Thursday, February 24, 2011

Keeping goals

So, you might have noticed the slowness on the blog lately.  In a twisted angling of perspectives the fact that you've seen me post less is a good sign.  In general, a lack of posts means that other things are taking priority, and those other things happen to be MY GOALS!  You read that correctly, I have been steadfastly working towards my goals and/or New Years resolutions.  Now, I should say, in all honesty, I'm not keeping to my goals EXACTLY, but I'm constantly working on them so I'm feeling quite proud of myself.
This year, in an effort to stay on track and manage my time more wisely, I've made charts to help document the time spent on what project.

Writing- my goal each week is to write 4,000 words (off the blog).  This takes me close to 4 and 1/2 to 5 hours.
Studying- I know, I thought I was done with studying too, but turns out, you have to study for the GRE test.  Well, actually a lot of people don't study.  Some people don't need to study, others of us need help.  And God help because I certainly will need it. My goal here is less set. I had planned on taking the GRE in June so I had put a lot of emphasis on studying, but then I read on the website that they are implementing a new test in August and that the test is half off if you take it when it just comes out.  So I decided to go ahead and wait, but then I was advised that often times there are problems with the new tests because you are basically the guinea pig group, so I'm back to... I don't know. In the mean time, I'm trying to get in a few hours of studying each week at least. Generally I'm averaging 3 or 4 hours a week.
Running- We're in the third week of training for our half marathon.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit, however, we haven't yet signed up for a half marathon that we are already training for.  We did however, sign up for a 10k with an English Village crew consisting of at least 10 teachers on April 10th that is supposed to be a beautifully scenic run around the Han river, so honestly I'm more excited about that at the moment.  We could technically run a half marathon then, but I just don't think we'll be ready.  Our training schedule is for 12 weeks, and that is only the 10th week.
We're even working in runs at lunch time.  Because we live on campus, we slip on home, lightening speed change like superman entering the phone booth, turn our NPR podcasts on full blast on our ipods, and off we go.  Listening to podcasts has revolutionized my life, and Kyle's running.  I love that I can run, and listen to world news at the same time, I feel like I'm improving not only my body but my mind as well.  And Kyle says hes less distracted by the pain when listening to podcasts. Wow, we're waving our nerd flag high in the sky right now aren't we?

There are a few areas of my life that I didn't count on to take such a hit however.  I expected that I would blog less, and that has happened.  But I didn't calculate in cooking or cleaning.  Our house happens to be the "party" house.  Not because we are the coolest people on the block, although I would like to think that were the case, but because we've got a sound system and a BIG couch.  But having people over equals more dishes and more cleaning, which we're actually doing less of.  When I'm so focused on other things, I let the house turn into wasteland, and forget about cooking. Ha! Whats that?  Just because we spent $100 on a new little oven doesn't mean it automatically gets used.  Nope. 

So that's where we've been for the past month.  Stay tuned for more exhilarating posts about the mundane day to day of kyle and Vanessa.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Teaching the mentally challenged

February is a slow month for school in Korea.  I've never worked in a public school, so I'm not sure exactly what goes on, but we hardly ever have students in February.  So instead of bringing students to the schools, we take the teachers out into the communities.  Some of you might recall my posts about teaching at an orphanage last year.  This teaching experience was part of the "teaching away" program that English village participates in every year.  This year, however, many more schools signed up than ever before, including a facility, or a school for the mentally challenged.  I don't speak Korean, which can make my life difficult sometimes living in Korea, where everybody speaks Korean, and only a few speak English.  Because of this, I'm not sure of the details of this school in which we attended; such as how it is funded, and who all is admitted it there, but what I do know is that it was an entirely novel and trying experience.  I should clarify that I only taught at this school twice.  I've been assigned development for the month of February, however, I've only been able to focus precious few minutes on developing because everyday something pressing takes me away from my developing work. Two days this week, I was asked to substitute for teachers who were too weak and lazy to attend their classes.  I mean, seriously, like a swollen lung and fever is enough reason to take off work.  (this is sarcasm for those who can't read the tone of my voice)  So with thirty minutes to prepare, I was piled into a van with all of the other teachers and was shipped off to this special school.  The classrooms were well maintained, and honestly better than ours.  Because I taught for two different teachers, I taught in four different classrooms, two each day.
I'm a little ashamed to say that I have a fear of the disabled.  Not so much a fear, but discomfort. I think its the uncertainty of what they will do.  A fear of the unknown.  And a fear of the bodily fluids.  A lot of people share this discomfort or fear, but I don't know really how to pinpoint the cause.  Its the same reason people don't like hospitals or nursing homes.

