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A comment on my last post, 93 hours and 13 minutes to China . . . yes, I’m counting!, has kind of sparked me up a bit to write about why I feel like I’ve got ‘cultural exhaustion’ due to my experiences in Korea.

The comment begs the question, “What does it take to adapt, survive, and thrive in Korea as a long term expat?”  I think it requires several things . . .

One thing it requires is a desire to plug into the Katrix.  Expats who don’t plug themselves into the Katrix don’t last past the one or two year mark.

But some ways of plugging into the Katrix are . . . well, this illustrates what I want to say.

Cypher: You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize?
[Takes a bite of steak]
Cypher: Ignorance is bliss.

If you don’t put on blinders and turn a blind eye to many of the things going on around you, I believe that as an expat you cannot maintain any semblance of sanity, or integrity of self, over the long term.  Yet you also have to let the Katrix alter your senses, your notions of gravity and time . . . pretty much everything about your reality has to be subjugated to the Katrix.

If you don’t learn to alter your perceptions of ‘good and bad’ and other dichotomies like ‘professional and unprofessional’ you simply cannot engender enough bliss to stay over the long term.

I’ve tried to plug myself into the Katrix but all I often get is a bad case of kognitive dissonance because a lot of the time I just can’t turn off the part of my brain that says “this is WRONG” when it comes to too many of the things I’ve seen in Korea.

Sometimes the blinders are actually part of the ‘uniform’ one must put on for the job.  For example, ignoring the fact that ‘nobody fails’ in teacher training programs, and not complaining about that to the administration and attempting to have ethical and professional ESL/EFL testing introduced into these programs.

All too often the blinders are not willingly put on but are forced on teachers because to speak up is to risk one’s existence in the Katrix–your plug will be pulled, and you’ll disappear forever (as in, “you’re fired”).

While some expats focus on becoming fluent in ‘Hangul’ as the best manner in which to survive and thrive within the Katrix, others look deeper into the code and attempt to work with it, manipulate it, and achieve the ability to dodge the bullets that fly when they say ‘no’ to a senior, or rather, an agent.  It is not enough to learn the language and culture, and then simply follow the conventions blindly.  One must learn to be an actor and not just a mindless puppet.  Saying “no,” however, can be fatal . . .

In fact, some expats learn how to read the code and manipulate it to the point where they can create enough status that they can stand and face an agent.

Expats who argue other expats that are critical of Korean culture ‘don’t understand Korea’ and haven’t adjusted properly to Korean culture essentially become ‘Agent Kims’ of the Katrix (most of the time anyways).

The motivations of expats who become Korean culture apologists and defenders of the Katrix need to be considered.  They have a vital interest in producing and reproducing a Katrix in which they can live and work.  They have a vital interest in maintaining the power dynamics of this Katrix because it gives them status and power that they would not have in their home countries.  When an expat threatens the status quo which they have embedded themselves within, or plugged themselves into, they then begin to fire ‘you don’t understand Korean culture’ rounds at those that threaten to create ruptures in the Katrix.

Imagine what would happen if all the native English instructors teaching at national universities of education and other places that train teachers were to blow the whistle on the day to day administrative and education practices they see going on, but do not speak out about because it would result in them being flushed out of the Katrix like they were nothing more than the waste product nobody wants to see or smell.  The ‘taint’ of truth contaminates anyone who speaks out . . .

Imagine what would happen if native English teachers organized protests about the still commonly practiced corporal punishment that is ILLEGAL in schools and hogwans . . .

But the odds are stacked against any of this ever happening.  The Katrix is a well-oiled machine, and native speakers cannot stand against the Agent Kims of schools/universities/hogwans and especially the agents of the immigration and justice variety.

I think some expats who are plugged into the Katrix are a kind of agent that has yet to be clearly seen because they maintain a high degree of tact and diplomacy all the while working within the system to try and slowly bring about an invisible revolution in the systems of the Katrix.  But they know that to speak out publicly and act in a visible manner immediately triggers attacks from the Katrix itself, and so they stay quiet and work towards their silent goals all the while appearing to be harmless.

Other expats have personalities that simply deal with the stresses of the Katrix better than others.  They don’t put on the blinders and plug into the Katrix bliss dream, and they do see what is going on around them clearly and know when something is simply wrong, and not something that they need to accept . . . it’s a ‘paradoxical truth’ for them in which they strongly dislike something about the Katrix and yet at the same time can coexist with it while not approving of it.

. . . .

Anyways, I think the point I’m trying to make is that I’ve never been able to completely plug into the Katrix because of my personality, and my philosophy of life and teaching.

The way I see the world, in particular the Katrix, is what makes me unique, and has enabled me to help improve different aspects of ESL/EFL education in the places I’ve worked.

At the end of my time in Korea I know I am leaving behind a small legacy that will continue to produce positive ripples and ruptures in the Katrix.

J

Scribblings of the Metropolitician articulates a lot of what I’m trying to say in a much more clear manner.  What I’ve experienced during my time here PALES in comparison.  I strongly encourage you to read his two posts.

