Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Laziest Teacher at Barbie Hagwon?

I spend many an hour in class wondering if it is even possible to be a lazier teacher than I am. On most days, I do absolutely no prep whatsoever. On those days that I feel prep is required, I spend three minutes between the computer and the photocopying. When in class, it's not unheard of for me to roll the chair three feet to the whiteboard, to avoid standing up and walking over to it. It's pathetic, really. I cannot believe that I get paid what I do for a job that I'm so nonchalant about and grossly under-qualified for. I look to my fellow coworkers, who have to make phone calls to student's parents, handle all the report cards, and take all the crap for our collective failures, and occasionally feel just a touch bad. And then one of them fucks up and fails in a manner that I hadn't even thought of yet, and I feel just a little bit better.

Wednesdays used to be fantastic. I spent about 4 hours at my hagwon, teaching 4 classes and taking a jaunt to McDonald's in between. Then public highschools decided that Monday was a good time to get the year rolling again, and my schedule changed. Wednesdays are still relatively fantastic, but now I have to stick around for a dinner break and an evening class. Balls, but I can handle it.

This past Wednesday, I used my dinner break to sit around the staff room and kill time on the internet. Two of my coworkers sat across the room at the table and talked amongst themselves as they pretended to do work, while Rambo Teacher used the other computer to kill time on the internet. About ten minutes into my break, I noticed that nobody appeared to have a class scheduled. This was interesting, because Blue Student and Sally Student were my responsibility at this time on Mondays and Fridays. Unless they had simultaneously cancelled their classes with our hagwon, somebody was trying to snatch my title of Laziest Teacher at Barbie Hagwon.

Me: Uh.. guys? Nobody has class right now?
My three coworkers: * exchange unconcerned looks* No.
Me: Then what happened to Blue Student and Sally Student's class? I mean, if we're all in here...
My three coworkers: *exchange concerned looks*
Suzy Teacher: I am finished class for today.
Shelly Teacher: *shrug*
Rambo Teacher: Um... *checks schedule. Panics* I have to go. Now. *rushes out of the room*

Suzy Teacher, Shelly Teacher and I enjoyed a good three minutes of laughter at his absent minded expense. And, more importantly, I felt a little better about having rolled my chair to the whiteboard at least twice that day.

Rambo Teacher later thanked me and said that he owed me a class, as The Boss Man would have killed him had he spent the entire class on the internet. I reminded him that he had already taken a class for me - this past Friday, when I got stuck at the bank, accusing them of institutionalized racism. So, we're even.

As for the bank incident, I'll probably write about that over the weekend. I have refrained from doing so yet, because I'm still irritated about the entire, ridiculous string of events.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Some Bitches Start Young

Remember those little bitches that I ranted about a while back? Yes, the ones who are 5 and 7 years old. Or something like that. It was brought to my attention, privately, that I might be a bad person for labeling children as bitches. Whatever. I fail to see how my taking note of the fact that some people get an early start on a lifetime of super bitchdom, makes me a bad person. It’s not my fault that a lot of people who should never have children decide to pollute the gene pool with their spawn. My referring to these children as monster bitches puts a label on their behaviour; it doesn’t point the finger of blame at the children. It’s not The Princess Bitches fault that either their parents raised them poorly, or merely unleashed upon the world a potent a cocktail of their most unfortunate traits.

The Princess Bitches are most likely to exhibit human-like behaviour when forced to share their space with other children. When I started at Barbie Hagwon, neither of the girls caused me any problems. I knew Bitch, The Younger as the smallest student in the school, and I hardly even knew that Bitch, The Elder existed. They were that well behaved – when in separate classrooms. Only when they were placed in their own private class, together, did shit hit the fan. This month, The Boss Man placed the girls in the other class of the same level, and canceled their private session. I wish that I could say that The Boss Man spoke with The Bitches mother and that they came to the agreement that putting the girls in a mixed classroom was the best remedy to their intolerable brattery. In reality, there was probably a scheduling complication which made it impossible to fit their private class into everybody’s timetables. Whatever the reason, The Bitches have been far less of a problem this month.

