Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas in Korea

It has taken a lot to get me into the spirit of Christmas this year. It just doesn't seem like Christmas to me without snow. This time of year seems to naturally lead to reflection and I amazed to realize that this will be my third Christmas in Korea. Wow! It seems like so long ago I first arrived here in South Korea and yet time has gone fast.

To get into the spirit of the season I have consciously made an effort to try to feel more seasonal. My journey went something like this:

I noticed a lady selling roasted sweet potatoes in the market area behind my apartment building and I could actually smell them [amazing with my bronchitis] and they smelled so good. I stopped and got some for my dinner. They were delicious! Since then every Friday night I stop and chat to the vendor and buy some more sweet potatoes for my dinner. The wood fire is so pretty sometimes I just stand and watch it for a few moments and think... it does seem a little more like Christmas.

Last week when I made my weekly visit to Dunkin' Donuts [its my mid week treat] I saw a poster and was able to read that they were offering a new "Holiday Coffee". It looked good so I ordered one and sat drinking it and looking at the decorations and started to get into the Christmas spirit.

Across from my apartment building is a Korean Beef Restaurant [a Galbi Restaurant as I would call it] and they have some nice lights out for Christmas. But, I have to admit is still looks strange to me to see outdoor tables and Christmas lights at the same time. It's too cold to even consider eating outside in my hometown in Canada anytime around Christmas.

Mega Mart the large supermarket [small department store] near my house has some lovely Christmas lights. I went for a walk last night to look at the Christmas lights around here and took this picture.

Another shot of the Christmas lights outside Mega Mart.

We put up a few decorations in the teachers' room at school. And, that made it feel a little cozier and a little more seasonal.

This Santa Claus is on display at one of my schools. I love that his banner is on him in Korean. I wish I could read it. Just when I think my Korean is improving I can't read a simple Christmas banner. Ba hum bug!

Even the subway stations are decorated for Christmas. This is the Nampo-dong Subway Station Christmas tree.

Last night in the Nampo-dong Subway station there was a band wearing Santa hats and preforming. They were pretty good and a number of people stopped to listen and enjoy the music.

This is "Julie Teacher". She is the Elementary School Korean-English teacher at one of my schools. She gave me a lovely red scarf for Christmas.

Yesterday, at my Yong-do school we had a Christmas party and of course there was pizza. Here's "Harry" enjoying some pizza and posing for a picture for me.

I snapped this picture of my students digging into the pizza. I guess pizza really is an international favorite food. Notice that it's still so hot that the cheese is stringy. YUMMY!

My Grade 6 student "Rocky" surprised me with a Christmas present of a set of 4 Cappuccino Mugs. They are so pretty and huge. Lately, I been making a mug of hot chocolate at night and curling up on my bed with it. There I've been watching Christmas shows which I download using bit torrents and watch on TV via my Xbox and the FTP program [that sends them to the Xbox without me evening having to burn them to a DVD]. Who knew I'd even become so technologically sauvy? Not me.

This week I had a class on how to make a Christmas card in English for my students. I expected them to take the cards for their families. However, some of my students surprised me and gave me the card they had made at the end of the class. They wrote really nice messages like "I love you" and "Annabelle Teacher, Pretty". I am so flattered.

More Christmas cards and postcards.

Another Christmas card from a student.

This Grade 5 student wrote in English and smaller on the left in Korean. I am embarrassed to say I had to get a Korean-English teacher to help me read the Korean message. I speak Korean much better than I can read or write it and I think in that way I have fooled the children into thinking I'm much better at Korean than I actually am.

Still more Christmas cards.

More Christmas cards and postcards. I feel so loved.