Why You Should Always Do the Right Thing, or Why You Shouldn’t Fuck the Bears

Excerpt, “But on a few things, I won’t budge. To some people, me criticizing the mental (and formerly, physical) violence of the school system, or the ubiquitousness of prostitution, turning a blind eye to obvious and clear human rights abuses in the North, or the fact of the massive corruption that continues to eat away at Korea’s own values of equality of opportunity — makes me some kind of cultural imperialist. To me, these are either people who just don’t like me and will attack me anyway, or they assume that I haven’t thought about the fact that these values are shared by many Koreans themselves. The “right thing to do” is often clear and obvious, actually — the only thing that makes certain issues huge contestations is the fact that on one side stand people who want to do what everyone agrees is the right thing, and on the other side stand those who simply stand to use their power to exploit others.

To return to my question — what does living in an environment that forces you to make huge moral concessions do to a person — this society has huge moral and social problems that one either accepts or fights against. . . .” (my bold).

Also, “For all those who sit on the sidelines, criticize those who criticize Korean society — you all have the luxury of truly being outsiders. This is obviously the case. Because my social criticisms aren’t rooted in some abstract, America-based objection to the way things are in Korea because of the ways I think they should be in my own country — I’m not that fucking stupid. But I’ve been here long enough to see bright-eyed, eager children chewed up by the system and become the sad and cynical teachers who abused them; I’ve seen kids beaten within an inch of their lives and known of one who was literally murdered by the teachers who are supposed to love and nurture them; I’ve been forced to sit and accept a policy that would make me an accomplice in such huge corruption that I could scarcely feign moral innocence, even if I didn’t stand to get any of the money; when you’re deep enough within the system, you don’t have the luxury of choosing whether or not to take a position, or to be on one side of the fence or the other. You’re already there, and you make the choice whether you sit on your ass or standing up for what you believe in. For those who think it’s wrong to do anything, you’re deluding yourselves” (my bold).

More on the Fucking of Bears, or Do the Right Thing II

“The entire point of that post wasn’t really to talk about whistleblowers and grand solutions to corruption; more to the point, it was about the moral/ethical slides one has to make in order to live deeply within a foreign society for an extensive amount of time.

In order to adapt somewhere, one needs to make concessions, to make compromises. I do it all the time, I have for a long time. But you also learn which of those many things one cannot change, nor can be found acceptable” (my bold).

I haven’t been blogging much over the last week or so cause Julianne and I were packing up my apartment and cleaning it, and taking taxis with the stuff I want to take with me to China, and other stuff we still had to sort through at her apartment . . . and so on and so forth.

We’re in the last stretch and the finish line is looming in terms of finally finishing up dealing with my pack rat issues. UPDATE: This is NOT normally how the apartment looks! We’re packing . . . and it’s nutbar!

Looking at all the stuff I’ve accumulated I’d have to say that I truly made Korea my home after arriving here back in March of 2005.  Anyone who tries to say all native teachers just come to Korea to take take take needs to take a look at my 3,000,000won teaching library of ESL/EFL books, and all the other things I’ve spent my income on in Korea and shut their ‘cake hole’ as we used to yell at campers when I was a summer camp counselor during high school, lol.

I had been thinking about selling some of my books but I decided to ship them to China after learning that ESL/EFL books are really hard to get over there, and VERY expensive.  I may sell some once I’m in China, but Julianne and I are hoping that we’ll like our new jobs and the culture enough to stay for at least two years, maybe three, so keeping these books a little longer is in line with our job plans.

After looking at shipping prices at EMS and FEDEX, I found out that the post office will ship 20kg boxes (it’s less if it’s lighter in weight) for 40,000won each surface mail (by boat).  Julianne and I have sent seven boxes so far with books and things like winter clothes that we won’t need till later this fall (apparently the city we’ll be in is colder than native speakers expect).

We also took two full COSTCO bags of novels and what not to What the Book in Itaewon to sell.  The original value that I paid was something like 500,000won for the pile of books I was offloading, and all I got was 150,000won in store credit (which is ONLY good for used books!), or 75,000 cash . . . yikes!  I took the in-store credit, and Julianne and I grabbed some literature titles (I got a nice volume of 18th century poetry) that we’ll take with us to China to read.  I know that used bookstores always give less than the seller wants, but damn . . . oh well, live and learn, eh?

While Julianne and I were in What the Book? two readers of my blog said hi to me.  I’m always surprised when I’m recognized because of my blog, lol.  I was actually a little ‘bashful’ about it, and laughed at myself later.  We chatted for a bit, and then they went off to look at books, and Julianne and I paid for our books and left.

Later, though, we ran into the same two people at a Greek restaurant–what are the odds?  Lol . . . of all the restaurants we could have chosen we chose the same one as them, wow.

After eating, Julianne went to the New Balance store to get new running shoes.  I’ve read too many stories now on Chinese expat blogs about scams and rip-offs to want to go shopping for anything in China till I’ve been there for a few months and have some sense of how to avoid being punk’d.  Plus, imports are more expensive in China, and it’s likely we’re getting better prices on stuff in Korea.

