Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Japanese Language Skills Officially Trump My Korean Language Skills

The title probably isn't entirely true, but it's close. It will likely be true by the time I leave, if not as early as next week. I had my first Japanese class today. I find it easier to speak Japanese than Korean, but Korean is much easier to read. I'm not sure I will get around to learning to read Japanese before leaving in December; one of my students taught me to read Korean by the end of my first month there. I'm not sure if comparing my knowledge of Korean to Japanese is really fair, given that I never paid for formal lessons while in Korea. Two and a half years in Korea and not a single formal language lesson? I should probably be a little bit embarrassed about that, but I'm not. I had my reasons. Some of them better than others. 

For one thing, I'm pretty lazy. I'd much rather watch TV and eat chips than do just about anything. My best friends tend to be those that understand when I'm dropping references from the 27 TV shows that I watch (how about Terriers? Here's hoping that FX doesn't cancel my new favorite show). Additionally, I was busy spending my excess time and disposable income on other things. Mostly food. This is why I put on ten pounds in Korea. The primary reason that I didn't bother with Korean lessons was likely that I had absolutely no respect for Korean culture. I still don't. That's why I'm no longer there. While seeing friend after friend return to Busan makes it ever so tempting to follow along, I could never actually do it. I don't hate myself.

I didn't find Korea to be an easy place to be. Frankly, it's the least inspiring place I've ever been - a statement which will hold much more weight a few years from now. In Nagoya, I can exist without breaking much of a sweat. I work much longer hours, the pay is only marginally better, and nearly everything is more expensive, but all of that is worth it for being able to walk out the door in the morning and not have my mere existence be a spectacle. Knowing that I can use my elementary Japanese at the local bakery and not be laughed out of the shop is a pretty good motivator.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I Liked the Bikes.

My first day in Nagoya, after my very first walk down the street, I liked the bikes. I liked that there were 50 000 bikes everywhere. Loved it. I took roughly two dozen photos of bikes. Parked bikes. Moving bikes. Broken bikes. Signs about bikes. Mostly just the parked bikes; it turns out that photographing people riding bikes is weird and not entirely appreciated. 

Now, a month in, I realize that consequence of there being bikes parked absolutely everywhere is that at any given moment there is a bike ready to cross my path and get in my fucking way. It turns out that I don't like the bikes at all, I merely like the idea of the bikes.  Bikes in Japan have become to me what scooters in Korea were, except much slower and far less likely to viciously run me over. In short, I'm over bikes. Even the ones that look like they popped over for a visit from 1970, complete with chipped lime green paint, a gigantic basket and bell.

In spite of being totally over the bikes, I'd kind of like my own bike. I'd like a bike with chipped lime green paint, a massive white basket, and the loudest bell in the neighborhood. Were I not contractually forbidden from riding a bike to work (yes, really), I could be worst cyclist Nagoya had ever seen! Shaking my fist at other cyclists, ringing my obnoxiously loud bell at unsuspecting pedestrians for no good reason at all, cutting people off left and right, I could even get a special jacket just for cycling! 

Having written all that, I now see that it's just as well that my contract bars me from being that big of a tool.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Flusher Swings Both Ways

As I discovered a couple of days ago, there are two ways to flush my toilet. I probably should have realized this immediately.

I am not terribly observant. Apparently.

I had been running on the assumption that my toilet flusher was absolute crap, due to the fact that I was using the lesser of two available functions. As it turns out, my toilet flusher was just too advanced for me. 

I'm all caught up now.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Organized to the point of redundancy.

In the past week I have received approximately 100 pieces of paper, all of which could have been covered in a 4 page pamphlet. I could find that annoying, but currently find it rather charming. Mind you, I spent Friday color coding a filing system for my student's information profiles, so I would enjoy that.

I've been in Nagoya in a week. Were this Korea, I probably would have somehow managed 5 days of work into that. This not being Korea, I've really only been at work for 3, each of those spent on orientation, training, and class planning. The remaining days have been spent walking the neighborhood, buying basic household items at the 100 yen shop down the road, and comparing absolutely everything to how I knew it in Korea. I'm hoping to shake that by early next year, seeing as I'm pretty sure the world now tunes me out when I start sentences with "in Korea..".

After the crunch of Seomyeon, my new neighborhood seems fairly quaint. I hear crickets at night. Or maybe frogs or something, I don't know. I hear signs that there is some else living around here, at least. To be frank, I feel like I'm living in the sticks. I like it. I like it even more when I remember there is a subway station down the road.

In short, I really have nothing to bitch about at the moment.  Everything has been good, in a tolerably blah sort of way. I wouldn't mind finding a pocket of people that like the ridiculous stuff I do, but that will probably be a little difficult here. I don't get the impression that a whole lot goes on here. Or maybe I just haven't figured out where goings on are just yet. Probably that.

