Impatience, Presidents, and Squid

I was going to write about flowers this week, but I think my frustration is mostly due to impatience so I’ll withhold final opinions for a bit longer to try and be fair. Patience is a virtue, yeah? Instead, I’d like to talk about some random things that have had me thinking this week.

Yesterday, I finally watched the Swedish film adaptation of A Man Called Ove. It was really good, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely recommend (after reading the book, duh). The book obviously had way more detail, so many more stories, so much more life and emotion. But the movie was in no way a disappointment.

Also, did you know that only two presidents have been born west of Stonewall, Texas–a small town just west of Austin? Nixon was born in California and Obama was born in Hawai’i. Wikipedia lists California as the primarily affiliated state for two others, but still. As a West Coast individual through and through, I’m not sure whether to feel relieved or upset by this. It’s not really a surprise, I sort of know in the background of my mind, but I jsut thought that was kind of a lot, considering California has been the msot populous state since the sixties, and was in second place from the forties, overtaking Pennsylvania. And, as of the 2010 census, California had in excess of 12 million more people than the next largest state, Texas. I mean, being president isn’t and shouldn’t be directly related to population, but seeing as the West Coast is the Best Coast, I feel like we’re generally just better. But whatever, that was my random rant for today.

I’ve finally gotten my Alien Registration Card, so I think I’m done with all immigration things for the duration. I hope. But also, it wasn’t hard at all, I literally just showed up, gave them the sheet that said I’d applied, and they handed me the card. In and out in like fifteen minutes, wait time included. So that was nice. And, once I had that, I could get my bank card. So I’m pretty much all in here. I also bought trash bags for the first time last weekend, it wasn’t really a difficulty but it was more difficult that I wanted it to be.

I did have lunch with a friend and her mother this week. The friend is Korean and my family had hosted her as an exchange student a few years ago and now she’s going to college in Washington. She was visiting for spring break and it worked out that we were able to meet and I’m so glad. We had a lovely lunch of…something chicken and noodley that was served with an entire squid on top. The squid was fine, but nothing great. It was better than I expected of strange seafood (as I already don’t like seafood much) so I can say that I can handle it if needed in the future but I’m not ever going to seek it out deliberately. Anyway.

I wish I had some goings on to share. I still haven’t been to any of the palaces. I haven’t participated in any protests. I haven’t done much of anything. I’m getting through my book, which is good, and I’m reading various Wikipedia articles as per usual. I’ve settled fairly rapidly into my standard do nothing, ever sort of routine. Teaching continues to get more normal every day, though I will no longer say it is getting easier. It got easier for the first while, now it just feels a bit better as I get used to it. But it’s still hard.

Seoul Searching

I love a pun as much as the next guy, but even I must admit that this one is rather egregious. I can only claim innocence insofar as my sister made me do it. Like I said, puns are great, but living in the city of soul, one can only take so much. So I’ll try to make this the first and last. No promises.

You may have heard a bit about happenings here in Korea on the news this past week. So the president was impeached a while ago and the ruling was just upheld by the highest court. So she’s definitely out. There were some clashes, but nothing absolutely crazy. The main thing is that it adds uncertainty to some things that are happening right now, like the US missile system and various goings on in the North. Nothing to be worried about, this is sort of just how the world feels when you pay attention to world events.

On that happy note.

Also, yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the end of the Russian Empire, marked by the abdication of Nicholas II. Just as there was a lot of important Irish history last year, there’s a lot of important Russian history this year.

Wow, guys. It’s mid-March. I feel like it’s crept up on me all of a sudden. Also, I want to apologize, the title is at best a punny misnomer for this week as I haven’t really done much searching. I did finally bring myself to do a teensy bit of exploring yesterday in that I climbed the hill-mountain directly behind my apartment. It may or may not have involved approximately eight million stairs in addition to the trail-y parts. I’ll also give you a peek at my building and the view from its extremely low roof (only five stories!).