Bitch, The Elder, is the root of the issue. Bitch, The Younger, is probably not even a year out of the bed wetting stage; that she spends upwards of 10 hours of her day in various institutions is appalling. She’s forgiven for her tendency to follow big sis wherever she takes her. As I learned recently, Bitch, The Elder, is not just rude to me and the other Korean teachers, she’s also rude to The Boss Man. Who’s rude to The Boss Man? I probably ought to rename them at this point, at the very least removing the plural from their moniker. The Younger has been an absolute gem this month. She hasn’t fallen asleep in class; she hasn’t pointed and laughed or refused to do her work. When surrounded by other, more positive influences, The Younger is just like any other student. Unfortunately, there has been no change in the behaviour of Bitch, The Elder.

It’s been a couple of months since I last bothered getting upset that nothing I do will result in Bitch, The Elder, acting like a respectable human being. I’ve more or less acceptable that some people are just bad at life. And that sometimes they start young. Some of the more precocious manage to make a statement at just 7. That’s just how it is. Pointing this out is not what makes me a bad person.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Horseback Riding Hell

There is a week at the end of July, crossing into the first week of August, where everybody in Korea decides that it would be a great time to go on vacation. Everybody. At the exact same time. This does wonders for traffic, hotel costs, and crowd control. I seriously considered boarding myself up in my apartment for the week, in order to avoid this influx of people. Then I remembered that I spent my last chunk of vacation time hauled up in my apartment, trying to bypass the denial stage of grief by watching a lot of television. Or something like that. This made no sense. Upon remembering this, I decided that it was probably time to get off the mainland for a while. Traveling was a much better idea than television. Progress! Jeju Island was calling.

The plan was to take a Tuesday flight into Jeju, and figure the rest out when we got there. Traveling with just April Teacher, it promised to be an uncomplicated affair. As we had expected, we were very travel compatible. You know those people that have to do absolutely everything together? Who plan every minute detail of their trip: from what time they will check into the hotel, to where they will eat breakfast on the last day? Who need constant reassurance that you’re still in the seat on the bus beside them, via never-ending mindless banter? We are not those people. While those people can be fantastic over the course of dinner or afternoon at the beach, spending several days with them results in a serious lack of Me Time. Without quality Me Time, I become a monster bitch. Even more so than usual. It’s terrible for everybody, really.

Among other things, we hiked sunrise peak, spent a day on Jungmun Beach with the Golden Drunk and Heila, viewed some waterfalls, visited a sex-themed outdoor sculpture park (Love Land), and went horseback riding. As amusing as it is to find an abundance of statues in various positions of intercourse, Love Land was only of slight interest to me. First, none of the male sculptures exhibited frat-boy-like qualities. A serious flaw (my frat boy fetish has been well documented). Second, all of the female statues had breasts slightly large than mine. All of them. This made no sense. How can a country where I can hardly buy a fucking bra depict all of the females in a sex exhibit as voluptuous? Broken. Rather than continuing on how Love Land crushed my soul, I’m going to talk about how horseback riding takes my breath away.

I don’t recall ever going horseback riding during my childhood. I was in no way prepared to hop on a saddle without any instruction whatsoever, and ride off into the sunset. Somebody dropped the ball and failed to point out that one of the instructors was going to walk us around the course with the horses, though it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. I was still being asked to hand over control and trust a creature with which I had no idea how to communicate (which is something I really ought to be used to, given the frat boy fetish). What if it didn’t like the way I held the reins, or the way my weight was distributed on its back? What if the horse threw me clear off of it for no particular reason? How could I get off the horse once it started moving? Could I get off the horse? How long was the course? This was going to end badly.