On that first day, I laid my jacket on the podium, and anxiously awaited the arrival of my class.  They streamed in some limping, some looking at the ground, one even holding her arm limp at her chest in the stereotypical way children or insensitive people make fun of the mentally challenged. Some of them were curious about me, some of them didn't notice me, however only one of them made eye contact.  A teenage girl with neatly done pigtails, laid her head on the table and began to lightly tap her head with her fist.  Another grunted loudly, raising his voice to a shout on occasion.  Showing the Korean teacher the color by number pages I brought for our activity, she pointed out the students who would be able to do the activity.  It was valentines day, so I had brought a coloring page resembling a stained glass window.  Each section had a number, and the students were supposed to color each numbered section a specific color.  I passed out the worksheet and colors.  Two boys sitting side by side quietly responded to my instructions by picking out the correct color I had said in English and began coloring the correct sections.  They even repeated "red, one" in English.  I was astounded. Another of the capable students whose face was deformed in such a way that he looked like "Sloth" from "The Goonies" kept giving me the thumbs up.  His coloring was focused but he wasn't able to follow the directions fully.  The grunting student scribbled getting so far out of the lines he drew on the table as he squealed.  I'm not sure if he was squealing out of emotion or if it was just something he did.
When the bell rang, I breathed a sigh of relief.  One class over, and it hadn't been so bad.  The next class was even more entertaining.  An older lady with down syndrom never looked up from the circles she was drawing on her own paper.  This teacher asked me to teach them a song.  I knew that many of the teachers had been bringing coloring pages.  No one knew exactly what to do with special needs, and since only a few of them were capable of even coloring, they were at a loss.  One of the teachers decided she was going to make masks with the kids.  She passed out the cut out faces with a chopstick all the while, the Korean teacher followed behind, picking up the wooden chopsticks.  He mimed the chopstick sticking in their mouth and eye, and all she could do was laugh in desperation.  "Just coloring then." she replied.
I sang "twinkle twinkle little star" in English.  The teacher sang the Korean version, and some of the students hummed along while others continued to do what they had before, such as the sweet smiling girl at the corner who folded papers the entire class.  She had a seemingly never ending supply of papers in her desk.  She would take one out, fold it in half, open it, and fold  a different crease in it, fold another crease, crumple the paper, put it away and pull out a new, clean paper.  She did this until she ran out of paper towards the end of class, and then went to the cabinet to pull out more.  A student entered late, a popular student, and the class began repeating his name occasionally yelling out "babo" or foolish.  The popular student only laughed.  "Kim Eunlee" cried the girl folding papers.  "Kim Eunlee" repeated the boy who continually stood up to turn off the CD player and erase the board against the teachers wishes.  Kim Eunlee would laugh and it would start again.  This game made them dizzingly happy, and I laughed along with them.  At one point I asked, "crazy?" after they had yelled out "babo" for the hundredth time, and they all started to yell out "crazy!"  When the bell rang, I said goodbye feeling more confident with my abilities to deal with this group. I had walked in unsure of my capabilities and walked out an hour and a half later patting myself on the back, but with a greater appreciation for the teachers who teach these students daily, day after tiring day.

