Monday, July 26, 2010

Wedding Update Part I

There will probably be a real update on the weekend soon, but for now, here is Jill's voice mail to Joe, sent at about 11:45pm following the reception:

Can I have. So if you have your date in a big giant if you could come back to this rule. It's, Room 511, need to come back. We're right now. Hi, this is okay. I'm sorry. If I can glad you know what you did not intend to cover your afterwards. You tell us what happens. Okay. And you don't use best to get the because Joe rusty sprung, and I cannot control update your phone so give me a call at 511 right now because your po goodbye. Yeah.

So that's how my weekend went, how about yours?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sexual Harrismint - A saga

It was raining that day, raining real rain from the sky.  It should have been an omen, or at least one I could have heeded. You see, I had a coworker dinner that. One of those large, Korean ordeals that tend to make most foreign teachers super uncomfortable, but also serve as a “good” “way” “for” “your” “coworkers” “to” “unwind”. By which I mean at these things, pretty much everyone there is super uncomfortable.

The dinner itself wasn’t so bad. We drove about half an hour to an ori (duck) place out in the middle of nowhere. I was pretty content to sit at the end of a table, relatively undisturbed, attempting to help in non-verbal ways (since my Korean level is approximately that of a slow-developing infant).  So while it wasn’t pleasant, it also wasn’t particularly traumatic. As the dinner got going, however, the lead administrators (the principal, who I’m pretty sure is just constantly drunk; the vice-principal; and the male and female head teachers) began to make their rounds to the different groups of teachers.

And this, I am fairly certain, is the entire point of the dinner. I have never seen so many unison looks of discomfort and outright misery as upon the faces of the teachers when any of the administrators came to sit at their tables.  These poor people – they know it’s coming like a flood, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Instead, they have to smile and pretend to be excited about these visitations and happily feed the male administrators.

Yes, you heard me right. The female subordinate teachers feed their male superiors. Now, I like to think of myself as a fairly enlightened new age guy. I’m up with feminism; I believe in equal pay for equal work, and that women should probably be allowed to wear shoes in the kitchen or while they’re birthing babies or whatever.  So you can imagine my surprise and shock when my female coworkers folded up a packet of food and stuffed it in my vice-principal’s mouth like it wan’t no thang.

I was shocked! I couldn’t believe this was happening in a developed nation in 2010! I mean, it would be one thing if I had accidentally joined a harem instead of  an elementary school, but I am pretty sure that these people were still my fellow teachers in school! I mean, honestly!

So after those moments of abject horror, and several shots of VILE soju later, my vice-principal left our group to go make some other poor teachers feel intensely uncomfortable. And we continued on eating our dinner, nobody willing to bring up the terror that had just passed.

As the dinner began winding up, with sheets of rain crashing against the clear tarp that served as the only covering for the porch, the final terror arrived. I had emerged from the dinner up to this point relatively unscathed. But then she came. Our female head teacher, clearly very drunk by now, came clomping over to our table and sat down with a  brand new bottle of soju. I cannot tell you how excited I was to see her…

Clearly at this point, the best idea was to drink more shots, which was exactly what she decided I would need to do. I looked around, hoping to catch the eye of a friendly coworker, but by this point, my coteacher and the only other teacher who is my age had vacated the area, and the remaining teachers were studiously avoiding my pleading gaze. Defeated, I resigned myself to drinking with the head teacher – not exactly someone you can say no to.

Only two shots into the bottle, she was…shall we say, not doing great. She had a bit of difficulty holding the shot glass steady, and spilled most of it on my leg. I am not sure what happened at this point, but the next thing I know, she’s reaching toward me to wipe off my leg and -

But the fun didn’t end there! Oh no, she decided I needed to try the kimchi (which, admittedly, I hadn’t gotten around to eating yet). After taking a bite and declaring it “mashiseyo!” (delicious), she decided to take the remaining pieces of the duck and put them in the kimchi, and HOLY CRAP THAT FOOD IS IN MY MOUTH.

Never in my life have I needed an adult more.

