Friday, February 29, 2008

Chase Student Face Plants

At Barbie Hagwon last week, I needed some photocopies taken care of while I was in class with Chase Student and Friends (you may remember Chase Student from such special moments as: “Sometimes I create stupid nicknames for myself. Then, when people call me by said nicknames, I cry”). I like to nominate Chase Student to do anything that requires movement, whenever the opportunity arises. I’ve found that giving him the chance to expend some excess energy is really the only way that he’ll later be able to focus his attention on something (namely, me) for more than 30 seconds. As expected, Chase Student jumped at the chance to get off his ass. I advised him to be no longer than five minutes.

Ten minutes goes by.

Leo Student points out to me that Chase Student has been gone for a while. Given that I know how to keep track of time too, I had taken note of Chase Student’s tardiness five minutes earlier. I had been giving him the benefit of the doubt and wasn’t particularly concerned at that point. Ten minutes was pushing it, so I asked Leo Student to stick his head out the door and see if Chase Student had been eaten by wolves. Leo Student was very prompt in his search; less than a minute later he returns to inform me that Chase Student was very sad. Very, very sad! Just in case that didn't get the message across, Leo Student began wiping fake tears away from his cheeks. This warmed my heart (I like to think that he learned that from me).

After recovering from the awesomeness that was Leo Student parroting my condescending gesture, I was troubled to hear that Chase Student was having special problems. Then I remembered that last time Chase Student was very, very sad, it was because other people were calling him a stupid name that he had created for himself. Suspecting shenanigans, I excused myself from the class so that I could go clean up whatever mess it was that he had caused for himself.

I found Chase Student bawling in the main office. One of the other teachers and The Boss Man were attending to him. One look at the right side of Chase Student's face and it was clear why. Chase Student had apparently decided that scraping your knee isn’t particularly bad ass; face planting and scraping half of the skin off your cheek is clearly the more impressive battle scar.

I kid now, but I felt awful and largely responsible for Chase Student’s accident. If I hadn’t sent him to photocopy alone, he might not have fallen. I apologized profusely to my coworkers. In response, they assured me that this wasn’t my fault, not to worry, go back to class and they would patch him up. I returned to class not feeling even a bit relieved. Chase Student followed a few minutes later sporting a brand spanking new bandage and a serious case of the sniffles. The teacher who had helped patch him up followed shortly behind to inform me that Chase Student had completed the photocopying that I had asked him to do without any issue. Instead of coming back to class immediately afterwards as instructed, he decided to jump outside and run in circles with a friend of his. Somehow this led to him tripping over his own feet and landing splat on his face. “See? Not your fault”, my coworker advised me.

Chase Student’s face healed up quite nicely within the week, but he’s never again allowed to go photocopying alone. Next time, when he gets distracted by headlights and runs into traffic, he might not heal up quite as nicely. At that point, "See? Not your fault", really isn't going to cut it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Barbie and the International Beer Menu That Wasn’t

I had just purchased 5 bottles of nail polish from 4 different stores; this was not one of my better moments. In spite of how silly this was, trying to purchase a bottle of nail polish from every cosmetics shop in Deokchun struck me as hilarious, so I gave it a serious go. Given that you will find one of these shops on every corner, this would actually have been an impressive feat. Alas, I fell just short of my frivolous goal. I blame this entirely on Shanna and Speedy. They had the audacity to actually show up on time for our impromptu Monday night out, preventing me from running in another circle and spotting the only cosmetics shop I had yet to hit! If I hadn’t desperately needed some company that evening, I would still be holding this against them.

During our meal, Speedy and Shanna tried to carry on real conversation. I frequently interrupted so that more pressing matters could be discussed, such as all of the free swag that I got for purchasing 57 bottles of nail polish! Surprisingly, neither of them was particularly interested in hearing about this. They were probably jealous. I got cotton balls and whitening cream!

Our next location had not yet been determined. We didn't bother discussing this matter while we were still in the restaurant. It made infinitely more sense to stand outside in the rain and share our thoughts on the matter. I’ve been told that I have many thoughts and would be best off keeping these to myself. Blasphemy! My thoughts are deep, carefully deliberated and frequently lead to fantastic things. That particular Monday a few weeks back was no exception.