April Teacher was about to learn an important lesson about Barbie Teacher. April Teacher has ample experience with horses, and was perhaps a bit bewildered by the weight of my anxiety. I managed to get on the horse, thinking that it would only get easier after that. I even made it through some photos of the two of us with our horses. I thought that maybe it would get better once the horse started moving. This thought was dumb. Realizing now that a panic attack was imminent, I warned April Teacher of what was coming. Understandably, she didn’t take this too seriously. Who would? I’ve been known to exaggerate. She started to move along with her horse, likely expecting that mine would follow. Until she heard me hyperventilating. As it turns out, Barbie Teacher kids about many things, but panic attacks are not one of them. Wisely, April Teacher told the instructor guy to get me the fuck off the horse. Once my feet were on solid ground and I was in complete control of my movement again, I felt just dandy. April Teacher had a grand old time doing her rounds on the horse, and I enjoyed the view of Mount Hall and The Sea. All was well with the world. Not only did April Teacher get to ride horses that day, but she got to witness her first Real Live Panic Attack. It was a special moment, I’m sure.

I’m not afraid of horses. Looking at horses, walking around horses, standing beside horses, and petting horses are all tolerable activities. Apparently it’s sitting on them that is the problem. There is a really obvious paragraph about control and trust issues that could be written here, but it would bore me to write it. The truth is I was pretty sure that I was going to freak out over horseback riding well before we even touched ground in Jeju. I tried it anyways. I’ll probably try it again, someday. Just not with anybody of the friends who read my blog; they're unlikely to invite me horseback riding anytime soon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Teacher, There’s a Hole in Your Face!

Earlier this week when I was at the corner store picking up something or other, the man at the counter inquired as to whether or not my face hurt. A valid question, if you think that having a nose piercing results in constant, unrelenting pain. If you’ve never before seen somebody who is willing to poke a hole in the middle of their face in the name of beauty or expression, then you wouldn’t be a complete idiot for coming up with such a conclusion.

There was a time last June when, after a particularly terrible week, I decided to top off my call-in-sick-to-work day with a nose ring and booze. This was around the time that I couldn’t really hold down a job, because I was too much of an asshole to bother going. At the time I would insist that if the job weren’t so stupid, then I’d go. But clearly if the job was that “stupid”, that beneath me, then I was an idiot for continuing to work there. Rather than act like an adult and hand in my resignation, I decided that I’d rather spend my day poking a hole in my face and getting drunk. While I can’t remember what possessed me to get a navel ring when I was 17, I imagine that the reasoning was equally stupid. My piercings are not unique, nor are they even particularly cute. The only way that these may qualify as an expression of myself, is that they demonstrate a history of self destructive choices. At present, I maintain them for two reasons: On a vain note, they look better than the alternative (ugly scars). Also, I enjoy being reminded of what a douche I used to be (and still am).

When I decided to work in Korea, I figured that ripping out the nose ring was a forgone conclusion. Korean society is generally more conservative in regards to personal appearance than my homeland. Furthermore, my contract specifically called for no facial piercings. For once in my life, I planned on acting like an adult and treating my job with the proper respect. Hence, I removed my nose ring on the plane, probably somewhere over Alaska. I left the nose ring out for my entire first week of work.

And then I got curious.

Would I be able to get a nose stud back in after having not had anything in it for a full week? I’d heard from friends that theirs closed up within hours. While this had always struck me as exaggeration of epic proportions, I had never been able to test this. Until now. Naturally, I put aside 10 seconds of my Friday night so that I could force a stud back into my nose. It really only hurt a little bit. It was clear at this point that my friends were either lying or had absolutely no tolerance for pain. Or possibly that their nasal passages regenerate at a faster rate than mine.

Having learned that I have super nasal passages which don’t immediately regenerate upon removing a piece of metal from them, I determined that I could wear the nose stud on the weekends and then go to work according to dress code. Everybody wins.

And then my nose got infected. Of course.

It wasn’t a terrible infection, but it was red enough for a coworker and some students to take note. Everybody was concerned as to why my nose was so “sick”. I explained to my coworker that I had been wearing my piercing on the weekend, and that apparently taking it out and putting it back in all the time had irritated the hold. How unexpected! Naturally, she thought that I was an idiot.

