you to another page with a link, if you click on the link, it shows you a cryptic schedule that might require a professional codebreaker to understand.

"Where on here does it show me working overtime?" I ask when she shows me where it was posted.

She points to a place next to my name where there is a number one.

We spent quite a long time arguing why we couldn't get a verbal announcement. I arguing for someone verbally telling me and she arguing that it was too difficult.

One of our co-workers gave this analogy when trying to explain why we need to have several forms of communication.

"Kyle told Vanessa three years ago that he loves her. But he still has to tell her every week so that she will remember. If you want to post the schedule, at least tell us that overtime has been posted on the website." he said, wise beyond his years.

The solution: I am not working Saturday night. As for next week we shall just have to see Monday when I am told ten minutes beforehand. Working for an English Village is never boring, at least I can say that honestly. Let's just hope it doesn't send me to the crazy house where I will be allowed to teach the voices in my head while adorning my house shoes all day!

Monday, April 12, 2010

You are sick

Friday is the last day of our five day program, and at least for this past month, the most useless day of the week in the program. With this newest program which was thrown on us without forethought or preparation, we were given absolutely nothing to do with the students from 9 am to 11:50 am Friday. No book lesson, no theme class, we were simply told; spend time with the kids. So, most of the teachers, as we have no lesson planning time, watch a movie, basically finding something to fill the time until lunch. After lunch is the enthralling closing ceremony. It is a ceremony which is looked forward to with angst and excitement by the students. In fact, they love it so much, they spend the duration of the ceremony texting friends, playing games with their friends around them and generally not paying a lick of attention to the exceedingly tedious and interminable action on the stage. The only aspect of this formality that the kids actually cherish is the end, when we can say "goodbye" and they can once again say "hello" to their computer games.

Partially avoiding the overwhelming roar of the gym and partially answering nature's call, I rushed to the restroom before the ceremony last Friday, only to find that I wasn't the only one with the same idea. The teachers and students share bathrooms which in my opinion is humiliating. Who wants to hear their teacher peeing? I sure don't. And to top it off, the clique of girls grooming themselves and using the facilities not for nature's call but for gossip purposes proceeded in asking me questions as I did my business.
"Teacher? Are you teacher Kyle's girlfriend?"
"No, I am his wife" I responded from behind the stall
Amongst the oohs and ahhs I make out the words"Chincha?" (really)
"Yes really." I say, coming out of the stall to wash my hands.

As I am washing my hands, one of the girls with eyes wide and hopeful says, "Teacher, you are sick."
"I am sick?" I asked, confused as to what she is telling me. Do I look ill? I inspect my face. No green-ness or excessive paleness above my usual Casper complexion.

"You are sick." She repeats smiling like she has just paid me a compliment.

All of the girls are smiling at me willing me to understand this compliment.

And then it hits me like a hail storm from the sky!

"Chic?" I ask, "Do you mean, I am chic?"

"Yes!!" They exclaim.

I have them repeat the word several times after me so that in the off chance that they use this word with other English speakers, they don't insult someone else by calling them "sick."

This small scene put a smile on my face. Being called chic wasn't really what pleased me. Students called me beautiful everyday. They have few requirements for beautiful wagooks; small face (check), light colored eyes (check) and it helps if your nose is straight and juts out far from your face (nope- bulbous nose which lowers my beauty in their eyes). What I found amusing was how such a simple mispronunciation could illicit such an unwanted misunderstanding.

Some days Korea makes me want to scream, but other times it just makes me laugh. Thank God for the days it makes me laugh. It always provides material for a good story to share.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Banana bread from the microwave

They say that necessity is the mother of all invention. And in our case, it certainly is true. This year, we were lucky enough to score a kitchen. The bad news is however, that few kitchens in Korea come with an oven. Don't ask me why. I cannot explain Korea or Korean culture any better than I can explain the inner workings of a space shuttle. But even a rocket scientist would be boggled by Korea (in my opinion at least.) So the kitchens are oven-less. So what? So what! That means no baking- no cookies, no cakes, no homemade french fries. Nada from the oven. Unless you get creative. And we got creative peeps.