Alright, I’ve pretty much satisfied my urge to blog and updated nearly everything that’s been going on lately.  One last story, though, about the as#ho#e taxi driver we had to deal with a couple nights ago . . .

Julianne and I were moving two suitcases, and two large bags of stuff, from my apartment to hers a couple nights ago.  It was raining, and we had a hard time getting a taxi.  Finally, a taxi pulls over and I open the door and begin lifting an insanely heavy suitcase full of books we hadn’t had a chance yet to sort what we’d be shipping and what we wanted to sell.  I get all our stuff in the taxi, and we pull away after telling him where we want to go.

During the entire time I’m putting our stuff into the taxi (at least a minute and a half) the driver says NOTHING.  But about a minute after we pull out into traffic he says in perfectly fluent English, “This is not a cargo taxi.  You should have called 120 (I think) to book a cargo van.”  His tone was very hostile and rude, and I could tell he was pretty peeved off at us.

Now why this yokel didn’t tell me to stop putting our stuff into his taxi and to take another taxi or to call 120 . . . I don’t know.  I mean, based on the ajusshi-does-whatever-he-wants-code he could have done this and driven away.

But he didn’t do that.

Instead of getting out and helping me put our stuff into the car (it was really REALLY heavy) he just sat on his ass and watched, and said NOTHING.

Nice.

Now I know I shouldn’t generalize comments about groups of people, but in Korea there is a sub-group of ajusshi that just crawl under my skin like toxic maggots every time I  have any kind of interaction with them–which is far more often than I wish.

There are other sub-groups, or types if you like, of ajusshi who are awesome human beings and share behavior patterns and personality traits that rock.  Julianne and I love these guys when we interact with them during taxi rides or wherever we happen to be in Korea.  They make us laugh, and we always leave these interactions feeling good about Korea, the culture, and its people.

But  the scumbag sub-group of ajusshi . . . they, unfortunately, have left such a bad taste in my memories of Korea that I will forever always have this nasty taint in how I see Korea and its culture and people.

I will not be able to, at least for a long time anyways, leave them out of conversations I have with others who ask me about Korea.

Getting back to the bad ajusshi taxi driver . . . I said nothing in response to his rude and hostile comment.  I had PLENTY OF THINGS in my mind that I wanted to say, but I kept quiet.

When we finally turned off the main street and began driving down the tiny side streets towards Julianne’s apartment we had one last dose of rudeness from him.  When I asked him to take one last turn up the side street to the apartment he stopped the car, sighed, glared at me viciously, and then made the turn.

Normally, I’d have been really angry about the whole experience due to the cultural exhaustion I’ve been fighting for the last six months or so . . . but I actually just shrugged it off.  He’s the one who was damaging his mind and body with anger.  He’s the one who was damaging the reputation and image of Korea with foreigners who are leaving and will talk to others outside Korea about the culture and people.

You know what?  It’s no skin off my back.  We got our stuff safely to Julianne’s place, and that’s what counted.

92 hours and 32 minutes to China–and goodbye Korea!

J

On the last day of my contract my primary co-teacher took me and five English co-teachers out for a last lunch.  She chose a raw fish restaurant, and the food was really really good.  I brought along with me my Canon 400D and Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens to take pictures.  I had considered doing a group photo but the vibe didn’t feel right, so I just took pics of the food.

A while ago I wrote a post called, Raw fish lunch with Korean English co-teachers . . . and a discussion about being a “little too strict., and funnily enough the same young male Korean English teacher had to make some passive aggressive digs at me.  After I took the first picture, the same teacher leaned over to me and says, “Jason, do you know that in Korea college girls like taking pictures of new foods when they try them?”  I looked him dead in the eyes and said, “I’m not Korean, and I love taking pictures.  Anyone who uses Korean culture to judge what I’m doing needs to learn more about English culture.”  SNAP!

Anyways, I let him have what I’m sure he thought was quite the smart and lethal winning comment–right, I’m going to lose face because some insecure wanker wants to try and upset me with comments that I’d expect middle schoolers to crack, NOT–and kept right on snapping pictures of the awesome food.

I enjoyed chatting with the other co-teachers about my upcoming move to China.  And then the conversation moved on to co-teaching and new native English teachers–all of them seemed to be concerned about my replacement and how he would do if he was totally new to Korea and to teaching in general.  I tried to reassure them that natural raw talent and a good attitude are far more important most of the time than a lot of training and experience (which anyone can get).

English accents, of course, also came up because the new teacher is from Australia.  Inwardly, I was laughing a fair bit at the anxiety that this seemed to be causing because even native speakers of English from North America have trouble at times understanding the Australian accent, and it has nothing to do with your English language abilities in terms of whether or not you’re a native speaker but more to do with how much experience you have communicating with a native Australian speaker of English, and whether or not you have been exposed to the idioms and cultural background info you need to have to understand them.  I offered reassuring comments, and I hope they don’t worry too much about the accent thing.