It’s not really Korean-style to come right out and say that somebody is a fucking moron. Instead, she inquired as to why the heck I’d been taking it out in the first place. When I informed her that my contract called for no piercings, she told me that not only would The Boss Man not notice, but he wouldn’t particular care if he did. Didn’t I get the memo that I’m a foreigner and not held to the same standards as the Korean teachers? Or the other memo that states the final clause of my working contract: “Just kidding!” ?

From that point forward I kept my nose piercing in when I went to work. Every once in a while, one of my students will forget that we had the exact same conversation last week, and ask if my nose is “sick”. Then they’ll want to know if it hurts. I try to explain to them that it’s sort of like having an earring on your face. They are usually still horribly confused, which is just as well. It’s probably best that 10 year olds not understand why I desired to poke a hole in my face.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Archery! And Phelps. And More Archery.

There have been times this past week that I've wondered what happened to all the Olympic sports that don't involve shooting at things, lifting things, Park Tae Hwan or Michael Phelps (which sounds more like P-ehl-suh when spoken in Korean).

After returning from Daegu at 7:30 this morning, I spent my day sleeping and watching Olympic tennis on the internet. While this may strike some as lame, for me this is a pretty fantastic day. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if I could have called up Dominos and ordered a pizza. My Korean sucks, so if I want a pizza I have to walk down the street, point at pictures, and then carry my pizza home. Given that I had two very important matches to attend to, this was not an option.

In case the above hadn’t already made this evident, I’m a huge sports geek. While tennis is my ball of choice, I have been known to fall into dweeb mode over hockey, figure skating, gymnastics, various track and field events, swimming, and even golf. Yes, golf. Watching Sergio Garcia find new and exciting ways to lose to Padraig Harrington has become a favourite annual event of mine. As a sports geek, I consider it my biennial duty to take in as much of the Olympics as possible.

Having been raised on a steady diet of Olympic sports like swimming, track and field, and gymnastics, I’ve come to expect certain things from my regional broadcasters. These things generally do not include a heavy focus on archery, weight lifting, shooting, handball, or judo. A week of increased exposure to these Olympic sports has led me to conclude the following: archery and shooting are interesting for no longer two minutes at a time, weight lifting is interesting for no longer than ten seconds at a time, judo is okay, and handball is rather awesome. Oh, and Koreans tend to do fairly well in most of these events. Who knew that they kicked Summer Olympics ass?

There have been times over the past week where I’ve flipped through the three stations offering Olympic coverage, and found myself wanting to chuck the remote at the screen. When expecting to find live gymnastics team finals, I found a badminton match, more archery, and the 317th replay of Park Tae Hwan winning South Korea’s first ever swimming meal. This was one of those times.

During class this week, I decided to bring in some English news papers to encourage discussion with my students, many of whom had told me that they have enjoyed watching the games this past week. To start the class, I polled them on what their favourite sports are, and then brainstormed to see how many different sports they could provide the English name for. Archery and weight lifting were almost always among the top three that they thought of (they rarely knew the word for these, and would act-it-out for me instead), which tended to be rounded out with swimming, taekwando, or judo. This is bizarre to me.

While I’ve enjoyed my exposure to a different sporting culture, were it not for a series live streams of international Olympic awesomeness that I managed to find the internet, I would certainly be cranky right now. Yet, if I were at home, I’d likely be whining about the inane commentators. I have spent the few moments that I’ve picked up live streams from the United States, Canada, or parts of Europe whining about jingoism and craving objectivity. The commentators may well be equally inane here, but my failure to understand a word of their potential inanity, renders my Korean commentators almost completely unnoticeable. And that’s more or less just how I like it. Now, if I wise up next time and pick a place that shows the sports I like and speaks a language that I don't understand, I'll have one less thing to bitch about.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ugh, Mornings.