So I’ve been promising more details on life, today I’ll address license plates because why not. First of all, not as soothing as Irish plates. There seem to be three kinds (aside from US military plates, which I see occasionally): yellow, green, and white. Green are an absolute mystery, they come in different shapes, on different cars, and I kind of hate them. The yellow I believe is for passenger vehicles, so taxis and buses. They sometimes look a little different but they are basically similar and I’m pretty sure I recognize their purpose.

White are most common and I appreciate them the most. They are clear, simple, and use just one syllable block combined with numbers. I can’t say if there’s any rhyme or reason to them, but they’re at least straightforward. I don’t think anyone could really outdo Ireland in terms of lovely ways to number cars. But I’m definitely not complaining.

Korean experience of the week: jk. This past weekend I attempted to cook something fun for myself and it turned out much better than expected. Now I know that I’ve posted here before about my baking experiments with my friends, and I do really love doing that. But cooking on my own is not something that I enjoy at all. I mostly do it because I know I need to eat and it’s cheaper than eating out (and healthier, usually). And since I’m really and truly living on my own for the first time, and I have a whole year ahead of me, I figured I ought to branch out a little.

Since I’m in Korea, I naturally thought of something appropriate to try. When I visited my sister last month, she made tortillas for us and, as she told us, I can’t go back. I mean, I can because I love all bread, but homemade tortillas are so much better than store-bought ones. So I gave them a go and was pleasantly surprised by how well they turned out, how minimal the effort was, and how relatively easy the clean-up was. Take a look:

IMG_20170311_130507533

They were good not great, but I am impressed with myself for a first attempt. I didn’t even have a rolling pin. Will definitely be making again.

Anyway, that’s about all I have for you this week. Spring is approaching here (I hope) and I think things are generally on the up-and-up. Maybe not coming up roses (and more next week about the dearth of daffodils) but good enough. And that’s all I ask for.

More Stately Mansions

I will not apologize for the amount of poetry-related content on this blog. Just wanted to put that out there. But more on that later. I promised a glimpse into my life in Seoul so here are a few things.

  • Both my building and apartment use touch screen keypads and it’s so liberating not to have any keys (though it occasionally freaks me out)
  • I can get a decent variety of triangular kimbap (pictures forthcoming eventually…) at 7-11 right down the street for ₩800 or a little less than 80¢
  • The apartment has heat, so that’s an infinite step up from the house in Dublin
  • I live maybe a two minute walk from the school
  • Korean Netflix is more reasonable than I expected, it’s growing quickly since it’s relatively new here

So those are a few things that have helped make the transition easier. I regret (so very deeply) that the cracker situation is pretty hopeless. As great as Paris Baguette is, it simply cannot compare to those Tesco doughnuts and I don’t even want to talk about crackers. Alas, you can’t win ’em all. There are crackers here, but I think once you go Tesco Cream Crackers, you just can’t go back.

I’ve also now found out what I’ll be doing on Wednesdays. I will spend three hours calling students one-on-one to have ten minute conversations with them. They’re mostly not my students in class, we just talk. The headset is very uncomfortable, but otherwise it’s not bad. Occasionally I will also do intensive study sessions or review groups with small numbers of students. But mostly it’s the phone classes, at least for now.

In terms of Korean experiences for the week, I haven’t had many. Other than getting a bank account and having barbecue, I’ve pretty much stayed home. As you know, that is my default setting. And I won’t be rebuked for it. I know I said that I want more out of this year than just work experience, but that doesn’t mean that I have to spend all of my time eating Korean food, wandering around, seeing what can be seen. I have time, I have eaten food, and nothing’s wrong with me cooking for myself. I want to see what I can see, but I also want to be me and me is a person who stays home nine times out of ten. I came to Korea, that’s plenty for the moment.

Also, first post-departure contact with a certain very pretty kitty. The other was indisposed by illness, unfortunately. He’s on track to recover though.

camaro2017-3-3

So about the poetry that I mentioned earlier. Here’s the thing: because I have so much of it in my head, much like music it can suddenly pop in and get stuck like a song, but just a couple lines of text. This one has come to me occasionally for years and I really like it.

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!

This, of course, is from Oliver Wendell Holmes’ wonderful work The Chambered NautilusIn it, Holmes describes the way in which the nautilus is always moving onward and upward, building itself larger and more lovely shell space until at last it is freed from the mortal (and nacre) coil.

