Thursday, January 27, 2011

Play-Doh Here, There & Everywhere

Fish Food... before I forget, I am playing around with a few new blog templates because I was sick of the plain, old blue one. I like this orange one because it's simple and well, it's ORANGE. There are lots of amazing ones with beautiful patterns that I prefer (and suit me a little better I think), but I worry they are too busy with all the text on the page and will distract you, the lovely reader, from reading all my wonderful words. I will switch up again soon and give one of the fun, busy ones a test run. But in the mean time, fish food. I added the cute little orange fish tank to the top of my page. Click on it a bunch of times and watch the fish cluster to their food where you drop it.

Today was a very memorable day at school. My grade 1/2 class put me to tears, in the middle of the classroom, in front of everyone. They weren't too sure what to make of Alex Teacher and her escapades. To set the scene, I was being brave and decided to attempt to make play-doh with the kiddies. I was hoping to put some sort of educational twist on it but to be honest, I am on week 5 of amusing about fifteen 6 - 8 yr old kids that barely understand the language I speak to them, so this was a great time killer. There are some gems in the class and some real shit disturbers, but I have even taken a shining to the worst of the bunch, the class bully (who is really just a sheep in wolfs clothing).

Anyways, more to the point of my hysterical breakdown. I divided the kids into groups and handed out all the necessary supplies (bowls, spoons, flour, salt, oil and water), and then the trouble started. My vision of a classroom full of mini Picasso's quickly fell. The concoctions they mixed together (frommy measurements) were soggy, runny, gloopy, gross blobs. I tried so hard to salvage the recipe but the more ingredients I added the worse it became. Not only was the consistency way off but it made the biggest mess EVER. The kids were covered in flour and had the chewing gum like substance stuck all over their hands, hair and clothing, the tables and chairs were covered and they were grinding it into our nice clean classroom carpets (that the students aren't even allowed to wear outside shoes on). To add insult to injury, I usually teach camp on my own, with no Korean teacher, but a few of them occasionally pop their head in for attendance or just to make sure everything is okay. Today, the teacher was really late and came in at the exact climax of mayhem in my classroom. She took a survey of the classroom and then looked at me and without a word of english, managed to convey in her facial expressions, the words wtf is going on in here? It was pretty awesome. It was at this moment I broke out into the biggest fit of giggles and basically couldn't stop. I really wanted this to work and it was so blatantly a huge failure but the kids were having a gay old time, and it was just hilarious. Anyone who has witnessed or been part of one of my giggle fits knows there are a lot of tears involved, and once they start its tough to stop. I must've looked like such a site; the kids were loving it and even the Korean teacher couldn't keep a straight face. She rolled up her sleeves and pretty much dove in. I think she thought I may have lost the plot a little but was a great sport about it. She managed to corral the kids and work the dough into a somewhat workable substance. After pulling myself together in the last 10 minutes of class, I think I managed to get a few kids to form the letters "o" and "i", just for a little educational content.
After 80 minutes of the 1/2 class I teach a 3/4 split. Usually there is a 10 minute break but today it was a little longer in order to reconstruct the classroom. Again, the Korean teacher was great and pitched in and we swept, vacuumed, and wiped away as much gloopy, gross blobby stuff as possible. Parents are probably cursing me as we speak. None of the kids would part with their over sized wads of gum so I just barely convinced them to let me bag them, write their names on it and take it home. Out of sight out of mind.

What a day, my sides were sore from the giggles. Although it was a massive fail in the attempt to make play-doh I think fun was had all around. The kids got a kick out of me and I most definitely got a kick out of them.

The pictures below are NOT from today. I was dying to stop and take pictures, there were some major Kodak Moments but everything I touched was encrusted in goop so I dared not reach for my lens. But these pics are of my 1's and 2's. As much of a pain in the butt that they are, they're also pretty freakin' cute. I've learned to love them all in the last 5 weeks.

