Thursday, October 11, 2012

Korean Adventures

It's 3am and I'm not fully coherent so my writing for this blog might be really bad... please excuse spelling and grammar issues. I may not make any sense...

I haven't been the most diligent about my blogging unfortunately...

Since the last post, there have been a few happenings but I'll just ramble per usual.

Three Saturdays ago, on September 22nd, I went to Seoul. I was flying solo and took the slow train into Yongsan since I wasn't in a huge rush. The reason I went to Seoul was for a water rafting and bungee jumping adventure with some other ETAs on Sunday. I met up with some of the ETAs when I got in and settled into the Pencil Hostel Guesthouse (the same one I was at for Jet's birthday). After we got dinner, Alanna and I split from the rest of the ETA group to meet with Katelyn and Jason who had just gotten into Seoul. The rest of the group went to Namsam Tower (Seoul Tower) but since I had been before, the four of us went to Cheonggyecheon river in the middle of downtown. We were there pretty late, around 11pm or so but it was beautifully lit up. We called it an early night since we had to be up around 6:30am for rafting on Sunday so we headed back to the hostel around 1am. On Sunday, we went river rafting and bungee jumping in a smaller city about two hours north of Seoul. It was really nice to just hang out with some other ETAs I haven't seen in a while in a different environment. I was the second person to jump off the bridge for bungee jumping and it was kinda nerve wracking. It's different than sky diving, and for some reason, it felt scarier. I think it's because I went tandem when I was skydiving so if my parachute didn't work, there was a backup parachute. For bungee jumping, there's only one cord. If it breaks, it breaks. Plus, I'm jumping off by myself, which is just... insane. So I wanted a walking start before I jumped off so I tried to mentally prepare myself. Then I screamed, "Flying squirrel!" and did a sprawling eagle. I screamed like there was no other. It only lasted a few seconds but my senses were overloaded by the feeling of free falling, the sights around me, etc. It was nice--I would do it again. I watched a few of the other ETAs jump too but then I had to leave on my own back to Seoul so I would catch my KTX (fast train) back to Mokpo. I got to the train in the nick of time and it was pretty crowded. Interestingly enough, a waygook (foreigner) sat down next to me. Because I'm Asian and in Korea, it's not always the most obvious that I'm also a foreigner. So I took the liberty to start the conversation by asking him where he was from. I just wanted to make it known right off the bat that I could speak fluent English and was friendly enough to have a conversation with. Cutting to the chase, he actually plays soccer with Liam, the only male ETA in Mokpo out of seven of us. Small world indeed. We chatted for the entire four hours, which was not something I expected to do. I thought we would make some small talk before doing our own thing, which meant sleeping for me, but it was a solid conversation. He offered me a hiking bag which was left at his apartment from the guy who lived there previously. Long story short, I ended up going over to his apartment a few days later with Liam and Robyn to pick it up. It's actually a really sweet hiking bag but it's HUGE. It's something you can probably use for a month hike so you can imagine how intense it looks.

Two weeks ago, my kids had their midterm exams on Thursday, September 27th and Friday, September 28th so I had two days off. I asked my co-teacher, Mr. Lee if I could not go into school but the Vice Principal wanted me to go into school in the morning to insa (bow/greet) him before leaving. -_-' That was really frustrating. So I couldn't really travel for those two days. I was planning on staying home that weekend because it was Chuseok weekend, which is Korean Thanksgiving weekend. Like America, families spend time together during this holiday so I wanted to be at home from Saturday through the holiday, at least. So I decided to make a day trip to Naju on Thursday. I went into school around 8am and greeted the Vice Principal. Then another English teacher told me I got the okay not to go in for Friday but it was too late to make any real travel plans for a day. So after wishing my students luck on their midterms (I popped my head into some of the classrooms), I left the building and headed for the bus terminal. The ride to Naju was really short--less than an hour. May and Jason met me at the Naju bus terminal and we did some random touring/walking around Naju. It's a cute, quaint little town. It's definitely bigger than Goesan and it's cutesy. I ate lunch with the Naju crew minus Hana since she was the only one teaching that morning and we were going to visit her at her school later anyway. I got to take in some Naju sights before heading out to Hana's school. She teaches at a vocational high school so her kids are all learning technical skills for a real job after they graduate. These are the kids who don't want to or can't go to college because of their scores in Middle School so they decide early on they are going to learn vocational skills. Hana did a lesson based on us since four of us (me, Courtney, May, and Tyler) visited her school. We interacted with the kids, answered questions, etc. Her classes were pretty good but she thinks its because she had visitors in the room, which is really valid. After two classes, we walked around the temple that's nearby her school. I didn't get to stay the entire day since I volunteer with North Korean defectors on a weekly basis so I left around 4:30pm to make my 6:30pm commitment. I really like the Naju crew so it was nice to see them for a bit. For my off day on Friday, I just hung out around the house. I did work on the dining room table and spent with time with my host mom. We didn't talk a lot but were just in each others' presence.

