Monthly Archives: February 2010

Letter from Anyang, South Korea: February 8th, 2011

It’s gray outside, looks as if it could rain, but the temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which feels positively balmy after the weeks of below freezing temperatures.  I hear chainsaws in the distance and know this to mean there are crews working in Pyeongchon Central Park at this hour, trimming trees around the perimeter. I will note their progress and compare it to yesterday’s as I walk through the park on my way to Hagwonga and Chung Dahm later today.

There have been two interruptions this morning: First, Fed-ex with package from home – a box of mail and  Valentines gifts from my mother. Second, the pesticide lady, who comes around about once a month or so and sprays something odorless around the nooks and crannies of our officetel.

Yesterday I held a small scale writers workshop for a few of the newly arrived instructors interested in same. We found a spot at the local Paris Baguette, a Korean bakery chain, near Holly’s coffee shop and spent about two hours working from writing prompts. I provided prompts for poetry, fiction and memoir. Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience and they are all eager for the next meeting. After our workshop, the six of us went out for dinner at “Chicken and Beer.” It was delicious.

Anyang Library: Pyeongchon Branch (South Korea)

Recently I decided to explore the Peyongchon library. It’s only a block away, so an easy walk. It has five stories, including the basement level, where there is  a cafeteria with standard snack bar type food, an outdoor “lounge” on the second floor, which will be a great place to hang out and read when the weather gets a little warmer, and five reading rooms for adults (not including the reading room for children and parents on the ground level). There is also a “wireless internet corner,” a periodicals sections and what looked like a computer classroom (it was empty so I assumed it wasn’t for public use).

As it was Saturday afternoon, the library was very busy and all of the reading rooms were pretty full. Really, they are more like study rooms equipped with cubby-like desks. I took my time browsing around and found a room that was less full than the others. I went in and found a desk to sit at and began reading. About ten minutes later a young Korean girl came down my aisle – I assumed she was going to sit at the empty cubby-desk next to mine. She approached me with a piece of paper. She had her thumb on it and wanted to show me something…I looked closer…everything was in Korean, but I recognized the number ten just above the spot where tip of her thumb was pressed. I looked at her in question and she pointed to the top of my cubby, which had the number ten on it. “ooohhhhhhhh” I said, and got my things together. I told her “sorry,” laughed a little, and made my way out of the room. I was a little embarrassed, could feel my cheeks blushing, but I was not daunted.

I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I left the library and headed to the Acro-Towers Starbucks, where at least I know the rules: buy a chai, wait for a seat, race to acquire it. Under no circumstances be polite and allow others who were there first get the next available seat. It just doesn’t work that way here.

On my way to Starbucks I reflected on my library visit. I thought, “I have no idea of how one goes about reserving a cubby in a study room at the library.” I had noticed an information desk at the front entrance, but the man sitting there looked more like a security officer than someone who would arrange for reservations, and since I really don’t know any Korean, I don’t know how I would even begin to ask him where I could get more information. How does one gesture the words “reservations,” and “cubby?” I didn’t even have the phone with me, which has a dictionary in it. And of course, the signs are primarily in Korean.  I did recall, however, one reading room that had large tables in it rather than cubbies and wondered if that isn’t a general reading room for which one does not need “reservations” to sit and read in. In any event, now that I have collected myself and thought it over, I will have to go back and investigate further.

Funny, every time I mention the library to other foreigners, they all seem surprised and state they did not even know there was a library in the ‘hood, even from those who have lived here for a couple of years. Unfortunate for me because that means they don’t know how it works either and can’t explain it to me. Well, I guess I will have to figure it out myself and be the one to inform them.

Third Term Masters Class, Chung Dahm (South Korea)

It’s hard to believe that I have teaching for Chung Dahm for six months now. I am much busier than expected and have barely enough time keep up with my blog. Everyone I ever talked to before coming to Korea who had taught here said they had a lot of extra time on their hands. All I can say is that they must not have worked for Chung Dahm. Either that, or they were here before the Hogwong industry really took off and became so competitive and high pressure.