I briefly humour Shanna and Speedy with the idea that what they want to do from here actually matters with the following: “So what are you two feeling? Which bar do you want to go to?” As it turns out, Shanna and Speedy are not sock puppets that I picked up at the market one morning. They’re Real Live People, with real thoughts and everything. I’ve been told that they also have feelings, though I remain unconvinced. Either way, the fact that I was being rather pretentious at this juncture was not lost on them. After briefly taking the moment to point out how transparent I am, they come to the conclusion that they like alcohol every bit as much as I do.

The three of us ended up at the Wa Bar; it was the closest venue that was undoubtedly a bar. I was in the midst of a beer drinking phase, so this suited me just fine. Shanna is not a beer drinker; she was completely unfazed by the unbelievable array of international beers offered on the drink menu. Two full pages of options, hitting up every continent that matters! It was beautiful. The beer drinkers among us required a couple of minutes to mull over the variety before committing to just one choice. I don’t even commit to brands of deodorant. Or toothpaste. This menu presented quite the challenge for me.

After brushing the server away the first time they came over, we were finally ready to guzzle some random brand of beer. Unless you were Shanna, in which case you had settled for some Ass In A Bottle, also known as Random Korean Cooler. I wasn’t feeling particularly experimental, so I settled on the good and familiar Stella Artois. Speedy had selected something-or-other. Upon requesting both from the server, we were informed that they didn’t actually have either. Assuming this was a coincidence, because the possibility that the entire menu existed as decoration and nothing more was simply too stupid to process, we tried two other beers. Again, we were told that neither was available.

The server was soon joined by another server, and the two of them chatted and giggled at one another uncomfortably as we continued picking through the menu. Speedy finally wizened up and asked what our options actually were, given that the menu was clearly Just Kidding. They pointed at the small list of Korean beers. Speedy decides to be difficult with them and select the only Korean beer on the menu that nobody has ever heard of. More uncomfortable giggles followed by an admission that they don’t actually have that beer either. At this point I cave and try to order Hite, which is my standard awful-but-cheap Korean beer. More uncomfortable giggles. They were totally just kidding about Hite, too!

The Wa Bar is broken.

At this point I’m starting to think that this is the only Wa Bar in Korea that doesn’t serve beer. A more satisfying explanation would be that they simply didn’t understand us. If reality, this would do well to ease my mind. Sadly, I think that they understood us perfectly well; they simply didn’t know how to convey to us that the only beer they could serve at that particular time was their house brew. A good start would have been to not provide us with one of the most impressive beer menus we’d seen in Korea.

For what it’s worth, the house brew did the trick.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Big White Barbie Is A Person You Approach For Directions

You know when you’re lost in a crowd and you’re looking for that one special person, who looks least likely to bite, so that you can ask for directions? Somebody who looks like they’re probably a local, probably not packing heat, and can probably point you in the right direction without asking for your left kidney in return? Look no further. I am that person! Even the occasional Korean thinks that I’m that person.

It was a Tuesday. It was raining. I adore the rain, so I was quite chipper. I secretly can’t wait until typhoon season. And by secretly, I mean that I regularly scream this at the top of my lungs so that everybody knows it. I. Love. Rain. Nothing in this world gives me the joy that listening to a rain storm does. I figure that a typhoon will have the same effect, ten fold. Instead of cute little rain drops falling, the entire cloud will drop. Boom! Fantastic. My pants are totally off! Sign me up. Insert other random displays of enthusiasm here.

I was probably returning to work from to the kimbap restaurant near my school. This was mid January, so the memory on this part is a little foggy. Yes, it was raining in mid January. I am yet to spot a snow flake in Busan Land. I once thought that I saw some hail; this matter is still being debated. Every now and then when I’m really feeling homesick, I remind myself that while I may have been freezing my ass off for the past 6 weeks, I still couldn’t see my breath when I was outside. It’s almost enough to make one never want to go back to Canada Land and her cruel, cruel winters. Then I remember soju. And Piss Alley. And the Soju Men. Suddenly, Canada Land doesn’t seem too bad! And then I remember White Trash. And call centers. And that time that I got shingles. This is usually where I stop this train of thought in the hopes of salvaging whatever part of my mind hasn't shattered.