This is Tonya. I have hatched a plan with Garry to kidnap her and take her home to Canada when we leave. She may be the cutest thing I have ever laid eyes on. She is obsessed with holding my hand, and tries to seek it out in any activity we do outside of our chairs. It is my goal in the next 3 classes to take a video of her giggling. No matter how tired, angry or frazzled I feel when she giggles, it is so amazing I can't help but join in. It doesn't hurt she wears this orange suit to school everyday, her favorite color is pink, her hair is usually in ribbons, and she almost always wears an awesome skirt and pant combo. The kid has style. Did I mention she doesn't speak a word of english with the exception of the stuff she has learned in the last few weeks?

On the other side of the spectrum, is Joon. He is the class bully, and the biggest pain in my butt. He gives the word disruptive a new meaning. He doesn't sit still, barely pays attention to lessons and pisses all the other kids off. He used to drive me nuts but until I learned how to deal with him and now he is actually pretty cool. I always assign him special tasks and responsibilities and he tries so hard to please me (while still managing to annoy everyone else). He is the sheep in wolfs clothing.

A few more snaps of some of the other little characters I get to hang out with on a daily basis.....


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Just Another Blog

Life is rolling along at a quick and steady pace on this side of the world. School is still on holidays, so I am enjoying the lazy hours of the english camp daily routine. Even though there is a little more work in the lesson plans, I am enjoying teaching so much more because of the small class sizes and lack of textbook content. I also get to leave school pretty much anytime after lunch, so I am home most days mid afternoon, which is not a bad work schedule to have. Home just in time to curl up in bed, in the sunshine, for an afternoon nap.

I finished last week with my grade 5/6 class, and I am so pleasantly surprised to admit I actually miss teaching them. There were only 7 kids, but they were really good students and so keen to learn. I enjoyed making lessons fun for them and coming up with things to teach (listen to me, wow!). A highlight was definitely the lesson on "My Crazy Invention". They had a few perimeters to make a poster with a drawing and explanation of their inventions to present to the class. Some of the best ones were the Rocket Bed, which takes you to the bathroom without ever having to walk on your own 2 feet. The Classroom Robot, which goes to school for you and records your lesson and plays it to you over headphones while you sleep at night. A Brain Chip to make you smarter and a soccer ball with a video camera in it to solve any close calls on the pitch. The kids really enjoyed it, and so did I. Another lesson was all about family. I had to include a picture of one of my students family trees. Her name is Jess and she is a great artist and so detailed. It took her about half an hour to present this to the class!

Outside of school, I am in partial hibernation mode because it is so damn cold! I know I am from Canada and should be used to it (I am reminded of that over and over again, when I whine about the cold) but I still hate it. The only saving grace, and I admit it's a big one,  is that at least a Korean winter spares all the snow. We get the biting cold but there is no traipsing through snow and slush and ice the way we get it at home.

My last trip to Seoul was to SEMA, Seoul's Museum of Modern Art. After a minor detour from getting lost I stumbled across the gallery and went to see a Marc Chagall exhibit. Both the gallery and the exhibit were worth the trip, minus the herds of people I had to compete with to sneak a peak at the paintings. The exhibit was broken up in a really interesting way and I really enjoyed my afternoon soaking it all in. A little dose of western culture while soaking up everything I can in the east.

I had a sad goodbye with Odya maybe just over a week ago, but have found someone new to replace her already. In a bizarre turn of events, I am now cat sitting a total strangers cat for a few weeks. Although not quite as spunky and cute as Odya, this one is little to no maintenance (if you don't count all the vacuuming I'm doing from her endless shedding). Layla just sits around and sleeps and eats and well.... you get the picture. Not much activity, but still someone to come home to. Seems like the word has spread that I like cats and am available to cat sit in Korea. I REALLY need Garry to get here, before I turn into the crazy spinster Korean cat lady!

Last weekend in Osan was a really fun one. I had to tear myself away from the warmth of my pad to meet up with some other teachers for a local pub crawl on Friday night but it was totally worth it. We had a 2 drink minimum rule per place but that got lost by the way side. The evening ended with my first trip to a noriebang (karaoke), since I have come to Korea. Singing songs in the classroom with the kiddies has obviously desensitized me (that and alcoholic lubrication), cause I had no difficulty belting out tunes till 6am with the crew I was with.

