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.


  1. I got bronchitis twice while I lived in Korea. The second time I figured out that extra sleep really helped it to go away.


  2. Perhaps next time try teaching in the public system -it's cushier and the staffroom's always heated.

  3. Ann.......Teacher. I read every blog... Because, I Know, I will be in the same posistion that you are now in a few years.