As I was making my way back to school, some random on a scooter whirled towards me. They tend to do this a lot, and it never ceases to irritate me. Something about speeding objects, which weigh infinitely more than I do, accelerating towards me makes me extremely uncomfortable. The Scooter Man slowed down just beside me. This is where he should have flipped up his helmet to speak to me. Of course, this is Korea Land, where helmets are for the old and not-so-nifty. Naturally, Scooter Man was not wearing his helmet. Scooter Man, with his gloriously air blown locks, started rambling at me in Korean. It dawned on me that he was probably asking for directions, as I can surmise no other reason why he would have been waving his hands as he was. It also dawned on me that with my hood pulled over my head and minimal light, there was the distinct possibility that for once in my Korean Life, somebody failed to notice that I was a foreigner. I removed my hood, smiled, and shrugged my shoulders at him. He looked confused and quickly drove away.

Sadly, I have not been mistaken for a local since.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Barbie, Random Frat Boy, and the Bank Card Incident

I have a Frat Boy problem. Even when I’m not making the effort to seek them out, they end up right beside me. Usually at the bar. Sometimes on the train. It’s a bloody curse! This isn’t to mark all Frat Boys as necessarily bad. I have befriended many a Frat Boy who happen to be splendid individuals. And by many, I mean two. The rest seem to have this tendency to indulge in beer while seeking copious amounts of ass and boasting questionable morals. This toxic combination often results in a gross abundance of serious douche–baggery. The following scenarios have been known to occur to one too many Frat Boys:

1) Running out on the bill at a Korean restaurant. This is roughly equivalent to ordering a Happy Meal at McDonalds, snatching the bag from your server prior to paying them, and then running off in a fit of giggles. In fact, shenanigans of this nature are likely why McDonald’s makes you pay immediately after ordering.
2) Trying to pick up the “hot” bartender, who is hardly pushing a 4 to those lacking beer goggles. Failing miserably. Find yourself in disbelief that she was able to resist your telling her how ample her chest looked in that shirt. Drown your sorrows in tequila. Pass out in the washroom stall. Wake up in a pool of your own vomit.
3) Leaving your debit cards with other people and then wondering why on earth somebody else has their bank card. Proceed to engage in a physical scrap over the matter with somebody who has no idea who you or the person with your bank card is. When the person with your bank card offers to give it back, utilize your caveman-like vocabulary to harass them via text message.

While there are an infinite number of equally absurd possibilities here, today I shall focus on scenario number 3.

The Plan for this past weekend had been to stay home to relax, watch movies, clean, and a whole lot of nothing else. The Plan did not come to fruition. It never does, which is precisely why I should never plan anything. Much to my dismay, a friend is leaving Korea this week, so Saturday was planned as her Official Last Night Out. It would have been blasphemous to not attend. I compromised with The Plan by telling myself – and anybody willing to listen - that it would be an early night.

Just before 3am I found myself at this all-you-can-drink-for-15-dollars spot on the other side of town from where I live. Most of the people I had come with were getting ready to hop to midtown. One of my friends who wasn’t feeling terribly well had been pounding the water for about half an hour and decided that it would be best to get a cab with me back towards Western Busan. Just one more more cup of water first. I waited at the bar with her to see if I could also swing a plastic bag for her in the cab “just in case”. In the midst of waiting, I was approached by a Frat Boy. Who else approaches me? I apparently have Frat Boy Friendly Pheromones (if I ever release my own perfume, I’m totally calling it that). As a result of my Frat Boy Friendly Pheromones, I had to endure the following dialogue:

Random Frat Boy (RFB): Hiya. How’s your night going?
Me: It’s just about to end
RFB: Too bad. It’s early go-ins!
Me: Yeah
RFB: Hey, do you watch America’s Top Model?
Me: Uh… no?
RFB: You totally look like the girl on Top Model. Has anybody ever told you that before?
Me: Uh… no?
RFB: Oh, yeah, for sure. You totally do.
Me: Which season?
RFB: Huh?
Me: Which season of Top Model does this look alike of mine happen to be on? There have been something like 37 seasons of that program.
RFB: Uh, I’m not sure. Your long black hair is totally like hers
Me: My hair is brown.
RFB: … and your face… very similar features …
Me: Uh huh. So, I’m leaving now. My friend is sick.
RFB: Here, take down my number. When you see that you look JUST like the Top Model girl, you can call me.
Me: I’ll be sure to do that.
RFB: How about some shots?
Me: Dude, I’m leaving. My friend…
RFB: Take a shot to go!
Me: Ah, what the Hell.

