Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas and All That Jazz

Sitting in Cafe Mama (my local coffee shop) sipping on my Vanillacafe Latte and I am at peace, at this moment. I figured it was time for another update and a lot has happened.

Three weekends ago, on December 8th, I traveled to Busan for Kathy's birthday. Her birthday was on Sunday but her host family had plans for her so we were going to celebrate on Saturday. I met up with her and a bunch of the Busan girls to grab lunch at an Indian restaurant. It was the first time I had Indian food since arriving in Korea and it was glorious. It was so delicious. Kathy said she didn't want to make a big deal out of her birthday so it was pretty low key. The goal was just to spend time with friends. She left at night but I left Busan Sunday evening after hitting up Costco. I had to buy popcorn and candy for my students. I was planning on throwing a popcorn party, of sorts, for my good classes. I was gonna give mini candy canes out too.
When I got back to Mokpo, I felt a little queasy but I thought it was the bus ride. It was pretty late but I missed dinner so I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich. When I woke up Monday morning, I still felt nauseous but didn't think too much about it. I tried to stomach some cereal and then headed to school. I had a stomachache all day and had to teach through two classes. I headed home immediately when I was done. That's when the sickness really hit. I think I had a stomach virus or got food poisoning was coming out of both ends. I'll leave it at that. I stayed in fetal position in my bed all day and eventually passed out around 9pm. I pretty much hibernated. I woke up at 7am the next day since I still had to go to school and teach. I was told by several teachers that I looked pale and ill so it was quite obvious that I was sick. After my classes, I again went home and curled up in bed. I tried to stomach some porridge my host mom made but I didn't get too far into the bowl. The only thing I could really stomach for a few days was water. On Thursday, I had my first real dose of solid food. I got some apples down. I was so happy. Feeling sick just sucks and you aren't in the mood to do anything but sleep it off while your body fights it off.

That Thursday, the 13th, Katelyn and Andrew M came into Mokpo to visit. They both had the week off for exams so they were visiting. Since I was teaching, I only got to see them at night but four of us (Katelyn, Andrew M, Liam, and me) ended up going to 노래방 (noraebang which is karakoke). Let me just say that Andrew and Liam are great singers. They sure do a banging rendition of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs." Just saying.

The weekend of the 15th I stayed in Mokpo. The week leading up to it was the week of final exams so I figured my host family would do something fun since my host brother was now done with finals. I was wrong. They are homebodies and as much as I love them, they don't do very much. I also realized I hadn't spent much time in Mokpo and I wouldn't be spending a lot of time in Mokpo once winter vacation hit. It was nice resting up a bit, I suppose.

Tracey and I were in for a real treat the following Monday. The school chairman took us out to lunch. He really likes us. When we first got to the school, we gave him gifts and apparently we are the first ETAs to buy him a gift. Since then, he's been real good to us. It's a big deal because he's the big boss, if you will. Most teachers have never been in the same room with him, spoke to him, let alone be treated to lunch by him. Mr. Cho, one of my English co-teachers has been teaching at the school for 30 years and has never had a conversation with him. I have been here for a few months and he invited me and Tracey to lunch. We went to Hotel Hyundai right outside of Mokpo and it was real nice. It was a buffet style lunch and the place was pretty swanky. You could tell he wasn't messing around. Even when I told Mr. Cho where I was going since I was leaving school early to go to lunch, he mentioned that it was a nice place. Tracey and I planned accordingly and got him Christmas gifts to bring to the lunch. We conversed with him some at lunch and he's an accomplished person. He did his undergrad in Japan at a really good university (one of the top in Japan) in complete Japanese. He also got some post-doctorate degrees in America in complete English. He studied in Arizona (I think?) and at Boston University. He's really impressive. The following week, I was pulled out of my class by the Vice Principal. The chairman had given him a gift to give me. He got me and Tracey a winter hat from Mountain Hardwear and the price tag was still on it (40,000 won). It's really nice and I feel spoiled because the chairman knows who we are.