I just…I didn’t know what to do. I have no idea how these ridiculous things keep happening, but I guess that’s just the fantastically dynamic nature of the job. SO EXCITING.

Friday, July 16, 2010

School's out for the summer!

Well, almost anyway. But for me, I only have one more day of teaching, and then it's off to America for a wedding (not mine, of course). And I'm pretty excited about that. Even though this semester has only been about 5 months long, it's seemed MUCH longer than that. It feels like an eon of attempting to corral kids who don't speak English and just want to play; of repeating the same damn sentence 8000 times with the kids and then getting stunned silence when they are asked to reproduce it on their own; of being shocked at the English they know; of actually realizing that it's not that they don't know English - they just don't want to talk in class; of being frustrated with administration; of ultimately enjoying (most) of this job. But you guys, I'm ready for a break.

Not that I'll have much of one! I will basically arrive in America and hit the ground running. AND I'll only be there for a week, which is not enough time by far for the amount of travel time it'll take. And then I come back to Korea and - SUMMER CAMP. Summer camp, for the uninitiated, is a little different here in the ROK. It's not the fun, lazy days involving crafts and swimming and campfire songs and all those other horrible things from our childhood.

This is not summer camp in Korea.

No, summer camp here is an entirely different animal. Korean summer camp = school. Yes, that's right. Just when they thought they could have a break from all the school they have during the normal year, what do they  get? MORE SCHOOL!!!

This is Korean summer camp. Please ignore the implicit racism of me using a photo 
of Chinese children. I couldn't find a good one of Koreans.
Yep, summer camp here = school. Poor things. Same thing in winter, too. Fortunately for them, their camps are usually only a week long (though many of them will also go to academy/hagwon in the summer for double classes. If you know a hagwon teacher, ask them about their summer schedule! It SUCKS). Unfortunately for me, I get to teach the same lessons 4 weeks in a row! Hurray!

So I am busy with the end of my semester, trying to regain my focus for teaching, and making worksheets. I just finished a powerpoint presentation on Shapes and Colors using Bauhaus/Neoplasticism art. I am REALLY excited for this. Because I am a giant nerd.
The other thing I am doing for summer camp (and hopefully next semester as well) to ensure my success is actually planning ahead. I want to have worksheets ready and powerpoints done so that I can be relaxed and at ease in the classroom. I want to plan some games for the students to play so they will have more fun in my classroom - apparently I am just not fun enough. The good news, though, is that I think I've got some good plans that should be relatively easy to implement. Also, the fall semester is about a month shorter than the spring semester (September - Christmas as opposed to March 1 to the end of July). And after the fall semester, is winter break! 6 glorious weeks of downtime (aka winter camp and vacation). Hurray!

So I suppose this is a much more update-y post than you've become accustomed to. But it's what you're getting this time, so enjoy!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sixth Grade Girls are SO MEAN

On Wednesdays we wear pink.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is no group of human beings on the planet worse than 6th Grade Girls. They are snotty, catty, and generally just the WORST the world over. This is no less true in 2010 South Korea than it was in 1997 America (for those of you playing the home edition, this would indeed be the year your narrator was himself in sixth grade). 

We all had That Girl in sixth grade. The one who loved to make our lives miserable. Even if you yourself were that girl, I am willing to bet a not-insignificant amount of money that you had someone who was That Girl to you. You know who I'm talking about. The one who knew EXACTLY the right thing to say to shatter your already-fragile tween confidence. The one who could wither you with just a single glance. The one who, in short, was just this side of Satan himself (though I suspect she was even worse). 

Some of these girls grew up and became well-adjusted members of society; some of them ended up on the Real Housewives of the Orange County/New York City/Atlanta/New Jersey/Washington, DC. That is neither here nor there, though. I wonder how many of us considered the impact on our teachers of these meanest of girls? Not many, I would imagine - I know I definitely did not. But now here I am, 12 years later, forced to consider that very issue. Why? Because now I'm in their shoes - I have the distinct displeasure of teaching Sixth Grade Girls.

"Now wait a minute!" you should rightly be saying. "Aren't you like twice their age and size?"