Saturday was a slow day but it had some major highlights. This was the weekend of our annual girls weekend trip and some of my besties at home were at Blue Mountain for a chillout (yeah right) getaway. I was feeling a little hazy but the gals were quick to remind me, the hair of the dog would solve my problems! I sat around with them on many occasions during the weekend over drinks, via skype. For anyone who doesn't know (which I am pretty sure the whole world must), I am scrabble obsessed. I love scrabble, and miss playing it so much. So in the early hours of the morning, via skype, we managed to somehow finagle a cross continental game with web cams, screen shots  and giggles all around. I was in heaven. Even though it sucked not being able to actually be there with the girls, I felt so amazingly connected with them all weekend long, from a world away.

And best for last and by far the most exciting piece of news to report: I booked a plane ticket to China. After sitting around Osan over Christmas while everyone else was gallivanting through Asia, I am sooooo excited for my turn! I was humming and hawing about the price but finally just took the plunge. Ticket prices almost doubled because I am going over a big holiday but as I was cleverly reminded (thanks for giving me the shove I needed Joanna) how many opportunities in my life will I have to visit China, on the biggest event of their calendar, the CHINESE NEW YEAR? Exactly. So I have a ticket. I leave in 2 weeks and am bubbling with anticipation. The countdown is on.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tourist For A Day

I spent 12 hours touring, shopping, riding and eating through Seoul yesterday. It was absolutely exhausting but really fun. I woke up early and found my way to Gwanghwamun Station, exit 6, just passed rushed hour so I scored a seat on the hour or so subway journey there, from Osan. After a short little wander through the streets, I found the right ticket booth and for 10,000 won I bought a day pass to the Seoul City Tour Bus.

The bus is hop on, hop off style and it was so cold they even threw in a free blanket with my ticket. There are 27 different stops on the tour and many of them were insignificant (like certain hotels stops, the USO, the American Army Base) But others were really impressive. It was a whirlwind tour and I actually only got off in one spot (that was my goal for the day), but I was mostly after just driving around, observing and getting a feel for the lay of the land in Seoul. My mission was successful.

Seoul is like Paris in that it has a river dissecting it, running east to west, it is called the Han River (okay so maybe that is where the similarity ends, but its something). It also reminded me of Montreal because it has a small mountain in the middle of the city offering amazing views. Namsan, the name of the mountain is a little higher than Mount Royal, and um, maybe Seoul is a little bigger than Montreal (over 10x's bigger!). I made it to the top of the mountain, but didn't have time to stop and enjoy the views, the tour bus ran a tight ship. That is now on my list of things to do when I am back next. There is a cable car to take you up and and on the tip of the mountain is N'Seoul Tower, a mini Korean CN Tower, with restaurants and view points in the bulb. Next trip, for sure.

There are some areas in Seoul that are crushed with people climbing over top of each other, but there are other areas covered in green with huge sprawling avenues. We passed palaces and gardens that were really spacious and lush. So even with a population of over 10 million people in Seoul, there were areas that seemed roomy. The prime minister of South Korea Kim Hwang-sik lives right in Seoul, at the base of one of the smaller mountains, and the residence is on expansive grounds sprawled out in every direction.

My main destination for the day was Myongdong. It is pretty much the shopping capital of Seoul and I am ashamed to say I have been in Korea for over 2 months and still hadn't been there. I made up for it. I had to include a photo of all my goods. NOT because they are so uniquely Korean, but because of the amount I paid for them. I'm sure it was a combo of after Christmas sales, my keen eye for a bargain and the fact that Korea is dirt cheap but....I paid 80,000 won for EVERYTHING you see laid out in the photo. And just in case the picture isn't detailed enough I have to spell it all out:

1. Black skinny pants
2. Cream colored pants
3. Grey leggings
4 Long and beautiful teal beaded necklace
5. Big chunky red ring
6. Beige knit sweater
7. Long sleeve white shirt
8. Hot pink bra
9. Grey bra
10. Black & White striped scarf
11. Knit touque with pretty flower on the side :)
12. Blanket (ok I didn't buy the blanket but it was part of my ticket price for the bus tour and I felt compelled to include it with all my other wares)

So exactly how much is 80,000 won in CDN $'s you ask? Wait for it........ seventy bucks!!!! Not bad, eh? The black pants alone were less than $3.oo... RIDICULOUS!!! I am in a shoppers heaven!