The overall experience of my last lunch was generally positive.  A lot of that had to do with the fact that the co-teachers who came along were ones that I had formed positive relationships with, and/or had co-taught with in a positive manner.  Some co-teachers hadn’t been able to come for the lunch.  One of them in particular didn’t come because of some ‘issues’ we had with each other while the English speaking tests were on at my school; the sad thing about that is that during the first semester I was at the school (and when there were no speaking tests) we got along great.  But once the testing prep and testing periods began I ran into several problems . . . personally, I like the guy . . . but professionally, ugh.

Anyways, it kind of sucked that other co-teachers were busy or teaching and couldn’t come to the lunch.  I ran into some of them later and we chatted at my desk for a while before I had to leave, and said our goodbyes then.

It’ll be interesting to see if any of them email me in China asking for tips on how to co-teach better with a native teacher–though I’m not holding my breath.

J

Are there bugs/cockroaches in native English teacher apartments in Seoul, South Korea?  What an excellent question!

Yesterday, while taking a shower Julianne suddenly yelled and I came running . . . and then went running for my camera, lol.  This sucka was HUGE!

Think about the size of a shaving creme cap and then look at this guy . . . Julianne asked me to kill it.  I took care of business a la “Say hello to my little friend…”

If you gotta blow your 500,000won apartment deposit this might just be the way to go, lol.

J

p.s. Newbie teachers! Not every apartment has bugs in it in Korea–but then, a fair number do.  Moowhahahahahah! Good luck!

I just spent the last week or so trying to force myself to go through all the books, DVDs, and all the other stuff I’ve ‘nested’ with over the past five years and change that I’ve been in Korea.

I think it all began back on Ganghwa Island.  When I found out I was living in a two street village next to a mountain with the closest native English speaker a 30 minute bus ride away and the closest urban center an hour plus away by bus I began picking up things that helped me cope with the isolation and stress of teaching and living in Korea.

One of the big stress relievers I used was watching movies and TV shows.  I pretty much lined the walls of my room with bookshelves filled with DVDs.  I remember reading an article while doing a research paper for an honours history course I took about the few women in the 1600s who knew how to read and that they lived in a kind of ‘book lined cell’–in some ways I kind of feel like I’ve been living in a book and DVD lined cell during my time in Korea.

Creating my own comfort zone, though, was necessary to coping with, and adapting to, life in Korea.  I don’t know if I would have been able to manage living out on the island during my first year without the things I began to accumulate.

But then each progressive move from contract to contract, and new apartment to new apartment, began to take on a life of its own—a hideous monster made up of an amelgamation of STUFF kept growing and growing and GROWING . . .

Until now.

Preparing for the move to China is forcing me to reassess all of the things I have in my life, and choose what I value most and want to take with me.  It’s actualy been quite good for me in spite of also being insanely stressful.

I’d have to say my cameras and lenses are now one of my most valued possessions, followed by my literature and literary theory books, and then my ESL/EFL library of books.  My DVDs were also included but I’ve had to divorce myself from them and let go nearly my entire collection.  I pulled out my favorite movies and TV shows that I know I’ll watch again and again, and the rest . . . gone. (THE HORROR, THE HORROR! Lol . . . sigh.)

Julianne’s been very supportive as I go through this major transition and move from Korea to China.  She is nowhere near the pack rat that I am, and doesn’t really have much to let go of.  I’m very grateful for her calming presence every time I stood in the middle of my apartment looking at all the stuff and trying to decide what to let go of . . .

I’ve decided to donate a lot of the small electric appliances and dishes and flatware to my school so that each new native teacher over the coming years will arrive in Korea to an apartment that has a lot of what an average person would need.  I had to make a very strong suggestion that an inventory list be made up, though, to the school admin office manager because he didn’t even remember what the school had bought me when I first arrived (which was only a bed and a TV, but still, those are valuable things).

This morning was the ‘final inspection’ of my apartment–if I can even call it that.  In fact, I had to strongly encourage my co-teacher to tell the manager that he should visit and check the apartment on my last day.  If I hadn’t done that he would probably have never even thought of it; in his defense, I am the school’s first native teacher so I get why he doesn’t know or understand the need for a final visit.

Last night, and again this morning, I spent about 4 hours scrubbing down my apartment.  I know there is a tendency in Korea for people who move to just leave their apartment as it is, and let the person moving in (or the building manager) take care of cleaning it up . . . but I want to leave Korea knowing that the places I’ve been are a little better than when I arrived.

I even drew a map of the area around my apartment and pointed out good places to eat, where the hospital is, immigration office, bank, etc, and how to get to the school for the newbie that is arriving tomorrow.  I’m kind of concerned about how the Korean co-teachers will deal with a real ‘newbie’ who has never been in Korea before and has never taught before . . . it should be interesting to hear from this new teacher as he settles in.  I think I’m in for some highly amusing emails about some of the things I think he’ll encounter during his first month in Korea, and at the school, lol.

A few minutes before I sat down to write this post my co-teacher and I went to do make my formal ‘good-bye’ to the school principal.  I think we caught him napping cause when my co-teacher knocked on the open door he got up pretty slowly, lol.  He’s actually been one of the coolest principals I’ve ever had while teaching public school (one reason being he doesn’t micro-control everything and anything I do!), and I’ll actually miss the guy.  He can’t speak a word of English, but he gives off a friendly vibe.