I don’t even have anything in particular I wanted to say, that poem has just really been sticking with me this week. It really is a lovely poem; it is a song of freedom and release. To close yourself with a dome more vast until you finally expand beyond all confines. Ugh, I don’t even know what I’m saying, but read the poem, I really like it. More stately mansions indeed.

Till thou at length art free.

서대문구

First, a quick overview of how the Korean language works (written Korean, that is) because you know I like language. The most basic misconception is that it’s like Chinese, written in characters. In fact, Korean has an alphabet with letters. The difference is that those letters are combined into one-syllable blocks. So while ‘s’ is just ㅅ and ‘u’ is ㅜ, the syllable su wouldn’t be written ㅅ ㅜ but rather 수. My name, written in Hangul (the name of the alphabet) is 키간. The title of this post is Seodaemun-gu, the district in which I’m now living.

IMG_20170221_184844182.jpg

This is not in Seodaemun, but rather Gangnam (as you might have surmised)

So on Friday, we had our final assessments in the morning which, thankfully, I passed. Then I got in a van that drove me across the city to my branch (I feel bad for people who actually were leaving Seoul, a 45 minute journey was all I was up for). I stayed in a little hotel across the street from the branch while my apartment was being prepared. There was a little bit of confusion about the apartment which meant that I didn’t actually move in until Monday night, after teaching, but I’m here now and it’s grand. On that note, a bit about my actual job.

So. Firstly, I teach English to Korean students after school. Two three-hour classes a day, 4-10 and arriving at 2 to make it a normal eight hour work day. That’s the basic set up. The way my company works is that it divides students into levels based on skill (pretty straightforward) and then has different courses that students can take. Usually, students take two concurrently, so I’ll mostly have the same four classes twice a week but have different material. One course I’m teaching is sort of content-heavy where we do readings and listenings and stuff. The other is more discussion-based with a project every other week. The ages of my students range from maybe 8 or 9ish to I think 14ish, with levels ranging from barely conversational to reasonably okay.

Teaching is hard. This is not news to me, having grown up with educators and with tremendous respect for the profession, but actually being a teacher is a different experience. Some classes, some students, some lessons are better than others and I will obviously continue to learn a lot over the course of my time here. One week of whirlwind training is hardly acceptable for such an important job, but it’s better than many other English companies here provide. Anyway, I’m managing alright thus far and hopefully will continue to learn techniques and methodologies, acquire fun new skills, and develop the general everything necessary for teaching.

I know that there is a large number of teachers and educators who read this blog. If you feel so inclined, know that I would welcome any advice you have to offer, perhaps by Facebook message or email. Of particular interest to me at the moment are like vocabulary games I could play and ways to get silent classes talking.

There are a million other things that I want to talk about in this post, but a million is a lot and probs no one would read a blog a million things long. I have a year here (excepting unforeseeables) and that is plenty of time, I hope, to tell you all about it. It’s not a million posts long, but I’ll do my best. I was going to talk about triangular kimbap and Paris Baguette and Seodaemun and my apartment. I was going to tell you some of the things that have caused minor freak outs and other things that have provided unexpected comfort. Alas. You’ll have to rest assured that there are such things and hope I include them in future posts. Living in suspense of every detail of my life as I’m sure you do, this may be difficult but I ask that you bear with me.

Also, small Korean experience of the week. You may be familiar with cat cafés (which I have not yet visited, shame) but apparently there are many different kinds of interesting cafés here. For example, I briefly visited a sheep café (the sheep were in a little pen that you could go into) which was across the street from a raccoon café (which people tell me also has a few small dogs). So I guess there are cafés for a range of tastes. I’ll look forward to checking them out, I guess, though I’m not convinced the cat ones are as magical in reality as they may seem at first blush.

Anyway, that’s all I have for this week. I’m still adjusting to my new get-off-work-at-10pm schedule but if I could adjust to start-work-at-3:30am, I think I’ll be fine. Happy March.

368

I’m going to write this post as a day-by-day account of my training week, just to give you a taste of what’s been up since I’ve arrived.

