Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Back to Reality

First Day back to school:
Am I teaching? No idea.
What am I teaching? No idea. Maybe all three grades, a teachers class, and a club class? Most likely.
Did everyone else's conversational class get canceled for 1st and third graders in Jeollanamdo? YES.
Switching homestays on Saturday.
Seeing some of the crew today.
Back from Bali yesterday.
Ready for the new semester?
Hell yes. Bring it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

KoRoot and My Time in Seoul

Currently, I'm staying at KoRoot, a house for Korean adoptees who have returned to Seoul. There are perhaps currently 15 people in the house. It's mon won (less than ten dollars a night) and has breakfast (self-serve) and daily lunch (prepared), included. There's access to free internet, laundry, and phones in the hostel. Towels, bedding, and use of the kitchen are all complimentary. It's located by Koreana hotel in a quiet residential part of Seoul. I feel like it's the perfect place for me to rest, write, rejuvenate, and maybe learn how to regain some affection for Korea.

I've already met wonderful people, each with their own unique story. Never have I met so many adoptees, and specifically, not so many from all over the world. The people who run and work in the hostel are kind and have created a solid sense of community. Tomorrow we're all having a party to celebrate the Lunar New Year. I think this is what a homestay was supposed to be like for me. I can already see how it will be so easy to settle into a routine.

Each day I wake up early, take care of logistical things in the morning, eat lunch with the house, and then walk to a cafe up the hill. It's a beautiful fifteen minute walk, through this lovely gateway and old fashioned apartment complexes. The cafe I'm planning to frequent is incredibly homey and kitchy but in the best possible way. It's full of crafts and plays an electric mix of music; everything from current american pop, to korean ballads, to soft melodic instrumentals.

My hopes are to get a significant amount of writing done and prepare myself enough to return to Naju feeling ready to take on the next 5 months. I'm feeling hopeful and excited.

Home, India, and the Motherland

This last month has been exactly what I needed.

My time in the States was spent basking in the luxaries I've been denied in the past seven months. I have a new fondness and appreciate for warm showers, warm rooms, and hot food. I spent time with family, friends, and in my favorite places in the States. However, the most essential thing my time at home did for me, was remind me that although I've felt displaced, both literally and internally, during my time in Korea, the person I identified with and left behind is still waiting for me upon my return.

Knowing that I hadn't lost who I was, but rather, that this person simply wasn't accessible in my current environment, was a huge relief.

I came back to Korea for a couple days, partied way too hard, and then slept off my jet lag before heading to Mumbai, India to visit Kate, one of my best friends from college.

The trip itself was prodigious; over 14 hours over two airplanes, with two secret layovers (our flight was labeled nonstop but we stopped in Hong Kong and then switched planes in New Dehli).

Upon my arrival to New Dehli, I was struck by all the things that were already different. The flight attendants had worn saris, the women were taken into a seperate enclosure when we were checked in security by a female guard, shoes could be worn through security, there were security checkpoints about every five feet in the airport, and the plane food was OUT OF THIS WORLD.

Kate picked us up in cabs from the airport at about two in the morning. Jing, Jenna, and I were beyond grateful to have transport back to Kate's apartment after our interminable travels (Jings had involved a train ride in Japan with about 7 transfers). The cabs had deceptively small trunks (they're run off gas so most of the trunk is taken up by large blimp-shaped gas tanks). Apparently this makes them more affordable.

We rolled up to Kate's apartment and were blown away. The beauty of her quaint little neighborhood was unstated and lovely; her apartment immediately won me over with it's high ceilings, wood floors, and liberal space. Her room was made complete by artifacts she had collected during each of her travels; a picture from Mandible Cafe at Cornell, a wall hanging from South Africa, a picture taken by a friend in high school. I woke up that next morning to birthday cake in the refridgerator, a glass of filtered water, and all the time in the world to read my Kindle in her window reading nook while the cacophony of sounds from rickshaws and hawkers poured in through the blinds.

To write out the whole trip would take much more patience and space then is necessary. However the highlights include:
-Going to a Traditional Indian Music Concert at Xavier College
-Walking around the beach to witness prawns being collected and dried in the sun
-Going to a bar modeled off of an American Ghetto
-Visiting Ghandi's house
-Taking pictures by the Gateway of India
-Visiting the Taj Hotel
-Walking up to the Elephanta Caves and learning about the 9 representations depicted there of Shiva
-Getting to see a monkey two feet away from me
-Going to see Dhobi Ghatt, a recently released Indian movie about the laundry section of town and then seeing the main actress at a bagel shop the next morning (yes we got a picture)
-A Tour of Dharavi, the biggest slum in Asia
-A night of A-list Clubbing
-Witnessing the Gay Pride Parade in Mumbai (homosexuality was only recently legalized by the government)
-A collection of the most amazing food I've ever eaten (for cheap cheap prices)
-Souvenier shopping galore
-The most glorious night/afternoon spent with Kate sitting on Chowpatty Beach with Kate watching the sun set