My neighborhood. Happening. Not my house.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Nagging in Nagoya

After a mostly forgettable summer, in just one week I will be back to doing what I do best: being ignorant about unfamiliar cultures. I meant to keep this blog active during my Canadian summer, but then my 50 hour a week soul crushing desk job dampened my spirits and I very temporarily stopped making time for those things which I enjoy the most. Well, Very Temporarily has officially ended and I'm back to being me, or some version of that.

My summer wasn't totally wasted, as I did get to spend some much appreciated time with my family, in addition to funding my startup costs in Japan. Deciding to return to Canada and take a break from traveling after my month of CELTA craziness in Budapest was a wise choice. It's just a pity that I didn't realize this before funding that burntout week in Spain, right after CELTA wrapped up. Oh, floor of Sam's apartment in Toledo - we've seen better days, you and I.

This post is actually a day early, but I figure I've earned the right to be prematurely celebratory. In about 12 hours I go in to wrap up my last shift at the worst job I've ever had the displeasure of working. Then, as of next weekend, I'll be nagging from Nagoya. And shitting on Korea in the process, I'm sure.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

That Bizarre Transition Phase That I Call Home

I'm between teaching jobs at the moment; that's the optimistic way of putting it, anyway. Since, after more than two years teaching and a CELTA certificate, I feel entitled to not have to take the first crappy ESL job that ends up in my lap, I'm still looking. I hope to be gone again by the fall, but until then I'm spending time with family, reuniting with old friends, and filling a slightly-less-than-awesome entry level position at Some Company.

It's mostly fantastic here, especially when I disregard the overwhelming urge to declare that absolutely nothing of note ever seems to happen. One week melts into another, with nothing of note to distinguish one from the next. Yet, they're all kind of great, so somehow that's okay. It's an adjustment, after the severe ups and downs of Life Abroad, but not in any way an unwelcome one.

Being consistently content, but neither ecstatic nor positively pissy, means that I haven't had much in the way of current events that I felt the need to rehash. What I do have are stories from Korea that never quite made it up here and 5 weeks in Europe worth of tales and stories to spit out. So, let's do that instead.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Spring Hiatus

I'm running off to Europe for a bit to take the CELTA course. 

I'll be back to whine about Korea before anybody notices I was gone; late May, perhaps.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Relearning Canadian Pedestrian Etiquette

When I was walking around Ottawa with a friend of mine earlier this week, she kept hopping behind me as people approached us. It was bizarre and made me uncomfortable. Was she afraid of the Ottawa locals? Had she recently been mugged? 

"Why are you doing that?", I asked (in the impolite, heavily accented townie dialect I've been quick to readopt in the weeks since my return).

"There's somebody coming." She gave me a strange look.


A long pause followed. Then, it hit me. 

"Oh... you're letting people by, instead of forcing them to either elbow around you or wade through the row of dog shit which lines the sidewalk. I get it. That's very... considerate of you. I should probably start doing that again."

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Cultural Retardation

My readjustment to Canadian culture is a work in progress. For the most part I'm doing okay:

  • I have not yet left a restaurant without tipping.
  • I haven't searched in vain for a garbage beside the toilet in which to dispose of my toilet paper.
  • I haven't elbowed any seniors in a fight to get on any form of public transit (this is probably in part due to the fact that Canadian seniors appear far more feeble than their Korean counterparts, but I'm still counting it as a success).

That said, it hasn't been perfect. 

Last week I met up with a few friends that I hadn't hung out with since last time I was in town. We had a few drinks, after which it became extremely clear that I was actually the extra wheel on a double date. That it took me about two hours to notice is not terribly surprising. I'm pretty sure that my friends didn't really realize it, either; there was much confusion when I opted to depart shortly after midnight. 

Prior to the evening becoming a dry hump fiesta to which I was not invited,  much fun was had. Some at my expense, as is more or less the rule for these things. A few moments of cultural retardation on my part did not go unnoticed:

  • I forgot to tip at the bar. Given that I was actually sitting at the bar and talking to the bartender for most of the drink, this not really excusable. I remembered later, felt shame, and tried to rectify the mistake by tipping double on my next drink.
  • Before slipping out to use the washroom, I asked one of the other women at the table if the washrooms was "okay". This question did not make sense to them. I realized almost immediately that I didn't need to ask if the washroom was "okay"; the washroom would not be unisex, nor would there be squatters. I began to explain why I had asked the question in the first place, before remembering that nobody cares. 
  • I said "nice-uh!" in response to learning that there was a candy jar on the bar. I then began explaining why I put an "uh" on the end, before remembering that not only does nobody care, but it's really not funny enough to warrant explanation anyway.

There were a few more slips, but that was probably the worst of it. In spite of my cultural confusion, it's awfully nice to be back.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

This One's Mostly About Barf

I am jet lag's whore. I'm confident that in time, I can flip this relationship on it's head. For now, I float through the day slightly groggy. My first flight left Busan at 7am Wednesday morning; my last arrived in Toronto at 8pm the same day (so to speak). Were it not for the 10 hour layover in Incheon, or my completely failure to fall asleep, this might be an easier transition.