The week of the 10th and the 17th were the last weeks with my classes. It was weird because the first and second years had exams and then there were random days where I wouldn't teach classes. There was no school on the 19th because of the Presidential election and some of the third years were going on a field trip on some days. It was just weird. It was sad to say goodbye to my third years because they have been my favorite classes, for the most part. Compared to my second years, the third graders are angels. They're a lot more mature and attentive in class. I gave all my classes my Kakao ID and email address. Since giving it out, I've actually gotten a few kids who have added me and chatted with me. It's actually quite endearing. I wrote cards to some of my third years who I like and have interacted with. A lot of them were touched with the hand-written letters and wrote me back. It was sweet. Actually one of my girls sent me a Kakao message and asked where I was this past Monday since I wasn't in school. She said she baked me a sweet potato muffin as a present but ate it since I wasn't there. I found it pretty funny--the eating part but it was a sweet gesture.
For my club class students, I kicked it up a notch. I bought fried chicken for my Advanced class on Wednesday and my Thursday club class. I was going to buy chicken for my Tuesday club class but they were all closed for the Presidential Election (which was on Wednesday) so I ended up just popping them popcorn. They didn't complain about it. I'll definitely miss my club class students. Because it's a much smaller group of kids, I've gotten to know each of them individually and teach more effectively, I think. I'll miss them.

On the 19th, school was closed for the Presidential election. 박근혜 won. She's the first female President Korea has had so it's kinda a big deal but she didn't win because of her gender. Her father was the President before and he was really controversial because a lot of policies he put into place were a bit harsh but during his time in office, Korea's economy really boomed. She's a member of the current ruling party (majority). The province I live in, Jeollanam-do is super liberal compared to the rest of Korea so everyone in my city/area was pretty depressed about her winning. My host mom kept saying "어떻게?!" at the television when they were covering the election and 박근혜 was ahead. 어떻게 is like asking how or what do I do. When I went into school the next day, Mr. Cho said, "We lost." A lot of my kids were depressed about the results too. I don't know enough to say much about the results though.

My last day of teaching for this year was on the 21st. I brought in cookies and chocolate for all the teachers in the school. I also got individual gifts for the Principal, Vice Principal, the nurse who practices her English with me, and my English co-teachers. I think they were received well so I got some brownie points for that. I still have to go in for the school festival tomorrow (27th) so I'll see everyone one last time before the new year.

After classes and chapel on the 21st, my last day, I headed to 오송 (Osong) for Jaeyeon's Christmakkah party. She was having a weekend party of sorts to celebrate the holidays and the end of teaching. There were about 10 of us there and it was REALLY NICE. It was at her real dad's apartment (he's working in Korea). To sum up the weekend, we baked, ate a lot of sweets and junk food, watched movies, bummed around, chatted, built 정 with each other, and slept. Jay made a bunch of holiday decorations and put them around the apartment so it looked really nice too. There was snow on the ground and it was snowing during the weekend so it just added to the feeling of Christmas. The fact that Christmas was approaching didn't really hit me until I was at Jay's place. It just felt nice. Tracey and I planned on leaving on Sunday to head back to Mokpo but we enjoyed ourselves so much we stayed until Monday. There's not much to say about the weekend but I just had a really good time. I bummed out and relaxed. I haven't really had a chance to just chill out in a while in an environment that I feel completely safe to be myself in. While I love my host family and everything, I still feel like I need to be in the living room with them at times and hang out. At Jay's, everyone was American and I didn't have to pretend to do anything. Teaching was over so I didn't have to lesson plan. Part of the expectations of the party was to literally just bum around. I sat in my PJs almost all the day. We took a walk around the lake near her dad's apartment in the morning to get out of the apartment but otherwise, we just relaxed. I did a lot of baking and cooking. I helped with the sugar cookies and tacos. We played Cards Against Humanity, which is like Apples to Apples but for adults. I ate a lot of sweets. We went out on Friday night for chicken and beer. I watched at least 5 movies over the course of the weekend. I lounged and chatted with other ETAs. It was so nice. Jay's dad is also really great. He speaks perfect English and is just really chill. He watched Harold and Kumar Christmas and Bridesmaids with us. He seems like a really cool dad. I didn't want to come back to Mokpo after being at her place. It was depressing to leave actually. That's an indication of how good of a time I had.