It was one of the most memorable, most complete vacations I've ever experienced. Never have I been in a place that felt as foreign and yet so accessible. It was welcoming, safe, and there was an overwhelming sense of community that pervaded the city. The train rides (with people stuffed into each car to the point that they were struggling to hold themselves in), the traffic, the pollution, could all definitely make living in Mumbai stressful. However, the vibrancy of both the people and the culture, a curious mix of traditional Indian and left from British occupation, made it perhaps the most fascinating and contradictory places I've ever been lucky enough to visit. Staying with Kate gave us a unique opportunity to skip a lot of the baby steps that a true tourist would take. Eight months in the country had given her a chance to establish favorite restaurants, learn traditions and navigational skills for Mumbais infrastructure, and ways of negotiating ones way through the culture. She imbued us with all these advantages, and yet still could recognize how India was for a foreigner. It was incredible, and I felt so happy to once more feel the thrill of adventure that comes with discovering and finding oneself in a completely different world.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Countdown Continues

This week has been an emotional roller coaster.

Monday: had a break down after being told I had 200 second grade students to assess and 15 written reports of club students to write up. (I had to do it twice). They had forgotten to tell me they wanted me to do a speaking test for second graders (which takes three weeks to administer). Instead I made up SIX different tests for each second grade class which I administered verbally and then graded 200 of the written tests by today. Awesome.
Sobbed in the bathroom for like two hours and then escaped school into the rain for an hour. No heat, food, hot water in the homestay. Sweet. Hung out with Josh after school.

Tuesday: Had my second grade classes leave in silence after administering the written test...of which they were told, Grace is making you take a written test (the week after finals and I had promised them a movie). Who can blame them. Got sam gyup sal with josh and taylor after school.

Wednesday: Packed up all my stuff. Did my laundry. Sent out emails. Went with Josh and several of his coteachers. We went out for lunch and then visited Namwon, a traditional village built around the love story of Choonhyang. It was freezing but really beautiful. We went for dinner after and then one of his coteachers helped me Christmas shop for my school. I got an idea of how my idea of Korea and my experience here might have been really different given different circumstances.

Thursday: Long day. Spent the day writing evaluations and grading tests. Had the last Thirsty Thursday with the Naju Crew. I'm going to miss them.

Friday: Found out that the new subtitle file I had gotten still doesnt sync right. Had my students shouting at me to "minus, minus" even though that slowed them down and it was already slow. Was told I should have been teaching something important since an important visitor was at the school (they only told me this at the beginning of class).

This weekend I'm meeting James and some friends in Seoul. I hope this weekend fortifies me for my last few days here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Yea Im Over it

Second class in a row that left mutinous after the pop written test. No student said goodbye.

Hot water broken again.

Today blows.

Please Take Me Home

I went on a trip, a mini vacation if you will. It was great.

I began in Jeonju and spent some quality time with Sam. We visited Hanok Village and went ice skating and had a girls night talking in the quiet of the morning and watching Eternal Sunshine late into the night.

Yoon-Chan and I went to Busan for a couple days. We built a sandcastle on the beach and lounged around in our hotel. We both got sick and took subsequent days to require and take care of each other. We visited the aquarium full of ribbon eels and umbrella jellyfish. We went to a Buddhist temple by the sea. We ate Indian and Chinese food.

One night in Gwangju spent eating wine, brie, and cheese in the motel.

One day home spent without hot water or heat and teaching the kids via kPOP.

A weekend in Seoul in the Park Hyatt pretending to be richer than we can afford. Eating delicious food, enjoying my first good nights rest in weeks.

Now back to school and life in Naju. No heat most of the time, no food almost always, and no hot water since it's back to being broken. I forgot the difference between luke warm water and icy cold water. It's a big one.

Back to school where one of my teachers sprung 170 second grader assessments on me one week before the end of the semester, the week after the students take finals. I had promised them a movie, of which I spent time finding the Korean subtitiles, making 300 copies of a worksheet with different idioms, making a powerpoint to define and translate the idioms. Instead I spent all day making a verbally administered written test that takes the whole period. The teacher didn't explain to the class. All that good will I've been cultivating...culled in an instant with the words; Grace is giving you a written test (when she promised you a movie).

Fifteen Club Student assessments to write up, also which I didn't know about.

So much for an easy fun last week.

Only one week and two days until I'm out of here.
I can't wait.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Final Countdown

Sometimes I feel like this country is a giant piece of sandpaper which is gradually rubbing me down to the bone. On those days, every thing, a students snide remark, a co-teachers rude comment, the old lady that knocks you down in the street, hits harder. I walk around feeling like my nerves are on fire, like my skin is rubbed so raw that I can't understand why I'm not bleeding. I'm surprised when I look in the mirror and see that on the outside...I still look fine.

I'm lucky here in many ways. I have friends to turn to, relative privacy in my home, outlets through writing and usually, solace in teaching. However, there are moments, days, weeks, where I just feel a screaming swelling inside of me, slowly filling me up until I'm scared that if the noise ever gets out, I'll deafen everyone around me. It's scary sometimes to walk around with this much rage, this much anger. I'm worried that one day I'll pop.

One more month until I'm home. I hope I can take the wait.