Last but not least I finally broke down and bought myself a new digital camera. I've been wanting one for a long time. I love my old digital camera but it's only 2.0 mega pixels and it doesn't do on well close ups. I have been wanting to take clear, crisp pictures of some of the Konglish I see daily but haven't been able to with my old camera. This is a Sony Cybershot camera with 7.2 mega pixels and a macro feature that lets me do close ups of printed material.
I am considering this to be my Christmas present to myself for surviving my ill health and getting into the Christmas spirit in spite of being far away from the people I love most int he whole world. Merry Christmas to me.
Well, I'm off to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" on my Xbox and TV and drink some hot chocolate.
Merry Christmas everyone.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Too Close To The Fire

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks because I am still sick. I thought it was just a very bad cold but come to find out I have bronchitis. I am managing to drag myself to work everyday but it's not easy and my free time tends to be spent coughing and sleeping. I try to watch tv or read a book only to find that I have fallen asleep. Of course, I realize this only later when I wake myself up coughing.

I have tons of medication from an Internal Medicine Specialist called a 내 과 [nae gwa]. In case you don't know, in Korea often you have know what's wrong with you and see a specialist. There are some general practice doctors or family doctors around [or so I have been told] but I can never seem to find one so I just figure out what kind of specialist I need and go directly to see them. Luckily, almost all doctors here can communicate quite well in English.

Here in South Korea, there are no fancy pill bottles with your name and the medication name and dosage printed on them. You get a paper bag with the name of the pharmacy on the outside of it and the telephone number of the pharmacy. Inside the paper bag are a strip of wax paper envelopes filled with pills that you tear apart at the perforations to made individual envelopes that are small and easy to take to work with you in a pocket or purse. It's really quite convenient.

Your pills come in a sealed wax paper envelope and you often get several different kinds of pills to take at one time and you don't even know which drug is which. Sometimes the envelope has the pharmacy's name printed on it but never the drug names or dosages. Moreover, these pills are taken 30 minutes after meals and sometimes they are different for each meal. The name of the meal is printed on the envelope in Korean. However, most pharmacists give me a permanent marker and tell me which meal and I write it in English on each envelope so as not to get confused later. However, this time all the envelopes are exactly the same for breakfast, lunch and dinner so I didn't need to do that.

I, also, got a bottle of cough syrup. It, as you can see, is also not labelled with a drug name only the date it was prepared and the dosage to take [in this case 20cc]. The Korean teachers laughed at me when they saw this bottle of cough syrup. Apparently, Korean adults never take this only children. So, they teased me that I must be just a "big kid". But one teacher speculated that maybe it is because Korean drugs are very strong and that maybe this was better for a foreigner like me.

I hate to admit it but I am sure that the reason I am so sick is that my school is not properly heated. In fact, until just last week there was no heat at all. Even now the heat is on only about 4 or 5 hours a day while the children are there and not the 8 hours we teachers are in the building. Once the kids leave for the day the heat gets turned off again and we are left to huddle around any portable heaters we have.

Some teachers buy electric heaters and hide them under their desks to use. I assume they think management wouldn't let them use them since if they are too frugal to pay for an couple extra hours of heat they wouldn't want to pay a larger electric power bill. Once I got sick, however, I went to see the owner of the school and told him I need a heater in the teacher's room or I would have to resign. I wasn't playing hard ball it's just that if I get sick any sicker than I won't be able to work. And if you can't work most schools fire you cutting off your health insurance. I wasn't willing to take that chance.

Moreover, since I work at three different locations of the same school I would have had to buy 3 heaters an expensive proposition. Not to mention the days I wasn't at the school the heater would likely get used and confiscated by management or broken. I have terrible trouble at one school even keeping a pencil in my desk drawer. The next time I look for it or anything else, I stupidly, left there it is gone - obviously someone else has walked away with it.

Lucky for me the owner of my school likes me and didn't want to see me resign. So after some negotiating he told me he'd provide a heater in the teacher's room of each school for me to use. Now, I am feeling warmer and hopefully can start to recover. The negative fallout from this is that some of the Korean teachers resent me and feel I am getting special treatment. But I try not to worry about that too much I had to fight my own battle and since they work at one location most of them had already bought a pillow for the cold seat of their chair and a blanket to bundle up in and a number of them had, also, smuggled in electric heaters. They did what they needed to do to make their work-place bearable for themselves I am I did what I needed to do to take care of myself. I wish they could understand we aren't so different. We're all just trying to get along the best way we know how.