I landed at Incheon on Sunday afternoon and, after a bus and taxi, arrived at the hotel around 7:30. I did not sleep at all on the plane because I am foolish. I was able to stay up for a bit, eat a cinnamon roll from SeaTac for dinner, and go to bed at 9:30.

Monday morning I was due to leave on a shuttle at 7:30 for a medical exam. It was incredibly comprehensive in that they tested really everything (and recorded my chest measurement because…?) but was also pretty cursory. From there, it was to the training center, an introduction and overview, then down to business. The format will be mock teaching in the mornings and prep in the afternoons. Back at the hotel, ate an actual dinner, still have homework. Super tired. I thought I was done with homework.

Tuesday. I’m feeling so much better about things than I was last night. This training really is pretty brutal but also they’re trying to make us into teachers in four and a half days. So. Anyway, we’re moving through material and learning stuff. Homework for tonight (and the rest of the week) besides prep is to watch videos of ourselves mocking and write up an evaluation. Joy of joys. Korean experience of the day, I rode the metro and got my metro card. I also saw Gangnam Square (with a statue commemorating the eponymous style) because the hotel we’re staying at is just outside the Gangnam metro stop.

So Wednesday held pretty much more of the same. I’m feeling more and more confident with the material so naturally I’m more and more nervous. How does that work? I had triangular kimbap today for lunch which was good. Have not done homework yet. We’ve spent this whole time preparing one lesson and now we have to do two for tomorrow morning. Cool cool cool. Also, it snowed a teensy bit this morning, but mostly rained. It’s cold, but not as cold.

And here we are on Thursday. I can write this at the end of the day because in seventeen hours ahead of Washington. I’m late enough that it’s your Thursday too, if only barely. So. Training is essentially over. We have an evaluation tomorrow morning then it’s off to the branch itself and, I’m pretty sure, moving into the apartment. This week has been pretty grueling and the with aspect has dragged on and on. But in other ways, this week has absolutely flown by. I hope I am a teacher now, I guess, because there’s nothing else. I’ve gotten my schedule, I’ve gotten my room number. On my next post, I will have had almost a full week of teaching. I just hope I’m ready. And that I survive.

There are 368 days until my contract ends so, barring some dismal failure or unforeseeable event, that is how long I will be in Korea. I say this not as though I’m counting the hours until I’m outta here, but because I know too well how short time truly can be. I still have no idea what I’m doing here (at this company, in this country, with life in general) but I want to count my days carefully. I don’t want to come to the end and find myself to have gained useful work experience but in every other way to have wasted a year. I want more than that out of this time.

If you’ll permit me another Harry Potter reference, I’ll direct you to Dumbledore’s directive to Harry upon giving him the cloak of invisibility. My time here is limited. I want to use it well.

Quite Ready for Another Adventure

Last week, my post was quite late and for that I apologize. I’ll give you a bit of a run down on recent goings on and perhaps you’ll forgive me. Also, I know I’ve been slacking on the cat pictures, so I’ll remedy that as well.

I almost moved to Korea last Saturday because of a whole chain of events centering around the timing of my visa application. So last Thursday evening I drove up to Seattle so I could be at the consulate first thing in the morning if need be. Need wasn’t. So I drove home, made sure I was packed, and said a final few rushed goodbyes. Then, a little before I was going to go to bed, I got the email that said wait until Monday and, lo and behold, Monday was the day! I drove back to Seattle, turned in my application, and everything has fallen into line for me to go this Saturday. This is my last post from the US for a while. Hurray that things have figured themselves out.

And here I am, once again moving to a foreign country and writing a blog about it. Just before going to Ireland, I had just barely secured housing (that, in the event, wasn’t available for like a week so I lived in hostels…) and was extremely nervous about doing a graduate degree program. In this case, my housing is secured (though the first week I’ll be staying in a hotel, I don’t have to pay for it!). I’m extremely nervous about teaching but I expect I’ll get over it. I just hope it doesn’t involve the same agonies of ‘getting over’ my dissertation. Anyway.