To be two... more trying than the first.

ps. I didn't bring a camera to either session as I didn't know before hand that I would be teaching at the school.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Little Taste of Home...kinda

Korea is very quickly becoming a truly Global nation. Everyday they move one step closer to becoming a more diverse country and in many ways I love em for it! For all you earthy Granola types who say globalization is killing traditions, I agree with you, but let's not let our love for such things blind us to the many benefits that come with it. I.E. WHOLESALE WESTERN FOODS! That's right kids, Korea got them some COSTCOs! Now for those of you rolling your eyes and moaning, let me just say that I'm pretty sure a Korea without Costco would have a higher foreigner crime rate. I speak from experience here. Before Vanessa and I left for home in mid December, I scheduled one last monthly run to Costco for the teachers. They then had to wait 2 months until the next run. 2 MONTHS! We came back to a staff of cranky, short fused teachers on the verge of losing it!

So just for kicks, here's some of the glorious items that we frequently purchase from this little patch of Heaven every month. Enjoy! And don't skip the end cause there's a nice little piece of a crazy Korean tradition you won't want to miss!

Kyle's Costco Necessities
24,000 won to keep me from going postal is a very small price to pay!

So we don't get Muenster cheese EVERY trip...but just about.

Mmmmmmm, Sausage

What kind of Texans would we be if we weren't getting our Tortilla fix?

So that's just a few of the items we get from Costco. Others of note are Trail Mix Bars, Huge boxes of REAL cereal, not the frosted flakes that EVERY Korean cereal seems to be, some pretty good veggie deals, INCLUDING AVOCADOS on occasion, and some decent deals on Aussie Beef and Pork Tenderloins, and of course, COSTCO PIZZA! This is one of the very few places in Korea that you can find REAL American style Pizza, where the sauce isn't too sweet and it's loaded with REAL toppings like mushrooms and peperoni and it's cheap. Even by American standards back home!

Now here's the crazy Korean activity that we've noticed. The food court sells a small variety of American style foods, including hot dogs. Now like any good American food stand, they have a condiments bar but with a bit of a twist, see if you can spot it.

Here's a closer look.

It's an Onion Grinder...with a padlock!
But here's the crazy part; 90% of the Koreans that eat at the Costco Food Court do THIS

More often, it looks like THIS

Why you may ask? This is the answer I got from some of our Korean friends who admit that they themselves have done it; "Because it's there and it's free!" And believe it or not, many a Korean Grandma has been seen grinding onions into a to go cup to take it home! God bless those crazy Koreans! And God bless COSTCO!!!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Boracay (the end)

A day of avid snorkeling without proper amounts of sunscreen resulted in excruciating pain.  We canceled our tour out on the sea the next day to allow Kyle some "get out of the sun" time.  After three days on the main beach we moved to another hotel on the other side of the island, the quieter side.  Basically, I had a hard time figuring out which hotel to stay at so in the end, mostly out of indecision, we choose two. The second was called Ligganay which means "bell" in Philippino. So named this for the shape of the rock near the beach where the hotel rests.  This hotel, was also run by an ex-pat, a German this time rather than an American.  Overall the grounds and general look of this hotel was more stunning, but our room was not memorable, and badly needed a woman's designer touch.  Looking at the white walls, the peculiar paintings, the shell chandelier, the mis-matching sheets, I could just imagine the whiskey drinking, infrequent shirt addorning, smelly German man, our gracious and very kind host, frustratingly and absent-mindedly choosing each decoration. The sheets, which are visible in the photo below, looked like they came straight through a time machine from the 80s, but to top it off, they didn't even match. It was a sad sight, but we didn't spend a whole lot of time in our room.  The pool, on the otherhand was an amazing infinity pool looking out onto the ocean seemingly almost as if they were connected . And we were surrounded by jungle, with a tiny private beach which was lovely and bordered by rocks and caves.
People often ask how I like the Philippines, to which I respond emphatically, "I LOVED it," but in all fairness it wasn't really the Philippines.  Boracay, the only island/city we stepped foot on except for Manila, is not really the Philippines. I mean, technically it is in the Philippines, but its run by ex-pats.  Its a cultural experience for the natives more so than for foreigners.  We plan to go back to see more of the "real" Philippines when we travel.