RFB proceeds to try to pay for said shots with his bank card. In order to understand how incredibly stupid is, one needs to realize that this is not North America where people live and die by their debit card. Most places, especially bars, will only accept cash. Despite this, RFB is stunned to learn that his card won’t go through. He demands that the bar tender try again. Two more failed attempts and he advises me that he’ll be “right back”, and then disappears into the crowd. In his absence the bar tender passes me his bank card.

Five minutes pass. I bore of waiting for him, so I pay the tab. In the midst of searching for my friend who is taking the taxi with me, I forget that I have his bank card. Five minutes into the taxi ride home and I remember. Damn. Not only did I end up with some RFB’s phone number, but now I actually had to use it! I text him to let him know that I have his bank card and will arrange for him to get it back ASAP. A flurry of ridiculous texts from this himbo later and the following is established:

1) He has no recollection of stiffing me with the bar tab.
2) This is largely because he has no recollection whatsoever of having met me. That was soooo 25 minutes ago!
3) He either thinks that I’ve stolen his bank card or am one of his buddy’s messing with him.
4) Within the 25 minutes since I saw him last, he’s managed to get a black eye while fighting somebody over his “stolen” bank card. Presumably this other person is a moron, too.
5) Despite having no idea who I am and having made it very clear that he’s already gotten into fist cuffs over this very issue tonight, he’d like for me to meet him Right Now so that he can have his card back.

I advise him that I’m going to bed and he can have it back in the morning. As prompt as he is bright, I hear from him again around 3 in the afternoon. After establishing that I have a vagina and did not actually steal his bank card, he suggests that we met later that night. I inform him that I’m happy to give him his card back and ask where the best area of town to meet would be. I received no response and have not heard from him since.

Thank God.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s still welcome to have his card back. I’m not a bad person. I told him that I had the card immediately after noticing I had left the bar with it. I genuinely felt badly about the entire thing. I just think that it’s absolutely fantastic that I didn’t actually have to meet him again. God willing, he’s probably already replaced the card by now and forgotten about the entire thing.

Big White Barbie: 131231242343
Random Frat Boy: 0

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Barbie, Mr Soju Man and the Super Ajumma

Ever since learning my first Korean curse word about 6 weeks ago, I’ve been very successful in warding off obnoxiously drunken Soju Men. That I know any Korean whatsoever seems to catch them off guard. That I know offensive Korean is even more blasphemous. The brief moment that they take to mend their mind, after hearing me curse at them in Korean has blown it to smithereens, is just time enough for me to brush passed them unscathed. No more sharing phone booths for you, Soju Man! Unfortunately, there are occasions when even I’m not crass enough to curse loudly in public. This is where I found myself last Saturday.

I was minding my own business as I waited out the subway ride from Deokcheon to Sasang, on my way to meet some friends for some fantastic Indian Food at this bloody fantastic Indian Restaurant beside the E-Mart. One stop prior to Sasang, a very drunken Mr Soju Man boarded my subway car. Oh, goody! Being the drunken Mr Soju Man that he was, he immediately started getting in the face of the first person that he stumbled upon. As there were only about 6 people on my car, it didn’t take him long to notice me sitting a few meters up the car from his current conquest. Mr Soju Man makes a bee-line for me and immediately starts getting right in my face, trying to put his hands on my shoulders, etc. I respond to this by shoving him backwards and kindly suggesting that I wasn’t interested in becoming his friend. Mr Soju Man didn’t quite understand that I really didn’t want to be his friend, so this shoving match continued for a short while. I finally tired of this and ran up the subway car in hopes of switching cars.