Some of you may know my inability to throw things away. From this internal electrical brain mis-firing comes lots and lots of banana bread. Why? Because I hardly ever am able to finish a batch of bananas before they brown, and when they are brown, lets face it, I don't want to eat it. But I can make it into banana bread. But without an oven, at least an oven which is near at hand (because there is an oven on campus that I have yet to learn how to use as it is in Korean and quite a walk) we learned to make banana bread in a microwave. In a mug. That's right, I said in the microwave and in a mug. Plus it takes very little time. I feel like an info-mercial.

About two minutes is all it takes. Compare 45 minutes - 1 hour in the oven or two minutes in a microwave? Crazy yet ingenious!

The oven version is considerably better but non-the-less, if you want banana bread in a jiffy, the microwave provides. I changed the recipe a few times, once smashing up a tim tam (chocolate cookie), once only using honey and brown sugar instead of any regular sugar and once using butter instead of oil. I can't remember what really worked except that the tim tam made the bread so good! What can I say, chocolate makes everything taste better.

4 T. flour
2 T. sugar
2 T. brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
2 T. vegetable oil
1/2 mashed banana
1 T. chopped pecans (optional)

In a large microwaveable mug, fully blend flour, sugars, salt, baking powder & baking soda. Add egg until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Stir in oil, then banana, then nuts. Pop into the microwave 1-1/2 minutes to 3 minutes, depending on your microwave. (Just don’t overcook when you are cooking in the microwave, or you’ll have sponge cake.)

Let me know if you try it out. Also, if you have any other microwave recipes, we would LOVE it if you would share them with us :)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Snap, photography lessons

As an unexpected Christmas gift, my lovely mommy surprised Kyle and I with an SLR (single lens reflex. As many of you know, Kyle and I like to travel. I know, I know, it is a well kept secret, but we do. And while traveling, we have become quite the photographers. And by photographers, I don't mean to imply that we are extremely talented, but we do take a prolific amount of pictures. Maybe more pictures than any of you want to see.

One reason we love traveling abroad is that foreign countries always provide such inspiration. They have the ability to perform brain surgery, pulling everything out that you thought you knew and twisting it all around until nothing makes any sense either in your culture or in another. As unpleasant as that particular experience sounds, we always come away with new perspectives.

This SLR camera or what we lovingly refer to it as our fancy schmancy camera was nearly as foreign to us as the foreign countries we visit. So we decided to invest in some lessons. And, make no mistake, it is an investment, as photography lessons are not cheap. An American here in Seoul offers a month long course; four Saturdays a week. Basically what we really need now is practice. I wish that we could take these lessons and walk away capturing the most magical moments as well trained as a professional, but unfortunately, learning how to use the odds and ends of the camera is only just the first step and basically we are toddlers in the camera world. One in ten photos turn out well if we are lucky. And just because we now know what the different buttons mean, doesn't mean we remember at the spur of the moment when the bee happens to be entering it's hive at the perfect angle. Which setting should it be at now? Is it in shade or sunlight? Should I use a flash or natural light? ARGGGG!

So in part from constant nagging from the gift giver who wants to see the fruits of her gift, we will be sharing photos from different sessions in a small series on photography by Kyle and Vanessa.

This series I call "The Subway Series" because they were all taken on the subway. After our first lesson in Seoul, we promptly went to purchase a new lens. Not because we were told to, but because we learned about new toys which would enhance our ever-growing snapping addiction. The first thing we learned in our photography lesson was that despite what you might think, the expensive part of an SLR camera is not the camera itself, but it's accessories. The extra lens we purchased was a measly $100. Compare that with some lens which run as high as $2000, we considered this purchase conservative.

The lessons were on the other side of Seoul which meant long rides on the subway, at least two hours both ways. How did we entertain ourselves on our way home? Playing with our new toy or course!! We attempted to snap photos inconspicuously, but our camera can't also be disguised as a phone or a teddy bear and the Koreans eyed us suspiciously. After some time, we just gave up all pretenses and shot at will.

This kid was so cute. All Korean kids are cute though. Which of these photos captures his cuteness the best, do you think?

Which old man photo is your favorite?