When we got back on Christmas Eve from 오송, I headed home first. I was in desperate need of a run because of all the junk I put into my body during the weekend so I went to the gym. It felt like I was sweating out sugar. I remember even getting a headache when I was at Jay's from all the sugar. Around 6pm, my host family went out for a Christmas dinner. We went to a buffet place, like VIPS (a fancy steakhouse buffet chain in Korea). It was really nice. When we went home, my entire host family sat around the living room. I bought them all gifts so I gave them out. I think my host mom saw the gifts in my room and told the family because they also had gifts for me. The way I hear it is that Christmas in Korea is more of a couples holiday though and they don't really do gifts unless you're dating so I was surprised. My host parents got me a really nice scarf. My host sisters got me hiking socks (which I was actually really excited for because they're warm and I'll need them for Nepal), and my host brother got me chocolates. I got my host parents some vitamins, perfume for my host sisters, and a Heat jersey for my host brother. My host family also got a Christmas cake. After we ate cake, I met up with the Mokpo crew + 2 out of town guests.
The original plan was to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas with the Mokpo gang. I think something got lost in translation though since everyone was peacing out early on Christmas day. We spent the night in a love motel near the fountain area and just hung out. We played Cards Against Humanity, went out to a bar, watched a movie on TV, etc. While it was nice to be with friends and other ETAs during Christmas, it just didn't really like Christmas. To be honest, I think I had such a good time at Jay's that everyone after that was kind of disappointing. Waking up on the floor of a love motel on Christmas didn't feel as Christmas-y as waking up on the floor of a decorated apartment smelling of cookies and hot chocolate. There were so many comparisons I was making unconsciously. A real apartment with a kitchen compared to a love motel; baking our own cookies, brownies, hot chocolate, etc compared to eating out at a restaurant; holiday decorations around the room compared to white walls or random sensuous pictures hanging on the walls; etc. I could go on but it just felt completely different. People were leaving too, which kinda sucked. Robyn had to peace out at 7am to eat breakfast with her host family before heading to Incheon to catch her plane back to America. Sara left around 9am to go to church with her host family. Annie didn't come at all since she was teaching both days. Lizzie left around 10:30am. That left me, Tracey, Liam, Nina, and Ben L afterwards. We went to get brunch at Cafe Lemontable and then separated. It was kinda depressing. I went back home, baked brownies with my host sisters, painted my nails, and just bummed. Around 6pm, I headed to Tracey's apartment. Her host sister was putting on a Christmas party. When we went in, there were a bunch of people. Her host parents had left the apartment for the party and there were like 40 high schoolers in the apartment. Even the youngest host sister who's in fifth grade elementary school had some friends over. I was there for not even 5 minutes before Tracey's host sister asked me if I knew how to make pasta. I said I did and before I knew it, I was pulled into the kitchen cooking four boxes of pasta. I made pasta in tomato sauce, pasta in pesto sauce, pasta in Alfredo sauce, gnocchi in tomato sauce, and gnocchi in Alfredo sauce. I was cooking up a storm. I actually think I spent most of the party in the kitchen. >.< It wasn't too bad though. After I was done, I ate and hung out. Her host sisters were kind enough to buy cheese for me--real cheese, mind you. It was the good kind too. I also got some wine so all in all, it was successful. I had a good time at her party. That felt more Christmas-like so at least Christmas ended positively.

Tomorrow is my school festival and I'm doing a dance with Tracey. It...should be interesting. I'm hoping the kids laugh. It's pretty comical. I was inspired by Evolution of Dance on youtube and decided to make my own version of that. I made a mashup of some random songs and Tracey and I are "battling" on stage. We are just taking turns dancing to different songs. It should be funny, or entertaining at best.

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