The other 5 people on the car consisted of an elderly woman (from here on out known as Super Ajumma), two middle aged women, and two men that were probably in their 20’s. While I’ve never felt particularly comfortable cursing in front of seniors in the first place, I would consider it even more inappropriate to do so in Korea. Here, seniors are actually awarded with the utmost respect, unlike the complete disdain that seems to be considered acceptable back in Canada Land. Hence, despite there having never been an opportunity more fitting to showcase my growing Korean vocabulary, my audience prohibited me from doing so. This is one of the few times in life when having been raised well does not necessarily come in handy.

As I raced up the length of the car in the hopes of switching to the next one, I found myself unable to move the door between cars. Fantastic. I was either on the one subway line that doesn’t allow you to switch cars, or I was simply on the one car in all of Busan that had a fixed door. Or perhaps I just can't open doors anymore? Either way, I was buggered. Mr Soju Man had followed closely behind me and was now flailing his arms around and rambling nonsensically. I shoved him out of the way again and started to walk the length of the car again. At this point I had concluded that I was going to have to hit Mr Soju Man in order to prevent continued harassment. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of hitting a man in front of somebody’s grandmother, nor was I keen on being arrested or deported. Thankfully it didn’t come to this, as Super Ajumma was there to save the day.

As I passed by Super Ajumma, she took my arm and guided me to sit down across from her, with the two other women on the train. She then swiftly whirled around, grabbed Mr Soju Man by the arm, and started chewing him out. Mr Soju Man failed to appreciate that he was dealing with a Super Ajumma, and actually had the audacity to yap back! Unacceptable! Super Ajumma raised her voice another notch, continued to chew him out, and then promptly shoved him towards the other set of seats. He sat down meekly, put his head down, and finally shut up. Super Ajumma took the seat beside me, patted me on the knee, and told me that she was sorry for his behaviour. I thanked her 100 times before getting off at Sasang.

Super Ajumma is a true hero.

I hoped dearly that Mr Soju Man would stay on the train and rushed upstairs, where I found my friends waiting. I immediately explained to them what had just happened. I was a little bit shaken up, but thanks to Super Ajumma I wasn’t fairing too badly. Before I could complete the story, Jack looks behind me and says: “you mean that drunken Korean, the skinny guy taking his shirt off over there?” Sure enough, there was Mr Soju Man, taking off his clothing in the middle of the subway station. He went for the pants but thankfully thought better of it. Upon seeing even more foreigners, he made a beeline for us. I presume that even in his drunken state he realized how difficult it would be to play Chase After Foreigners with his pants around his ankles. We scattered, which seemed to irritate him. Didn’t we understand that he was our new friend?!?!

Eventually we made it out of the subway station unscathed. The last we saw of Mr Soju Man he was headed into the bathroom. Probably for a nap; I hear that public bathrooms are a fantastic place to put your head down for a few.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Barbie Teacher Is Schooled on the "Sea of Japan”

Every Monday and Wednesday I have the challenge of starting my day with screaming 6 year olds and ending it with a small group of men and women in their 30’s. I actually prefer the 6 year olds; they require significantly less work. The students look bored? Easy. Put on a stupid face or make them repeat some random English word three times fast. Laughter ensues. Problem solved. In my adult class, I actually have to put together handouts and what not so that we have extra material to fall back on if the Topic of the Day is a flop. In other words, I have to do work. Work! Totally not what I came here for! As a result, I like my younger classes best because they require the least work. That said, when I can overlook the fact that I’m a lazy twerp, I realize than I learn more about Korea during my discussions with the adult class. All that work creating vocabulary lists and discussion questions (*cough* ten minutes *cough*) is not for naught!

I arrive to each of my adult classes with a Topic of the Day prepared for discussion. The accompanying handout, which is hastily throw together between sessions of facebook and ass scratching during break, is comprised of an introduction to the Topic of the Day, relevant vocabulary, discussion questions, and related articles. When I first started leading these classes I didn’t actually bother to prepare anything whatsoever, because I had no bloody clue what the heck I was doing. Four months later and I’ve smartened up. Barbie Teacher learns quickly! Or possibly just overlooks the obvious for an inexcusably long time before finally acting like Normal People.