Two Gravol pills are usually enough to get the ball rolling on my barf-free journeys. I learned my lesson from the 6 hour barfathon that was my 2004 New York bus trip. Not yet having appreciated the full potential of my motion sickness, I neglected to bring any antinauseants with me, and began keeling over the bus shit hole not long after the border crossing. This continued for the remainder of the bus trip and, after a brief respite sitting on the filthy Port Authority floors, on the number 7 train to Queens. There's nothing like discovering a hole in your vomit bag across from the family of three that you've been putting on a Hurl Show for, to teach you the value of always having some puke meds on you.

In November 2008, prior to my first plane trip back to Canada, I discovered that rather than getting drunk on Gravol, I could try these patches which I found at a pharmacy in Busan. I have no idea what their American equivalent is, though I imagine that one exists. Essentially they are small patches that you stick behind your ear and keep you in check, barf-wise, for about 72 hours. The first couple of times that I tried them out, I also used a little bit of Gravol, just to play it safe. This time I did not, hence my failure to fall asleep. As it turns out, I do not sleep like a baby on planes, as I have long boasted; I sleep like a baby when I consume large amounts of Gravol. Duh.

Where I failed to fall asleep, my seatmate was quite successful. Of course, the sleeping came after I fed him some Gravol to prevent further barfing. Thankfully, such things don't bother me much. My senses are so dulled on airplanes that I barely noticed him utilizing his barf bag in the first place.

The Gravol was more or less a trade-off for the No Jet Lag pills that he'd been passing me. Apparently if you take one of these No Jet Lag pills every 37 seconds while in flight, you will feel like a golden pony once you touch ground. I read the package with suspicion, which prompted him to assure me that they were legit. I suppose that it looked like I didn't trust taking pills from a stranger, which would probably have been true, had it not been outweighed by my suspicion that whoever was responsible for the pill's packaging was full of shit. In the end, I can't say whether they really helped or not, but I've felt worse. So, maybe.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Hiatus, End-of-Contract Nonsense, and Shingles

It was brought to my attention that my blog was out of date. I leave Korea, possibly for good, in just under two weeks. The lead up to this has been stressful as Hell, so I more or less forgot that my blog existed. Now that I've remembered, here is a summary of where I'm at:

When I finished my first contract in Korea, my boss honoured my contract, paid me in a timely manner, and personally delivered me to the airport. While I didn't expect the same treatment from a much larger, less intimate institution, I expected something more than what I'm getting. Still, in the end, I will more than likely get paid what I am owed and return home in one piece. It's not all horrible. I'll provide more details on what went down after the dust has settled; if I write about it now, I'll produce a 10 paragraph mess of angry gibberish.

(producing 10 paragraph messes of angry gibberish is not below me, but I may as well save what little energy I have to fight the incompetence directly)

In light of all this stress, I developed shingles. Again. For those of you not in the know, shingles are really, really sexy. In this particular case, it's basically a line of herpes down my neck. Or, as I prefer to call it, my "neck AIDS". Unsurprisingly, nobody else at works finds this as amusing as I do. Thankfully, it's only been a minor hindrance. This is the second time I've had shingles. The first time, I reacted badly to the medication and ended up with a head-to-toe sunburn like rash in addition to unmedicated shingles itch and pain; this time I have no idea what they gave me, but it seems to be working. It must have been the butt injections that did the trick. I'm going to miss those!

I am really, really looking forward to flying out on March 3rd. I will be posting about Korea for a while after I land, so the blog should be active for a while. There are a few things that I refuse to post about while still in Korea, for various reasons. Some of them actually make good stories. Others, less so.

Until then... Happy belated Lunar New Year, Valentine's Day, Family Day, and all of those other holidays between last time, now, and then.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Weddings: What's Not to Like?

I hadn't been sick in well over a year. When 2010 rolled in, bringing with it my first bout of the flu since first moving to Korea, I was due. Cold or flu? Whichever, it was my turn. I have no qualms about starting off the year on my ass. Again. It happens.

I've been very accepting of the fact that sometimes, even I get sick, since I woke up with this last Saturday. I've been very patient. I slept away the entire weekend, took vitamins, ate soup, and even enjoyed the down time a little bit. Not that this did me any good. My cold, flu, or whatever has stretched its way through another weekend. This time, I'm not enjoying the down time quite so much. As I took in episode after episode of The Sopranos today (Season1 - I'm new to the series. Apparently I wasn't around last decade), a friend of mine was getting married in Daegu.

I absolutely love weddings. Good food. People looking slightly better than they usually do. Happiness. Hope. Me, drunk. What's not to love? I will never understand how anybody could hate weddings. I'll pass on lengthy ceremonies and picking up the tab, but the rest? Yes, please.

As much as it bothers me that I had to miss it, I'll take this moment to be less self centred than usual and realize that the wedding surely went on gloriously, even without me hiding in the back corner; I can be happy knowing that some folks I know just had one of the best days of their lives.

Congratulations to Diana and Min Gi!