Chuseok weekend (September 29-30) was fun. On Friday night, both my host sisters came home. On Saturday morning, we packed up and went to Jangheung, which is east of Mokpo, but still in the same province, Jellonam-do. My host family got a pension with my mom's side of the family. There was my host grandmom, my two host uncles, and one of the uncle's wife's brother and family. The pension was beautiful. The pension itself was really nice. Then outside, the landscaping was really well done. There was a basketball hoop with a soccer-tennis court, a huge pond, pretty large amounts of grass to play, and even a huge fencing where there were roosters and dogs. My host family, host grandmother, and host uncles stayed in one house. My host uncle's wife's brother and family stayed in the pension a few houses over. We just hung out and enjoyed the weather on Saturday. I played soccer with my host brother for a bit and played with the toddler (my host uncle's son). He's kinda spoiled since he's really cute and everyone dotes on him so I don't like to play with him all that much. He likes to hit and stuff, which I don't tolerate but everyone else does because they think it's cute and he'll grow out of that phase (I disagree). Away from the tangent... Saturday was just a relaxing day. My host dad and host uncle started the grill and we had Korean BBQ for dinner. There was quite a bunch of meat and they even grilled really large shrimps. So just to clarify--there are two host uncles on my mom's side. There's the one who talked to me about Dokdo when he was drunk that first time; he is the same one who has the son I just mentioned who is really cute but spoiled. That uncle was with us the entire time. My other host uncle goes by "Khal" (his English name I think); he's the one with really good English. Khal arrived much later in the night since he was working. He's a travel tour guide so he's been all over the world--Europe, Australia, Phillipines, Taiwan, etc, and most of the other Asian countries. That's why his English is decent. When Khal arrived, the grill got started up again so he could eat. All the men and women gathered at the table for round 2 of dinner. Khal told me to eat and drink with them so I obliged. I chatted a few times with whoever talked to me but mainly, I just kept eating the food on the table. My dad was grilling nonstop. I also talked to the kids (there were like 5 of them running around) since the parents kept wanting them to practice their English with me. I also found out that my host family really likes me. Khal turned and asked me sometime during the night why the entire family likes me. He said that the family all speaks highly of me and thinks I have a good personality. He wanted to know why. It was a compliment although it was worded in a weird way. It was flattering to know they like me though. Anyway, the last people left drinking were the men (host dad, both host uncles, and host uncle's brother-in-law) and me. By midnight, my mom came out and told my dad it was time for me to go to bed. Good timing too since I had quite a bit of soju. I was trying to show the men that I could handle it and hang out with them. In the morning, my host uncles were sprawled out on the floor in really funny positions. Overall, it was a fun time.
On Sunday, we ate ramen for breakfast and then lounged about some more before it was time to go. We left the pension around 1pm and headed to a random road off a main road. We got out and did a little bit of bush wacking before stopping before two mounds. It was my host grandma's parents' burial site. Apparently, it's tradition to visit dead relatives during Korean Thanksgiving. I didn't have a problem with it so I just followed everyone else. We did individual short prayers and then headed back to the car. The next stop was the most interesting. I was told we were going to another burial site but the cemetery we ended up at was huge. Traffic itself took an hour to get in. Cars were lined up to go to the funeral. I know this because the path we were on was the entrance leading into the actual burial site. Everyone was going to pay respects to the dead. So I got out of the car, expecting to go pay respects to other people who had passed away in the family. Khal turns to me and says, "My father and son are buried here." I just nodded my head without saying anything because I wasn't sure if I heard him correctly. We walked over to these huge memorial stone things where a person's name, dates of life, picture, etc are on a huge wall plague thing. Sure enough, there were the names of Khal and my host mom's dad as well as Khal's soon. The date of death was the same for both so I knew something must have happened that day. We lined up again and did individual short prayers but this one was much heavier and longer. I think it's horrible when a parent has to bury their child; no one should have to suffer through that. I saw Khal's shoulders moving up and down and I knew he was crying. One of my host sisters and my host uncle's daughter also started to cry. Khal's dad and son passed away only a little over a year ago so it's still very much fresh. I stayed quiet because it was a very personal and private moment for the family. I wasn't sure what I was doing there and I felt like I was intruding on a moment for them. I felt like I was in an especially odd situation because Khal turned to me and asked if his son was handsome. He also commented about his son's English ability and said that he was really good and spoke like a native speaker. He was speaking directly to me because it was all in English. I honestly just didn't know how to respond. I waited until people were doing their own things to tell him I was sorry for his loss. I was pretty bummed after this. The weird part is that there were food cart things around the area. People were buying ice cream, hot dogs, fried food, etc. It felt so... commercialized. Burial sites are really respected in America but the standards are so different here. We left some time after and I asked my host family in the car what happened to Khal's soon. Apparently there was a car accident. Khal's father and son were on a motorcycle when they got hit by a car (I assume). All I know is that there was an accident. It felt pretty depressing after that--at least for me. My family headed back to Mokpo but to the bridge. We were going to try to get to one of the islands where my host dad grew up. Unfortunately, there was no ferries back to the mainland that night so we decided against it. We stopped by a restaurant for food and then headed home. I kind of wasted away the rest of my Sunday and even half of my Monday (still no school for Chuseok) watching the Korean drama, "Secret Garden," which was really fantastic.
I slept in on Monday and hung out around the house until 5pm. Afterwards, I did some lesson planning and other work before I walked around Mokpo for a bit. I felt a bit stuffy since I was indoors all day.