The Topic of the Day for the first Monday back from the Chinese New Year was “Natural Disasters”. The previous Monday I had been totally lacking in inspiration and actually selected “Weather” as the Topic of the Day. To me, discussing the weather for an hour is incredibly painful. Surprisingly, they were actually interested. On one hand, this was fantastic. On the other, it was Total Balls since it meant that I couldn’t just change the topic in the middle of class to something that sucked slightly less.

At some point during the “Natural Disaster” discussion, I was talking to my students about how being on the Sea of Japan rather than right on the ocean makes a difference in regards to some weather-hooey. Whatever the Hell point it was that I was trying to make totally died when I uttered: “the Sea of Japan”. One of the men turned his nose up, glanced my way with more than just a touch of disdain, and advised me that the correct name is “the Sea. Just ‘the Sea’” (I looked this up later and determined that South Korea has fought to have it internationally known as “The East Sea”, not “Just ‘the Sea’”… but whatever, we’ll give him a pass). It was at this point that I remembered reading something, months ago, about how Koreans absolutely abhor that anybody refers to this body of water as “the Sea of Japan”. I presume that the underlying issue here is that after hundreds of years of bloody, bloody battles and some outright ass kickings from their not-always-so-friendly neighbor, some Koreans are a little displeased that the body of water which the entire east side of their country borders bears the name of their former bully. Understandable.

I apologized profusely for my blunder, and then proceeded to blame the entire thing on the United States. They nodded and took this as an acceptable passing-of-the-buck. Thankfully, nobody sought further explanation as to why this was the fault of the United States, as I had none to offer.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Barbie Teacher Makes Elephant Student Cry


Do they make sense to anybody but themselves? Do they even make sense to themselves? Do they actually differ from us so-called-grownups in this regard?

I have a student in one of my intermediate courses who almost certainly has undiagnosed ADHD. Despite being a massive pain in the ass, he’s actually one of my favourite students. Chase Student is smart as Hell and has never been directly rude to me; he just can’t sit still and STFU when his work is finished. Over the past few months I’ve developed strategies that help keep him busy, and thus quiet. Yet sometimes, in spite of my efforts, he still manages to get himself into trouble.

On Friday, Chase Student decided that it would be a fantastic idea to adorn his workbook with a ridiculous moniker; he proudly wrote “Chase(lephant)” on the cover at the beginning of class. As you might expect, the other students began referring to him as “Chase elephant”. After about 5 minutes of this atrociously inaccurate reading of what was clearly meant to be a one-word moniker, I advised the children that they were going about it all wrong! He hadn’t written “Chase elephant”; he had written “Chaselephant”! One word! Not two! This created a very slight, yet distinct change in pronunciation. It would have been irresponsible of Barbie Teacher not to teach this.

After enduring five minutes of the students stressing the correct syllables in “Chaselephant”, Chase Student started to get a little bit upset. He pouted. He refused to do his work when Barbie Teacher asked him to do so. Something had to be done! I took Chase Student’s book and calmly asked him to join me in the hallway. I advised the other children to work on their assignment and stop calling him “Chaselephant”. In the hallway, out of the eyes of the other children, Chase Student leaned against the wall and sobbed. “Teacher, I’m just so angry!”

I hate it when people cry. Especially children. Even children who are crying because other people are calling them by a moniker which only exists because they wrote it o their own workbook. This kid was actually expressing sorrow over the fact that a moniker, which he had created for himself and purposefully drawn attention to, had caught on. Who does that? I'm not even sure that "but Rebecca, he's 10!" passes as an an adequate explanation here. Regardless, as I'm still a human being with empathy and a job to do, I patted Chase Student on the back (because you’re totally allowed to do that in this country), promised him that I’d make sure the other children would cease calling him “Chaselephant”, and told him that he could have 5 minutes to go get some water and settle down.

Chase Student returned to class as chipper as can be, showing no signs of having broken down earlier. He promptly erased the “(lephant)” from his workbook, so that just “Chase” remained. Mercifully, the other children actually listened to Barbie Teacher and did not once utter “Chaselephant” for the rest of the period. This was perhaps in part because Barbie Teacher had warned them that the second somebody let the moniker slip, Game Time was over.

Chase Student, putting the S back in Special.

Barbie Teacher, the consummate professional.