I stopped in a random spot to grab some food for lunch and it turned out I was in a Post-It paradise...honestly, only in Asia. It was a little lunch place plastered with Post-Its from wall to wall. Another of the soooooo so so so many reasons why I love Asia. For lunch I had a kimchi udon soup. Koreans know their soups. I eat soup everyday at school for lunch and even at home soups are a go-to for me. I have yet to try a soup here I haven't liked. The one at the Post-It resto was great. Spicy, filled with both recognizable and unrecognizable things and hearty (cabbage, noodles, shrimp, clams, tofu, onions...). Yum yum pop.

After a few hours in Myongdong I hopped back on my tour bus and whizzed through the rest of Seoul. By the time I got back home, it had been an 11 hour excursion. With the exception of Odya (the kitten I'm sitting this week) going a little mental from loneliness and toilet papering my kitchen, it was a great day!!! Can't wait for my next return to Seoul. Maybe an art gallery on Saturday or back up to Namsan Mountain.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sleepy Vay-Cay

I am exactly half way through my week of holidays and have NOTHING of interest to report. Most of my friends are either working or have gone on a trip somewhere, so it's pretty quiet in my world.

I do however have a houseguest. Her name is Odya, and even though I feel like I am cheating on Minky, I love her very much :) It's amazing how nice it is having something else alive being with me at home. I keep meaning to get a plant, but a little kitten is way more fun!!! I only have her for a few more days while friends are off visiting Busan in the south of Korea.

I am taking Korean classes this week and they are so-so. Monday started off rough. The five day curriculum was shortened to three and changed from learning Hangeul (Korean), to Korean Culture. WTF? I am SUBMERSED in Korean culture everyday of my life right now, I want to learn how to read and maybe speak a little. A few of us complained so day two and three were definitely an improvement. No more Korean folklore, instead, I learned how to order take out food and say my address, as well as usefull commands in the classroom. The last half hour today was dedicated to the alphabet, which is what I wanted all along, so now I have to actually study and practise it. Technically class goes till the end of the week, but I am skipping tomorrow to go day tripping to Seoul and be a tourist.

I treated myself out for dinner this evening. It was awesome, as almost all of my Korean food experiences have been (minus the pig intestines incident). The lady asked me (mimed actually) if I wanted spicy and I said (gestured) only just a little. When I took my first bite it almost blew my top off! In the soup was tofu, doek bokki, veggies, pork dumplings, and clear noodles. The rest is the typical assortment on banchans.

FYI. The purple stuff I posted for my Mom to see, it's not Korean. I made kapusta. Polish cabbage dish with onions and ham bits. Not as good as yours Mom but I still enjoyed it.

And just to add a quick KOREAN TIDBIT. Most people don't take their jackets off in restaurants to eat here. This annoys me, I can't eat with my jacket on. Koreans mostly eat SOOOO quickly, as well. Tonight at dinner I counted 4 other tables that came in after me and left before me. I guess not taking jackets on/off adds to their overall in & out time. I used to eat really really really slowly growing up. I am not as bad now, but when I come home I am going to inhale my food compared to everyone else. Bad habit to pick up, I really hope I don't.

It's a lazy night, Odya is sprawled out on my arms and my computer, purring like a lioness and she is making me sleeping just looking at her. I think it's time to grab my book and head to bed.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Holiday Recap

To sum it up as painlessly as possible, the holidays just aren't the same without friends and family. I made a trade off and I am so happy where I am right now, so I guess it's okay, but the holidays pretty much sucked without mom's home cooking and waking up with my family on Christmas morning, and of course, without my other half, Garry.

This is my third Christmas away from home. First Oz in 1999 with Jessica, then England in 2003 with Jay and now 2010, flying solo in Seoul to add to my list. Goal: Christmas 2011 at home. I heard the same complaints over and over from friends at home being run off their feet, and dashing from one place to the next, making the holiday rounds. I don't think you really know what you have or appreciate it until it's not there.