In about 30 minutes I’m supposed to go for a final lunch with about 7 of my co-teachers from the school.  It should be interesting to see who comes as one or two of my co-teachers, I think, probably won’t want to go as we’ve had a few disagreements here and there during the speaking tests and other class-related issues . . . The sad thing about that is that in terms of personality we get along great–it’s just that when it comes to teaching and testing that some problems arose.  I’ll probably write a post about the lunch later depending on how the day goes.

This afternoon I have to begin shipping my books to China.  Julianne and I found out that you can ship a box that weighs 20kg for about 40,000 won.  I’m a little nervous about them getting lost on the way there (some friends told me the mail system in China is not that great) but given the other option of not bring them with me is no good.  I love my books, and want to bring them with me.

Also, all of the research I’ve done about China says that English books are insanely expensive there.  It also says that the access is limited, and that in terms of ESL/EFL bookstores also very limited.  Bringing my teaching library with me to China is a really good idea, I think, as I won’t know what resources I’m going to have at the university Julianne and I will be teaching at.

Well, that’s about all I have to write about for now.  I’m so glad that I’ve been able to sort through nearly all of my stuff, and now know what I’m taking with me, and what I’m leaving behind . . . my head is definitely a lot clearer now.

Other friends who are leaving Korea have also been posting on facebook about how they’ve had a hard time sorting through the stuff they’d accumulated too.  It seems like all native teachers who stay past the 2 year mark run into this issue.  I don’t even know if it’s avoidable because nesting and creating a comfort zone is a critical part of adapting to living and teaching overseas.

I’m just going to have to find new ways of doing that in China cause there’s no way I want to go through dealing with the stuff-monster again!

J

While surfing the Kblogosphere tonight I came across this post, Sucks to your Internets, Korean Immigration. or: dealing with HIKOREA.or.kr was extremely frustrating today.  I was pretty surprised to see it because the blogger is one of the ‘Zenpats of Korea’–a neat little term I came up with while writing a comment . . . and I decided to run with it a little more here.

What is a “Zenpat”? Well, I kind of see Zenpats as being a little analogous to these guys,

To run with this even further I’d then have to say that the Zenpats of Korea have learned how to use the “Kimchi”–yes, with a capital “K”!  Using The Kimchi requires many years of training and experience in Korea.  There are, like The Force, two sides to The Kimchi: the Light and the Dark.  However, unlike The Kimchi’s distant cousin The Force, it can have more than one Dark Lord of the Kim at a time . . . and of course, the Zenaders (another name they have been known by) have their own aesthetic,

Zenaders also have an evil Emperor who answers to the name of “Yobosey-itty” (they wear her image on their chests) and she lives on the dark isle of Takeshima in a cave where she toils night and day producing a vile poison called ‘kimchi coolaid.’   Zenaders do not have need to use anything as mundane as a lightsaber, but rather they carry at their belt long flasks full of the kimchi coolaid, and whenever they sense Zenpats are near them they consume copious quantities in order to tap into the Dark Side of the Kim.

Emperor Yobosey-itty, by the way, has begun training a new and elite force of K-poopers.  All K-poopers have a special tattoo on their arm to identify themselves to each other.  It looks like this,

The K-poopers have an elite leader known as General Boba-itty . . . one of the most lethal and dangerous followers of Emperor Yobo-itty and the Zenaders.

Zenaders used to be Zenpats, but once they began down the path of The Dark Side of the Kim, and drinking the kimchi coolaid, they cannot stop.  Whenever there are any problems in Korea the Zenaders draw on the power of this drink and can destroy the parts of their brain that might otherwise slow them down in combat from doing and saying things that Zenpats will never do.

But Zenpats have their own powerful drink called Zoju.  It is also carried in long flasks on their belts, and when there are any problems facing them they use it judiciously.  One can see the power of the Zoju in the famous Zenpat training exercise with which one prepares to deal with being unable to see beyond the here and now in Korea,

This ability to see without seeing, to anticipate the unexpected is perhaps one of the Zenpats most powerful abilities.  Since many Zenpats often teach K-woks (a term of endearment used to refer to the tiny little creatures that run around in their work places), they have developed The Kimchi to aid them whenever the elder K-woks change the times they are supposed to teach the little K-woks.  Once upon a time, though, a Zenpat asked an elder K-wok to explain why changes were made and the Zenpat ended up as the head K-wok’s new desk.

Anyways, to see a rather famous Zenpat fall under the sway of Emperor Yobosey-itty tonight was rather shocking.  But I can’t believe that even the most powerful Zenpats don’t have the rare Zenader moment like this,

Thus Endeth Part I of “Zenpats of Korea” . . . lol.

J

p.s.  Don’t forget to check out these guys–who knew? LOL…

Saturday night Julianne and I headed out to get some dinner and while walking back to my apartment Julianne either lost or had her wallet stolen–we’re not exactly sure what happened.

There was someone who bumped into Julianne while we were walking through a really busy part of Hyehwa area with all the university students and shoppers so this person might have taken her wallet then . . . it’s also possible that it somehow was dropped as the wallet is also kind of like a hand purse thing that women carry . . . we’re really not sure what happened.

