Saturday, 16 January 2010

On Vacation

I'll be on vacation until Jan 31 in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, so it's likely I won't be updating my blog until I get back. I planned on a post before leaving, but time absolutely flew in the busy days leading up to the trip.^^;

Scott and I just arrived in Ho Chi Minh with our friends Andrew and Katie after a 5 hour flight from Seoul, and we're about to head out and explore. I'll let you know a lot more later, but right now the 4 of us are looking forward to taking a mental break from work for 2 weeks.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Abducted by the Landlord

A few days ago I came home to find our landlord (probably in his late 60's) shoveling out the apartment parking lot with his wife. As with most of our run-ins, he spoke in very rapid Korean for a good 2 minutes. He can't speak a word of English, not even "hello." My approach is always to nod and say 네 ("nay" which is like saying "yes" or an affirmation) until I caught the words 오리 ("ouri" meaning "we") and 가치 ("ga-chi" which means together). Oh no. I tried to catch where, when, or what he was trying to tell me. He motioned to his mouth, which I took to be eating, then he smiled, nodded, and waved me upstairs. I fled upstairs with the assumption that sometime we bay get together for dinner.


Scott was home before me and had a similar experience. About 15 minutes later our landlord knocks on our door and launches into the same speech as before. after 5 minutes we realized he had no intention of leaving. He made a driving motion with his hands, and waved us out the door.

We aren't completely hopeless at Korean, but when it comes at us so rapidly in a random scenario we have very little to latch on to. Between the two of us, these are the words (the English translation) that we had figured out:

English language speaking
room 201
two students
private academy (hagwon)
high school
mother (room 201 mother)
Gilju Elementary school
Gilju Elementary school teacher (I gathered he was referring to me there)
we will go to Andong hospital together
my car

We did get into his car, not knowing what else to do. I felt like a detective fed random clues without a big picture. All we knew definitively was that we were going to Andong hospital, but we didn't know why. I had a few theories, based on the current evidence:

A. The mother of two high school students were formerly students at Gilju Elementary school.

B. Someone who speaks English moved into room 201, but they were now in the hospital and needed someone to talk to.

C. Since we've been sick all week, the tennents of room 201 feel we need to go to the hospital. Perhaps they found out because one of their students said their English teacher (me) at the Gilju camp was sneezing and having trouble speaking.

D. Let's see how far we can take to foreign tenants before they start freaking out.

After a few failed phone calls to get assistance, I finally got ahold of Taebun and handed the phone over to our landlord just as we pulled up in front of the pharmacy next to the big Andong Hospital. Ahah! We missed the words "nearby" the hospital and "pharmacy" in the midst of his fast talking.

The landlord talked to Taebun for awhile then handed the phone back, and even Taebun is confused. He says "remember I told you about the two high school students living in room 201?" No. He must have forgotten that one. What are two high school kids doing living alone in our building anyway? "The ones that want to speak English with you." He left that out too. "I don't really know, but I think this is an arranged meeting to start English lessons. Their mother works at this pharmacy." Oh dear. "You know, talking is fine, but you can't take any money." That I did know, because any outside work or tutoring is a violation of our contract. So that makes this whole situation a bit difficult.

When the landlord was mentioning the Gilju Elementary teacher, he was referring to Taebun and not me, because apparently he thought this whole thing was pre-planned and discussed. But when the mother of the two high school students sits down with us and tells us that she is the one who wants English tutoring, and 3 days a week, I realized that this isn't just a Korean to English translation mix-up, this is also a lack of Korean communication.

All the while at the pharmacy when this was being worked out with the mother, our landlord sat silently in a chair, arms crossed, leaning back and looking down at us from his upturned head; much akin to a mafia don. He did, after all, take us to a small location far from home to meet with a drug dealer (pharmacist). It all started to feel like shady English dealing under the table.