I do not like mornings. Mornings do not like me. We don't speak the same language. I remedy this by refusing to get out of bed and speak, for as long as possible. When I'm forced to sleep in a room with other people, I pretend that I'm still sleeping well after I've been awoken. Should somebody decide to step on my toes and attempt to engage me in conversation, it's likely that I will snarl at them, before rolling over to face the other direction. I suppose that it would be more accurate to say that I hate people in the morning. Mornings themselves are relatively inoffensive. Left in peace, I can enjoy a nice sunrise or a book before dawn. What I can not enjoy is idle chatter before noon. I do not like people in the mornings. People in the morning do not like me, because I snarl at them and just generally act unpleasant.

School is out for summer. In Korea, what that means is that while public schools have closed for summer vacation, students will spend twice as much time at hagwons as usual to make up for the lost time. While I come from a culture which values leisure time and hobbies, here, my students spend so much of their time in a classroom that I'm surprised they manage to develop any hobbies at all.

This week, I'm getting a slight taste for what it must be like to have no time whatsoever for a personal or social life, by taking care of some extra classes for The Boss Man in the mornings. Summer vacation is a good time for The Boss Man's wallet, as he can charge parents for extra classes, where their overworked, exhausted children can be pushed further towards complete fucking burnout.

As much as I'd like to complain about how exhausted I am, I get to spend my weekend sleeping in, watching the Olympics on the telly, reading, writing, and scratching my ass. My students will likely spend Saturday in school, and at least half of them will study on Sunday. A few of them will find time in there for a computer game or a riveting archery competition on the TV. I really, probably shouldn't bitch.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Where'd My Trashy Go?

I saw a garbage truck of sorts go by just a few minutes ago. Ten months ago, I wouldn’t have thought that spotting a garbage truck would be noteworthy. Ten months ago, the garbage disposal process wasn’t a complete mystery to me. The idea of truck going along the streets collecting garbage had become so foreign to me that I did a double take. I half expected little green men to march out, taser somebody, and fly off. This would have been more interesting than what actually followed.

I spent my first month in Korea dumping garbage into shopping bags, which I then threw into a bin outside of my building. When I was dropped off at my apartment upon arrival in Korea, my boss and coworker had pointed to these six bins at the bottom of the stairs and explained that this is where I throw stuff. Five bins for recyclables, and one for waste. So, that’s where I threw stuff. As it turns out, they had omitted a minor detail.

My quest to find garbage bags at the grocery store failed. After failing to find garbage bags in a number of grocery and corner stores, I became very confused. Fortunately the woman who lived here before had left a number of plastic bags behind, or I would have been swimming in my own garbage. A month went by before I finally got tired of handling my garbage with dainty plastic bags and asked a coworker what the deal was. My worker was shocked to learn that I had been using plastic bags from the supermarket to dispose of my garbage. “But… but... you can’t do that!” she informed me. “Well, I clearly can, because that’s what I’ve been doing”, I told her. Then, remembering that being an asshole is not a way to win favours with the locals, I added, “but it’s clearly not what I’m supposed to be doing, so could you please help me? I don’t want to upset the building superintendent”. Except that I probably didn’t actually say “building superintendent”.

Garbage bags are kept behind the counter at grocery and corner stores, and have to be purchased. Given that garbage bags didn’t fabricate out of thin air in Canada, I was neither upset nor shocked to learn that I would have to pay for them. Apparently each neighborhood has different bags, so you have to purchase the bags in your own neighborhood. A friend of mine here, a foreigner, later told me that Koreans don’t pay garbage taxes in the same sense that we do back home, which is why they have to purchase special bags. I have absolutely no idea how much truth there is to this. Nor am I actually all that interested in where my garbage goes in Korea. Or Canada. All I know is that apparently I was being a monster asshole by using regular plastic bags, and I’ve since rectified this faux-pas. I probably should have known better, but given that it dawned on me to search for proper garbage bags in the first place, even in light of serious culture shock, I’m going to give myself a pass here.