Because we canceled our tour, we spent the day relaxing, taking pictures, walking along the beach and enjoying each others company.  We walked down to Friday's Rock, a famous landmark on the island, bought margaritas before noon, had to show them how to make a proper margarita because it seemed that no one on the island knew how to make any sort of cocktail of any sort decently, and we even ate at a semi-decent Mexican restaurant.  

For the evening, I dressed in my newly purchased dress, and took more pictures of the stunning sunset.  Sunsets, no matter how many times you see them, never get old.  I could watch the sunset, watercoloring the horizon with God's special paint pallet every night of my life, and never find it dull.  But the sunsets on Boracay were nothing short of miraculous.

For our last dinner we went for an all rib night which was good, but not fantastic.  We met some other random ex-pats.    We were sad to leave, but we will be back.  It was a lovely vacation, and a fantastic way to celebrate our anniversary.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Boracay (part three)

Continuing the story of the Philippines.
Towards the middle of our trip, during the night I had an misanthropic visitor.  I could feel the bite, but I didn't feel his disease fraught limbs crawling across my face.  Waking up, I could feel that something about my eye wasn't right.  It wasn't painful, but it was obviously swollen, tightened and tender.  A glance in mirror begat an infantile scream.  Not only did my hair stick out in all directions (as it usually does in the morning) resembling a Medusa do, but to add to that initial hideousness, my eye had swollen to resemble Quasimodo.
The friendly staff at the "Blue Mango" gasped in horror. I felt seriously disfigured, and self-conscious that it looked like our romantic honeymoon had gone violently array ending in my swollen eye.  Immediately, after I insisted that my husband had not abused me, they suggested the culprit was a cockroach.  I blew it off, until two other Phillippinos suggested the same thing.  So I googled it.  Cockroaches do bite.  And they typically bite near the eye!  Conclusion: Who knows, but I sure as hell have an increased fear of those radioactive-immune critters.

Every morning, as part of our package, a free breakfast, American or Phillippino style, according to our choice, was delivered to our room.  A delicious breakfast, on a balcony overlooking the magnificent the great blue is a fantastic way to gear up the day, with or without a swollen eye that makes you look like the pitiful partner in a disparaging relationship.  It sure beats seaweed soup, rice and kimchi in the school cafeteria.

You'll never believe the vintage shirts in Korea.  Love them.

The morning of my transformation from honeymooner to Quasimodo hiding behind my movie star glasses, we went on a island hopping trip.  First stop was "Crystal Cove."  An island with caves, coves and amazing views.
The wildlife was amazingly friendly. 

Someone was hungry so he bought seaweed flavored Pringles.  They don't even offer that flavor in Korea, but if they did, you better believe we would be buying that delicious green chip everyday.

We stopped to suck on the juice of a coconut.  It wasn't as sweet as I expected it to be.
One of the islands, boys surrounded our incoming boat as a recreational hobby.  They were like fish, born to the water, but occasionally climbing on the arms of he boat.  I especially enjoyed their entertainment when leaving the harbor.  They climbed onto the outer balancing arm, sang a "K pop" song "Nobody but you" and backflipped into the water.  It's on the video when we get it back up on youtube.

Our guide, stopping to allow us time for snorkeling dove into the aquatic blue  to deliver treasures from the deep. This puffer fish surprisingly never showed his displeasure by puffing. We passed him around and were allowed to pet him. He was squishier than I expected.

Two different kinds of starfish were also part of the treasure collection.  They were all thrown back to their homes in the end, alive and well.
This shy child sat taciturn watching the foreigners but refusing to speak.  She was adorable though.

After asking where the best place for seafood, we were directed to the wet market called "Di talipapa"  Here you could purchase your seafood live or dead, depending on your wallet and desire, take it to any of the nearby restaurants and for a small price have them cook it for you.  We choose a dead lobster.  It was delicious both in my mouth and in my wallet.

the restaurant we choose was teeming with folks.

sharing a beer that I could only stomach with three or four slices of lime masking the flavor.