Tuesday, October 2nd, was an interesting day. Our school also had Wednesday, October 3rd off for Korean Foundation Day, so most of the students (and me) were peeved that we had to go into school for one day in the middle of the two holidays. Regardless, I got through class and then a fun lesson on Taylor Swift, which my boys actually seemed to like.

On Wednesday, for Korean Foundation Day, I hung out with Liam and Lizzie in the afternoon before meeting up with the rest of the ETAs. We hiked up Yudalson and it was actually really beautiful. If you look at one side, it's all ocean. But if you turn your head and look at the other side, you can see a thriving city. It's not too hard of a hike up Yudalson and it's right in Mokpo so it was nice to finally be able to climb it. I don't think my host family is really into hiking, which is a shame. After the hike up, we stopped by a coffee shop and chatted until we met up with the rest of the ETAs. We hung out in typical Mokpo fashion.

After class on Friday, October 5th, Tracey and I went to the bus station directly from school. We were headed for Busan for the International Film Festival (BIFF). Kathy, Amy T, Tracey, Stephanie, Jet, Jonathan, and I got a love motel room together right on Haeundae Beach. It was actually really nice. The fact that I got to see so many ETAs at once was also really overwhelming. While I spent most of my time with the people I stayed with, I saw so many other ETAs in passing. Most people showed up for BIFF. I watched four movies total--three on Saturday, and one on Sunday. I waited in line in the early morning with the same people for a few hours; it ended up being worth it. I watched "Go Grandriders" (Taiwanese), "Argo" (American), "The Woman Who Brushed Her Tears" (Macedonian), and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (American). Every movie, with the exception of "The Woman Who Brushed Her Tears" was really interesting. I also tried to rally and go out at night since we were in Busan but that only really happened on Saturday night since we were all passing out on Friday night after getting in.

OKAY. So now that I'm caught up on the big things I've done, there are a lot of things that have happened in school and emotions that I've been feeling to chat about...

About my school/kids:

(This paragraph was started about two weeks ago so it does not stand true now--I will explain in the next paragraph) I love my Tuesday Conversation Class and my Wednesday Advanced Students Class. I can not say the same about my Thursday Conversation Class. In fact, they make me want to pull my hair out sometimes. Most of them always have their cell phones out and are using them. I took away four cell phones last class. Then there are days when they just face plant on top of the desk and are gone for the entire class. Last class, no one spoke. I thought I had a fun lesson too--I had an "Let's go on an adventure" lesson with pictures of dragons, robots, whales, etc. I got nothing from the kids; I think it was worse than pulling teeth actually. I also was pretty ashamed at the end because I was tired from the long day and the lack of cooperation from the kids that I half yelled at the kids at the end. It boiled over because there were three girls that would't let me take their picture with their name tags. It took about 10 minutes to get them to let me do it.

So now things have changed. I love both of my club classes. The numbers have dwindled significantly so I have a lot more facetime with each student and get to try fun lesson plans with them. So apparently my club classes are voluntary and no one told me either. So I had a few kids who completely dropped out of the extra club classes. It wasn't just English they were leaving, they were leading Math, History, etc. The kids who have stayed are the ones who pay attention and are actually there to learn. In other words, I really like those kids now.

I'm going to Gyeongju for the ETA Fall Conference in the morning. It's from today (Friday) until Monday so it'll be a nice break from teaching. I also get to see all 120-something ETAs all together again so it'll be a lot of fun.

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