I had learned how to properly dispose of my garbage at my apartment building, but still had no idea as to what happened from there. All I know is that in ten months I hadn’t seen a single garbage truck and I had no clue when they emptied the bins at my building. Had I known, I could have gotten rid of the 4 huge bags of plastic bottles that are clustered near my door, by filling the plastic bottle bin right before the city emptied it. Instead, I’m forced to dump just a few at a time, lest I be a complete asshole and prevent people who recycle in a timely fashion from dumping a bottle by filling the bin. I’ve asked coworkers and friends from time to time what the deal is with garbage pick up here is, and nobody has been of much assistance. So, when I finally saw that garbage truck working its way down my street the other night, I was fascinated. That is, until I realized that it was going towards the supermarket at roughly the same pace I was, leaving behind it a trail of garbage odour. At this point I was sorry that I’d ever wondered about garbage collection in Korea at all. And you probably are, too.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Barbie Plays Nice

I should probably write something nice.

My negativity is rarely anything more than healthy dose of honesty, yet I occasionally feel the need to balance it out somehow. After my recent bitch about how poor little me has to endure the eyes of millions boring into me on a daily basis, I should probably share a little anecdote regarding positive encounters with the locals. They do happen. Often, even. It’s just way more fun to bitch about menacing sexual predators than it is to lament, “Gee, that fellow was nice. His momma raised him right!”

The new schedule, which I found when I arrived at work on Friday, mandates that I work seven classes that day. Ending the week with seven classes is total balls anyways, but it was especially balls this past Friday. I had just flown in from a trip to Jeju Island, arriving in Busan around 10am. And I hate flying. It tires me and makes me queasy, so I pop inordinate amounts of gravol. While this alleviates the queasiness, it further tires me and makes me feel just a touch stoned. That last part is actually kind of awesome. Now, if you’re thinking that receiving my class schedule on the day that I’m due to start said schedule is rather ridiculous, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. That’s more or less just kind of how they do things at hagwons around here; last minute schedules are pretty much par for the course. Frankly, given the minimal amount of prep required from me, it makes no difference whether my boss hands me the schedule a week early or 10 minutes before class. I really don’t mind that he procrastinates almost as much as I do.

The seven classes went by in a blur, since I was more or less half asleep that day. Also, it was the start of a new session, which means that a third of each class consisted of me handing out new books and ensuring that the students write their names on them. I have learned from this that a number of my students can’t remember how to spell their English nicknames. I’d propose that they pick a name that is easier for them to spell, but suppose that would send the wrong message: when the going gets tough, quit and pick an easier route. While that’s certainly a mantra that I’ve employed far too many times, it’s not one I would want to impose on a nation’s youth (especially not when there are far more important values to impose, such as: Staring is rude).

After my last class wrapped up I headed towards the subway, which is about a 10 minute walk downhill from the school. This is lovely at the end of the day; not so lovely in the early afternoon when it’s hot and humid as fuck. I regularly arrive at school with a pool of sweat surrounding me. While waiting at the cross walk, I saw an older gentleman approaching me. I knew from the look on his face that he was going to try to speak to me. A quick glance in his direction also indicated that he had bathed recently, did not move like a menacing sexual predator, and wasn’t wielding an axe. So, I was somewhat at ease when he finally greeted me. He asked me the usual questions: where was I from, what was I doing in Korea, did I like Korea, where did I work, how old was I, blah blah. Koreans tend to have different ideas of what constitutes personal information and privacy, so the line of questions might be considered a little bit invasive to somebody back home. But I don’t mind. Sometimes people here, usually older, are genuinely happy to see a foreigner wandering around and are either curious or want to extend a welcome. It’s nice, really. This particular man was just one of those people.

It’s difficult for me to accept some cultural differences, on account of my being a bit of a cultural ignoramus and all. But other things I like just fine. Like cheap eats and drinks. And inexpensive train fares. And random people welcoming me to their country. It’s not all terrible.