Anyway, here are some cute pictures I took of the children all bundled up against the cold.


This is "Sara" in her cute pink bear hat. She usually makes me try it one so she can laugh at how funny I look in it.

This is "Anny" wearing her winter jacket counting her BINGO chips to make sure she has 25.

"Vicky" is showing me her Sponge Bob fingerless gloves.

"Toby". How can such a devilish little boy look so cute in a picture? He is the bane of my Grade 3 Class.

All this got me thinking about one of the funniest things that ever happened to me my entire time teaching here in South Korea. About 3 years ago I was teaching at a school just outside of Busan and it had no central heat. So we used portable heaters in our classrooms. It was cold so usually I kept the gas heater very close to my desk at the front of the room.

This school [like some of the other private Language schools in South Korea] had a rule that you couldn't wear your outdoor footwear inside. So, there was a shelf just inside the doorway where you took off your shoes and put on slippers. When winter came I wanted to find a warm pair of slippers so I went shopping in Nampo-dong [the huge outdoor market area of Busan] and bought a very unique pair of slippers. They were bright pink and warm and fuzzy and they had a feather boa on the toe. They even had glitter writing on them that said "Good Girl Gone Bad". I loved them they were just so over the top!

However, I have a nasty habit. When I am wearing sandles or slippers that don't have a strap on the back and I am sitting down I wiggle my foot back and forth flipping my slipper on and off my heel. With a soft slipper and not a flip-flop this doesn't made much noise and althought somewhat of a distracting to the children it seems like an innocent enough habit - that is until you add the open flame of a gas heater.

One day in class I was cold and I guess I had snuggled up a little to close to the gas heater. Because one of my students raised his hand. "Yes, Turner?", I said. To which he replied, "Annabelle Teacher fire!". I had had a somewhat heated discussion with the manager of my school that morning so I replied jokingly, "Scott's firing me. Yipee! I can go home to Canada and visit my family."

My poor students didn't understand - the only reason I had darned say such a smart ass comment in the first place. But the little boy had a frantic look on his face. I thought maybe he had understood what I said after all. So I said, "Don't worry. I'm just kidding. Everything's okay." To which Turner burst out, "No, teacher. Fire!" I still misunderstood the situation. So I piped back, "No Turner. No one is being fired. I'm going to teach here a long time."

At this point poor Turner is jumping up and down in his seat. I looked at him with suprise. "What's wrong?", I demanded. To which he screamed, "You teacher, you fire!", and pointed to my burning slipper. At this point I followed his gaze to my flaming slipper. I smelled smoke and saw the flame shoot out in the air about 10 inches. I used my text book to smother the flame and ran to the bathroom with my still smoldering slipper and ran cold water on it.

No harm was done except to my slipper. Once I aired out the classroom and calmed down the children and put on a pair of plastic bathroom shoes - things returned to normal and I resumed teaching. Now it is just an amusing but true story I tell sometimes. Thank God my student so very persistent in trying to communicate the problem to me.

"Scott" the manager of the school. We had a love/hate relationship. There was a lot of chemistry between us and several times we went out partying together. We flirted shamelessly and drove everyone else nuts. Sometimes we argued. Like the morning of the day my slipper caught fire.

A portable gas heater. It is exactly the same color, make and model of the heater that lit my slipper on fire.

A pair of fuzzy hot pink slippers similar to the pair I loved so much an caught on fire. I bought these this week while looking for a pair of warm slippers to wear in my apartment. I saw these ones and the memories of my slipper fire came flooding back. Since I have no portable gas heater in my apartment hopefully I don't catch these ones on fire.