When Julianne realized she didn’t have her wallet we immediately backtracked and looked all over the sidewalk for it.  I didn’t think we had a chance of finding it because there are beggars and other individuals of ‘questionable character’ who frequent the area and unfortunately I was right.  We also went back to the restaurant hoping that she’d somehow forgotten it there but had no luck.

At this point we realized we were in trouble on several fronts.  Julianne had several different kinds of cards in her wallet and we were going to have to find a PC Bang (Internet Cafe) and make calls to her Korean bank, American bank, and credit card customer service centers to cancel everything and make sure no purchases had been made.  Oh yeah, and then get these places to ship overseas to Korea her new cards.

The other big issue was that our apartment electronic lock’s batteries were out of power, and we’d been procrastinating changing the batteries for a few weeks.  Instead of using the electronic key pad to get in and out of the apartment we were just using our keys.  The problem was that Saturday night I left my keys inside the apartment, and yep, Julianne’s key was inside her wallet–and gone.  I also hadn’t brought my own cards with me . . . it’s just a habit I have of not bringing unnecessary things with me when I go out.  If you don’t have it with you you can’t lose it, right?  Well, losing it is ONLY ONE PROBLEM and I think from now on I’ll be adopting a different habit!

We decided that we’d go take care of calling the banks and credit card centers first, and worry about where we’d be sleeping after that was taken care of.  Luckily I had about 30,000 won in my pocket so we were able to pay for using the computer and Internet at the PC Bang.

After finishing all the phone calls through Skype I began doing an inventory of what I had in my pockets and realized I actually had my credit card wrapped up in a receipt from a purchase I had made earlier that day.  We decided to go stay in a hotel near my apartment so that if my co-teacher was able to get the building manager to open my apartment then we’d be close by, and worse case scenario if we had to call a locksmith we’d also be close.

We could have gone to stay in Julianne’s apartment but the air conditioning doesn’t work very well, there’s no TV, no Internet, and she only has a twin size bed which means one of us sleeps on the Korean style sleeping mat on the floor . . . the comforts of a hotel won quite easily, lol.

Inside the hotel suite we enjoyed the room’s size a lot–it was actually bigger than my shoebox apartment!  Also, right now I don’t have a couch in my apartment so it was nice for Julianne and I to sit together on the couch the hotel room had while watching its big screen TV.

Later, I noticed this while sitting and watching TV . . .

Seeing a rope kit inside a hotel room is nothing unusual for me as I saw one of these my first night in Korea back in 2005 (ropes are ‘substitutes’ for fire escape ladders, yeah, lol).  What was unusual was that the kit was in a TWELFTH STORY hotel room! LOL! Seriously?!  What’s the point?  The only thing I could think of was that if your floor is on fire, or you can’t get out of your room for whatever reason, then you’d go out the window and down to a slightly lower floor room and somehow get in through a window there and then go down the stairs the rest of the 10 or so floors that the rope is unable to take you due to its limited length . . .

I decided to check and see if the room had one of the steel hoop bases drilled into the wall by the window that you’re supposed to secure the rope to–nope, nothing.  Even if I wanted to use this rope to escape to a lower level window and room there was nothing by the window that I could have anchored the rope to . . . nice.  (Also, the odds of this rope being able to support my weight beyond 10 feet or so of height . . . yeah, I don’t think so, lol.)

Anyways, Julianne and I ended up spending Saturday night and Sunday night in the hotel because the apartment building manager doesn’t work on weekends (even if there’s an emergency) and my co-teacher said it would be hard to get a locksmith to come on a Sunday (whether or not this is true, I don’t know).  We had a nice time and enjoyed the huge king size bed; seriously, it felt like it should be called ’emperor’ size bed or something after being used to sleeping on a queen size mattress!

Finally, Monday morning my co-teacher calls me to say the locksmith can come at 10:00am–cool.  We go back to my apartment and wait for him to arrive.

The building manager and locksmith step out of the elevator and walk over to where Julianne and I are waiting in front of the apartment.  I expect the locksmith to have some kind of cool lock picking device that looks like it comes out of a spy film . . . and instead I see him pick up a large drill and load a pretty thick drill bit into it and ram it into the lock’s opening–wow, lol.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get my camera up and shooting fast enough to get a shot of him drilling the hell out of the lock . . . after about a minute of drilling he then proceeded to use a screwdriver to finish the job.

All of this ends with me sitting here back in my apartment while Julianne heads off to immigration to get a new alien registration card because without that she can’t go to her bank and get a new bank card.

What a weekend . . .

J

Technically I’m on vacation now but I’m sitting at my school desk copying all my lesson files and folders onto my external harddrive and trying to figure out how I’m going to ship 200+ ESL/EFL books to China and my literature and literary theory library of books . . .

Julianne dropped by the post office to ask about box prices and shipping rates and was quoted 174,000won per box—uhm, no, dat ain’t gonna fly.

We also asked at a nearby FEDEX and the price and shipping rate for one box (about the size of an A4 paper box) was around 130,000won–again, nope.