Details: the first week is just intensive training while stationed at a hotel, then I begin teaching on the 27th. Also, how remiss of me, I’ve been placed. I’ll be teaching and living in Seodaemun-gu in the western part of Seoul. Is it odd that I’m sort of looking forward to my Facebook updates being tagged in Seoul?

One of my biggest worries, obviously, is what the cracker situation is going to be like. I’m still a little raw over losing Tesco and I’m just not sure that I can handle a dearth of solid crackers.

I say that partly because it’s true and partly to obscure the panic I’m feeling about leaving. Don’t worry, it’s nothing too crazy, just the standard feeling whenever I go somewhere. People have told me how cool it is that I’m grand just to go gallivanting around the world and I’m like, “Yeah except I feel every bit as awful about going as you do.” I guess the difference is that I go anyway. I don’t know. But I’m leaving on Saturday and that’s that. At this point, at least, I’m pretty good at knowing what I need to take and what I can do without. There’s a lot that I have and do without even though I have it; over the course of my trips it has become easier to just not bring it. So that’s nice, I’ve managed (with substantial help from my mother) to get everything into a large suitcase, my ‘luggage’ garment bag, and a carry-on suitcase. Which is good, especially since I probably will not easily find clothes once in Korea, seeing as I’m 6’2″ and wear size 12 shoes.

On a totally non-Korea related note, I finally watched The Giver this week. I had put it off on purpose because I assumed that it would be terrible, having so enjoyed the book. If you haven’t read it, can recommend, it was required reading in eighth grade. Anyway, I enjoyed the movie, definitely surpassed my expectations. I do not think that our current world is in particular danger of erring toward the dystopia depicted in the story, but all scenarios are worth remembering. Certainly, it’s been a long time since I read the book so I can’t say how closely the movie adheres or how my perception of the story has changed. A takeaway that I’m just now thinking of, at least in these words: ignorance is not bliss–ignorance removes the possibility of bliss by also removing the possibility of pain. We cannot choose, we must simply accept it all.

Also, a quick look at the cats before I leave them again : (

camaro2017-2-15

In her natural habitat. Can you spot her?

bubba2017-2-15

And him in his. Much easier to see.

General panic mode coupled with an intense distaste for doing things has made for an interesting last week, but I’m grateful I’ve had this week. And I’ll recover as I always do. For those of you who followed this blog while I was in Ireland, you already know about what to expect in terms of tales of my international exploits. For those of you who are new, prepare yourself. I don’t really… do things. Being abroad is enough for me.

Anyway, onward and upward. The road, I hear, goes ever on and on.

Not Elves Exactly

So you guys know that I don’t like choosing favorites for most things. You also know that I’m a poetry kind of guy. I really like poetry and I like a lot of poets but I am comfortable naming, like movies, a top three-in-no-particular-order. They are Edna St Vincent Millay, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost. This week, I’d like to talk about one particular poem by Mr Frost which, I think, will take little explanation to show relevance.

Before I reproduce the poem for you (published in 1914) I’d like to say a few further words. The sermon at my church this past Sunday told a section of the story of Elijah (which was cool, I was singing along the whole reading). One verse served as a major focal point– 1 Kings 18:21 which says, “Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’ But the people said nothing.”

The people said nothing.

The poem is entitled simply Mending Wall. 

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

It’s not elves, exactly, but something there is. Do you feel it? Walls are powerful things. They can protect, shelter, defend, separate, grow, crumble. To be clear, there are internal and metaphorical walls aplenty. But the US border wall is a childish fantasy of ineffective and harmful policy created and supported by cruel, ignorant, and short-sighted people. In no universe is it okay. I need not remind you of how Jesus defined ‘neighbor.’

The question presents itself: how do we act in such a way as to focus on the things we love and support while defeating the things we don’t? What actions can be taken? I think I’ve done a few, made calls, written some letters, signed a couple petitions, had important conversations. Beyond that, I’m not really sure what is accessible to me and others in a similar position. Something there is that lights candles rather than cursing darkness and all that, but it seems an elusive something loathe to give us any guidance.

So I’m just sitting here, preparing to leave the country, wondering. Hoping. Dreaming. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, and it’s me.

But I’d rather you say it for yourselves.