With that said, I have to say that my second term here has been considerably less stressful than the first. For one thing, I am more settled  and established now than before, am no longer a newbie, and  feel like I am hitting my stride in terms of teaching. Track “B” is also a considerably more manageable curriculum than Track “A.” It didn’t hurt that I had a great schedule – half-days on Mondays and Fridays. I will miss that.

In other news, next week is the beginning of the new term (no break between terms here) and I will have a new schedule. Though I’ve not received confirmation yet, its about 99% certain that I will be teaching a Saturday class this term from 2:30 to 5:30 PM. But, it is a Master’s Reading class, so I will get to teach literature to high-level reading students, and I look forward to the opportunity. So far, there are only five students enrolled, so I really think it’s going to be worth the trade off. It also means I will get a day off during the week, and it’s so much easier to get to places like Itaewon on the weekdays. Saturdays on the subway is always mayhem. The image of sardines always comes to mind when I consider riding the subway during the weekends, because that’s usually what I feel like when standing in a cram-packed metal subway car.

The Master’s Reading class is in addition to the Master’s Writing class I was asked to teach earlier, so I will need to go through some additional training. Master’s Classes instructor training is scheduled for this Wednesday in Gangnam, which means getting up early to travel on the a fore mentioned sardine container. After training, I will  need to rush back to my branch by 3:00 PM, then teach until 10:00 PM. In other words, it will be a long day.  Since Gary has to attend the first training session with me (he will be teaching a Master’s Writing class next term), and doesn’t teach until 7:00 PM Wednesday, he said he’d wait for me to finish the second training session so we can take the subway back together, as sardines (yea!).

In any event, as I will be teaching what I have know how best to teach, writing and literature, I am very excited about teaching Master’s Level classes this term.

I am thinking of everyone back home and unfortunately blogging is the best way for me to keep in touch at the moment, and even that (I know) is spotty. Please keep checking in whenever you have a minute and always feel free to leave a comment.

Habits, Tricks and Practices

Bowing when saying hello, goodbye or thank you to a Korean person.

Not bowing lower than the other person, unless it is my boss.

Not bowing to the greeter at E-mart.

Walking quickly to my destination.

Crossing uncontrolled intersections tenaciously and with purpose (right of way is up for grabs, so take it).

Crossing controlled intersections only after the light has turned green and all the cars have stopped but before the car in the right-hand lane turns.

Yielding less to other pedestrians (walking to work is like playing pedestrian chicken).

Using the word “neh” for the affirmative (more people understand “neh” than “yes”. Aniyo means “no.”).

Pretending I only speak Spanish when a drunk Korean person wants to practice their English with me (this one I got from a friend).

Lie to students about everything: Age, marital status, income, social status, level of education, college attended, number of children, favorite pets,  etc.

How to tell which cabs are available for passengers.

How to tell the cab driver “there (chogi) , “here” (yogi-oh) and “thank you” “comsa hamnida.”

Refraining from smiling at strangers, or at least do not expect a smile in return. In fact, it might be considered crazy.

Refrain from getting offended when people forcefully bump into me as they walk by (especially elderly Korean women).

Get in there with all the other Korean women and grab whatever tangerines I want, cuz they ain’t gonna move or wait for me.

Always get my produce weighed and tagged by the woman at the scale in the grocery store.

When the clerk at the grocery store turns and says something to me, she probably wants to know how many bags I want for my groceries. “Hana” means one, “doogay” means two, and “segay” means three.

Which Korean words the kids say that they shouldn’t say (they are swear words).

Crossing of the forearms means “NO.”

Walk fast, burst into a little run, walk fast again. Everyone does it. I don’t know why exactly, except that there is always a sense of urgency here. I’ve started doing it too.

Running to catch the light, running to catch the elevator, running to catch the bus, running to catch the subway, running to catch the student…

Where to find underground pedestrian crossings in my ‘hood.

Where to find “better than McDonald’s” hamburgers in PC or BG.

How to get to Itaewon, Gangdam, Dongdaemun and Seoul Grand Station by subway.

Counting down the days until I return home.