Some friends on facebook have been saying they shipped stuff home for 40,000-50,000won per box, but that just won’t work for the number of boxes of books I want to ship.

It’s amazing how much stuff you can accumulate over the course of five years and change while living and teaching in Korea–especially if you love books.  I’m trying to scan the key books I have so that I can put them on my external hard drive and then they’ll be very mobile . . . but the time it takes to scan a book can be huge depending on the book size, etc, and while I know I’ll be able to get the key EFL/ESL books done that I want to use while teaching university/adults there will still be far too many books that I can’t get done . . .

I’m going to look into slow shipping to China and see what kind of rates they have cause I’ve heard of people shipping their entire apartments from home to Korea, or vice versa, and you’d THINK that Korea to China wouldn’t be that pricey.  I’ll post what I find out and end up doing once I know and do it.

I’m also going to post the link to my new China blog soon.  I’ve already written a couple of preliminary posts on it, and it’s up and running, but I want to finish the write up I’m doing about the nightmare I went through trying to get the Z Work Visa inside Korea, and give some tips for native teachers in Korea who might go to China next . . . I’ll probably get that done in the next few days.

Ugh . . . I just noticed that there are tonnes of double copies, and for some files triples, that I’m moving onto my hard drive of lessons and pics, etc.  I’m gonna have to find a program a friend gave to me that searches through files for doubles and lets you delete the extra copies . . . boo.  I have a tendency to not worry too much about keeping my lesson and handout files too organized during a school year cause I’ve found when I try to be my normal fastidious and organized self I start getting stressed out and frustrated by the general chaos and anarchy that surrounds me while I’m working in a public school in Korea–I try as much as I can to just go with the flow and do things as they appear cause to try and attempt to do things in a coherent and organized manner just ends up driving me nutbar.

Alright, nuff about that . . . time to get out of here and run some errands.

Ohhhh, the freaking humidity and heat today are really bad.  There was a rain shower this morning and now with the sun it’s a jimjilbang (public bathhouse/sauna) outside . . . yuck!  At least my apartment air conditioner is working really well–I’ve read some bloggers that say they’re having problems with theirs . . . knock on wood for mine.

Oh yeah, anyone else having problems with mosquitoes in their apartments?  I’ve killed two in the last 24 hours . . . unfortunately for Julianne they seem to prefer her blood type, lol.

Anyways, time to brave the heat…

J

Last week I finally made it out to the Taco Bell in Itaewon, Seoul.  I’d walked past it several times since it opened but one look at the line going out the door and down the street put me off.  I really wasn’t in need of 100% nuclear processed fast food.

Julianne and I were there again last Thursday, and walking past Taco Bell, when the line was only a couple bodies out the door–we decided to go for it.

(Sorry about the quality of pics–I was using my point and shoot camera.)

I quickly realized that in spite of the small number of people that the wait was going to be a long one.  The staff are all still very new to their jobs, and I imagine with the insane lines that there hasn’t been much time for the manager to train the staff as they’re always knee-deep in orders with impatient customers clamoring for their food.

Then there are the Koreans who have never eaten Taco Bell and have to figure out what they want to order . . . asking questions about the food, and not knowing what they’re ordering . . . yeah, that takes up time too.

Add to this some people place huge orders for take out . . . and yeah, even with a small number of people in front of you it can take a long time to get your food.

While waiting for our order, I chatted with an American who works on the base nearby.  He’d only been in Korea for four months and was astounded by how slow the orders were being filled.  We killed a few minutes talking about living in Korea, and I told him how there was another Mexican food place just across the street from Taco Bell.  It’s more expensive but the quality of the food, in my opinion, is much better than Taco Bell.  That being said, NOBODY goes to Taco Bell for good Mexican food cause Taco Bell food falls into a category all its own, lol.

Oh yeah, I saw this poster while waiting in line to order–nice “English.”

I also mentioned “On The Border” (there’s one in COEX Mall, for example), and how they seem to have the best Mexican food in Korea–period.  It was nice to be able to help out a guy who was new to Korea, and he seemed to really appreciate the food tips.

Finally, after nearly 20 minutes, our food was ready.  One thing that surprised me was that the girl calling out orders that were ready was doing so only in Korean.  This is kind of unusual in Itaewon cause there are so many foreigners who are customers.  The girl would only say the order in English after saying it in Korean several times–yet the ratio of foreign to Korean customers was 50-50,  and sometimes more foreign customers were in the waiting area.  Oh well.

After chowing down on the food . . . I felt like crap.  I haven’t had that much processed food in a long time.  I mean, McDonalds and KFC are one thing, but Taco Bell, like I said, is a category all to itself.

Anyways, I don’t think I’ll be eating there again for a long time.  It was nice to be able to have Taco Bell in Korea, but I’d rather spend a little more money and get some good Mexican food.

J

Yesterday was my sixth birthday in Korea–wow.  Actually, my 2008 birthday I spent with Julianne in Atlanta, USA (which was quite the experience, lol), so I guess I’ve technically had five birthdays in Korea.