So we were stuck in the arranged meeting, which already assumed our acceptance and was for the sole purpose of arranging the dates and times. It was clear we couldn't go home until a bargain was made and phone numbers were exchanged. We told her we couldn't accept any of her money, but if she wanted to meet up with us once or twice a week to practice English conversation over a cup of coffee then that would be OK. We can be her English friends, not her English tutors. At least we postponed it until after we get back from America in March, so we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

How I Spent the Holidays

Happy New Year!

2009 ended with a busy winter camp schedule and 2010 started with a terrible cold that's been dragging on despite the full course of antibiotics that I fed into my system. Luckily the doctor visit and meds were only about $5 American. I have yet to report on my English camps, which have been vastly different from the summer camps, but I'll but that off for a few more days and see if I can't kick this nasty bug.For now, I'll let you know how I celebrated Christmas and New Year so far from home.
Christmas is a National holiday in South Korea, though the weight of it is much lighter compared to America. Nobody buys real evergreen Christmas trees, and the only ones we found in Andong were at grocery stores, and no taller than 5 feet, though I know that there are actual stores for Christmas decor in the larger cities. Many shops downtown played some Christmas tunes and did some decorating, but for the most part it was still pretty tame. Decor seemed to be treated like a kind of trend; an unusual sort of charm. Like something out of a 1950's Christmas magazine issue- garlands and bows, bells and trumpets and doves. Iced Christmas sugar cookies were the most entertaining- about $1 a cookie at the big bakery downtown, but nonexistent elsewhere.
And then there was the tree that popped up downtown:
A towering cone of flashing lights. I love it.
On Christmas Eve we decided to add our own touch of Christmas spirit to Andong at the site of the great tree. Somehow, miraculously, we all organized 20 of the Andong native English teachers to sing Christmas carols. We collected donation to go to two local orphanages (where two of the teachers volunteer), and our total came to upwards of around $700. Some of that did come from private donations prior to the event from people who couldn't make it. We were thrilled!
We had a whole booklet of songs, ranging from the solemn Silent Night, to the more upbeat Jingle Bell Rock. The biggest hits were Rudolph and Jingle Bells, because they have popular Korean equivalents. The most comical was our rendition of Little Drummer Boy, because we couldn't seem to match our ba rum ba bum bums to any consistent speed. But where we lacked in singing talent, we made up for with our sweet hats.
[The penguin hats were a Baskin Robbins promotion. If you bought an ice cream cake, you got a free hat. We ate a lot of ice cream.]
We also had Dave. Dave's Hagwon (after school English academy) had him dress up as Santa, so we suggested he show up to caroling in his suit. Much to our delight, he actually did, and with a big bag of candy that he handed out to Children.

We ended the evening with a trip to the bar to celebrate.

Christmas day was calming. The morning was spent at home. I surprised Scott by cleaning the apartment while he was asleep, and he surprised me with a delicious western-style breakfast in the morning. We opened presents, Skyped our families, then met up with some of our friends for a game of Balderdash and a trip to see Sherlock Holmes.

Po enjoyed his first Christmas too.^^

The days between Christmas and New Years Eve were spent at an overnight English camp out of town (but more on that later), so our celebrating was a bit subdued due to exhaustion. The big trend in Korea is to go to the east coast on New Years Eve and wait to watch the first sunrise of the new year. Since we didn't get back from our camp until about 4 that day, we skipped a trek out to the beach, but our Hapkido instructor took a picture on his phone and sent it to me so I wasn't completely in the dark. Instead, 10 of us went to our friend Erin's apartment for wine and fancy finger foods. We brought frozen cheese sticks, which looked a little sad between the homemade crab rangoon and the brie and crackers plate. We flipped on the TV to catch a countdown, which followed a large KPOP party in Seoul, and ended with the ringing of a large iron bell. Every town in South Korea has a bell to ring on the new year and for other special occasions. No giant ball, but the similarities were surprising. It was also interesting knowing I would get to see the new year in a time zone half a day earlier than everyone back home, who would later see clips on TV from around the world cheering after midnight.