I spent most of Christmas weekend avoiding any thoughts of Christmas. Christmas Eve was spent with a bunch of almost-strangers but it was really nice. A teacher had a dinner party with lobsters and wine and cheese and other yummy treats. Kudos to him, he was an amazing host. At the end of the night he actually sent everyone home with a tupperware of soup he whipped up with lobster leftovers, it was amazing! I was so impressed, especially because you have to realize most kitchens here are about the size of a clothes closet. He worked magic in there.

I was up at the crack of dawn on Christmas, as I usually am, but this year for different reasons. I met up with some friends and we caught a bus to Phoenix Park, a ski resort. The goal was to spend the day on the mountain but unfortunately for a multitude of reasons we didn't make it out till after 3 (the joys of not knowing where you're going, and being with a very large group trying to get organized). By the time we got out, the slopes were almost closed for 2 hrs of grooming from 5 - 7. Great timing. It was also almost -20, frigidly cold, and crappy conditions. I made it back out for a bit of night skiing but the enjoyment level wasn't really worth toughing it out.

We had rented an apartment, so a girlfriend and I curled up and spent Christmas evening just chatting and lounging till the rest came back and had some wine and food and cuddled up for bed. I say cuddled cause the sleeping arrangements were Korean style. No beds just little matts, pillows and duvets. We had 2 apartments and in ours there were 8 people. Two Korean girls scored a private room and the rest of us snuggled into the lounge. In Korea, the heating system, called ondol , is done through the floors, so sleeping on the floors is actually warm and really comfortable.

Sunday was spent missioning it back to Osan. Our shuttle wasn't leaving till 6 but that wouldn't put me back in Osan till after 10, so a few of us made our own way back. The weather over the weekend was so unbelievably cold and I was chilled to the bone. I came home to a bottle of nice wine, leftover soup (so appreciated!!!) from Christmas Eve, and a Christmas skype date with Garry. A nice way to wrap up the weekend (xxoxoxoxox G).

NEW YEARS.......the love hate relationship with what to do on NYE. Most of the teachers I know here spent New Year's away, in a hot place. Osan didn't exactly seem like the most happening option so I legged it into Seoul for another marathon night.

I went to Hongdae which is a really amazing part of Seoul, bubbling with people and night life. There are food stalls, shops, bars, restaurants, cafes, dvd bangs, noriebangs (karaoke rooms), and big clubs too. And most things stay open until the next day. Pick your poison and I'm sure there is something here to cater to it. Because I live so far on the subway line from central Seoul, when I come in at night, I make the commitment to stay there till at least 6:30 the next morning when the subway re-opens. It is pretty disconcerting.

So the night was mayhem, as NYE in any city usually is. It's fun to add to my list of places to ring in the new year, but all in all it was nothing to write home about. Shots, drinks, bar hopping, dancing.....and eventual exhaustion. Luckily my partner in crime for the evening was on the same energy plateau I was and we called it quits at the same time. By 4am we quaffed down a delicious end of the night shawarma and hustled into a dvd bang to kill a few hours before we headed back to Osan. (DVD Bangs are just like living rooms you can rent with movie selections). We tried to choose the longest movie we could come up with (there were no Lord of the Rings movies so we opted for Titanic) and curled up to sleep.

A three hour nap can do wonders for the body, so even though we felt a little worse for wears, we made it home by 10am on New Years Day. After a hearty breakfast and another nap I woke up just in time to ring in the NY at home. I spent most of the Torontonian new year with Garry, but also managed to squeeze in skypes and phone calls with a handful of others back home.

All in all, I made it through the holidays. Fun at times, but I am pretty glad their over. I have a mandatory week off from school because the building is closed down. The timing is crappy cause I am also enrolled in afternoon Korean classes, the same week. So technically, I am spending my week off in another school. Seems like I just can't get enough. But I am looking forward to a few trips to Seoul, hopefully some shopping and 9 consecutive sleep ins!

PS. All these pictures are in reverse order! Argh! Too lazy to switch, sorry.