Anyways, I went to work and taught my classes for the day.  To be honest I began the day at work with one wish, and one wish only: that I wouldn’t have to deal with any issues or problems while co-teaching on my birthday.  Unfortunately, this was not the case . . . I’m not going to tell the story of what happened just before 11am but suffice it to say that it involved a complete and utter lack of consideration for myself as a teacher, and completely disregarded an agreement I had made with a co-teacher to do something he asked me to do that didn’t need to be done but that I did so he could save face . . . after sacrificing my own time and energy and doing extra work because of this co-teacher’s bad planning he then came to me Friday morning to ask me to do something else as a result of his own errors in judgment and planning . . . anyways, I said I wouldn’t get into the details so I should shut-up and talk about the more positive stuff that happened on my birthday.

For the first grade classes I planned and designed a final exam game review lesson using a power point Jeopardy template.  I used candy as prizes and the guys loved it.  They especially loved that I’d take back candies when they got a question wrong because to them it was like gambling–a VERY popular past time for many high school boys in Korea.  They guys totally went bonkers over the “Daily Double” squares I had liberally spread all over the Jeopardy board (I think I put something like one in every four squares as a daily double).

I had the guys divided into teams of 5-6, and made sure to break up the clustering of students by levels (friends usually sit together, and they often have very closely matched language learner levels) so that I wouldn’t have just one team dominating the game thereby guaranteeing the majority of the class giving up and disconnecting from the review lesson game.  Another reason I put so many daily doubles into the game board was because it helped level the playing field.  If a team with a slightly lower overall level of language ability got a daily double it could help them catch up in points with other teams that might be doing better getting answers right.

Anyways, it was really fun to see which teams and students would go ‘all in,’ an expression I didn’t know they knew and one that they LOVE to say, and whenever a team would balk at going all in I’d start making chicken sounds (which they thought was quite funny, especially my co-teachers, lol), and try to get them to go all in so I could recoup some of the candy I’d given out . . . one kid, in particular, wanted to go all in for every daily double his team got (about 4 I think), and I told him that he should avoid poker and Las Vegas in the future cause otherwise he’d come back to Korea to find his wife and kids waiting for him with shotguns–at which point I mimed loading a shotgun and made the sound–and again, the guys thought this was very funny.

After my review classes I ran into the co-teacher that put a damper on my birthday, and then it was lunch.  After lunch my day suddenly did a radical turnabout as ‘someone’ knocked on my classroom door, handed me an envelope with a note wishing me a happy birthday AND five bills . . . NICE!!!  It’s always nice when the ‘powers that be’ at your school do something to show they appreciate the work  you do, and are happy that you’re a teacher at their school.

After school I jumped in a taxi and headed to Yongsan to run some errands.  While driving past Gyeongbuk Palace I saw a Korean woman driving a hog–nice!  There are a small number of Koreans who drive around Seoul on Harleys but I have yet to see a female Korean rider . . . very cool.

Later, while stopped for a red light I was looking around trying to amuse myself and saw the “Essential Slim Suit”–something I’ll likely never be able to wear, but which I find to be a mildly amusing piece of Konglish.

Arriving at Yongsan I walked around running my errands, and took a shot of the train yard . . . the day was pretty hazy, hot, and humid.

At this point I decided a snack was in order.  I really like the Korean summer snack stand culture because you can get ‘fruit on a stick’ that’s kept on ice.

After running my errands I went to Itaewon to meet Julianne for dinner.  We decided to go to Sorrento’s and get some pasta.  I ordered their lasagna which is absolutely AWESOME!

Julianne linguine with four kinds of cheese sauce . . . also VERY good.

When we got home Julianne surprised me with my presents and some cupcakes that she picked up at the Lotte department store in central Seoul.  They were pretty good.  Two of them were chocolate, one was mint, and the red one was ‘red velvet’ which apparently tastes . . . well, I don’t know cause I stuck with the chocolate and mint.

You’re probably wondering what my gifts were . . . I got Calvin Klein “Eternity” cologne, a jar of dill pickles (yes, they make an AWESOME present if you’re living in Korea!), and A&W Rootbeer (also an awesome gift if you’ve been living in Korea for a while).

The first couple of years I was in Korea I’d go out for an all-nighter in Hongdae’s clubbing and bar area, or Itaewon, and have drinks and dance and hangout with my friends till 2 or 3 am in the clubs and then hit a nore bang (karaoke room) for a couple hours of singing after which we’d get some food and then call it a night around 5 or 6am . . .

The past couple years, though, I’ve toned things down partly due to the fact that the four most awesome people I had met in Korea and gotten really close to all left Korea at the end of my second year/beginning of the third . . . and well, frankly, I wasn’t able to meet anyone else like them in the years after that (friendship and the constant coming and going of native teachers is something I think I might blog about in the near future).

Anyways, an evening of good food, some drinks, gifts, and spending quality time with my beautiful girlfriend–who needs to go out when what makes you happy can be found in one place.

All in all it was a pretty good last birthday in Korea.  I wonder what my first birthday in China will entail?

As long as Julianne’s with me I know it’ll be good.

J

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