Of course I am, you twit! But haven't you been listening? That doesn't matter! There is nothing anyone can do against the power of the Sixth Grade Girl! Those of you who know me personally are probably thinking "But Nolen, you're basically a Sixth Grade Girl on the inside," but that's the point - it doesn't matter. You could be the strongest person in the world, whether it is emotionally, physically, or mentally, and they will STILL be able to ruin you at a moment's notice. There is a particular group in one of my sixth grade classes with whom I have been doing battle since very early on in the semester. They will come into my class, sit together at a table, and spend the entire class texting or talking to each other. At first, I tried to be nice about it, asking them to put their phones away. This was ignored, or worse, actually listened to for about five minutes before they took their phones right back out. I separated them to keep them from talking to each other, but somehow they find a way to spend all of class being disruptive as a group. Some sort of weird mind link, I don't even know. They're probably Cylons.

Sixth Grade Girls.

The worst, though, are the looks. I made the mistake one day of actually punishing one of the girls (making her stand in the corner), and now instead of ignoring me, they are actively being mean. "How?" you again ask, incredulous. "You are ONCE AGAIN like 2x their size, age, and probable mental capacity."

Silly reader. It is The Gaze. You know, the snarling, sneering look that only Sixth Grade Girls are able to give. The look that cuts down Popes and Presidents. The. Look.
It sees all. It destroys all.

Any request, instruction, or command I give is met with this withering glance. And there's nothing I can do about it. I've tried pleading, cajoling, buttering up, and punishing. Nothing works. I am trapped in the snare of the Sixth Grade Girl Look, and there is nothing I can do to escape it. Ugh. The worst part of it all is that it makes me feel just like that whiny 13 year old I was when last the Sixth Grade Girls and I encountered. I just want to stamp my feet and shout "BUT I'M 25!! I SHOULDN'T FEEL LIKE THIS ANYMORE!!"

But that, folks, is the special power of the 13 year old girl. And that is why they must be stopped.

And that's how Regina George died. No I'm totally kidding.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


One of the bizarre perks of this job are the random trips you get/are forced to take with other English teachers. This leads to large groups of (largely white) English teachers roaming the Korean countryside awkwardly, generally having adventures. Take yesterday, for example. Yesterday, all the teachers in Osan and Hwaseong were pulled out of classes for the day to take a bus tour of some Historical Points of Interest that Should Not Be Missed in Hwaseong-si. These included the tomb of King Jangjo and Queen Hyoui, a memorial to the Jeam-ri massacre of 1919 (by the Japanese occupation, of course), and a visit to a soap-making herb garden.

Yes that's right. I got paid yesterday to take a field trip to go make some soap. Aren't you jealous?

Naturally, the soap-making was turned into a contest to see who could sculpt the best soap. Can you guess who won? It was not me! But shockingly, for those of you who recall how much I HATE arts and crafts, I took second place! By crafting a surprisingly good dinosaur. LOOK AT HIM IN ALL HIS MAJESTY!!!!

So majestic.

He is from Jurassic Park! Probably!


New dinosaur home

And now for the dilemma: So I have this really awesome soap dinosaur residing in my bathroom, generally threatening to eat the faces off of my enemies, and he needs a name. So I am going to ask you, fair blog reader(s, though that may be a little hopeful), to help me choose a name!


Or you can just leave a comment. Whatever, loser.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bees: nature's violent killing machines.

I am being completely serious. There are not many things in this world that really scare me, but bees are ABSOLUTELY one of them.Sharks? Not a problem. Get me a cage and let's go diving. Dinosaurs? Sign me up for a trip to Jurassic Park. But bees? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

I have always had a problem with bees, ever since I can remember. I recall going on a picnic with my school in elementary (and this must have been early elementary, since this happened in Oklahoma), and a bee landed on my back. I was so terrified, I couldn't do anything! Well, that's a lie. I could do two things: I could do a nearly-perfect imitation of a statue, and I could weep softly. I was rull good at that.

You would think that things would change as I grew older and more worldly. YOU WOULD BE WRONG. So very wrong. Way back in 2005, when I was a freshman in college and our campus was still infested with bumble bees. I was walking back to my dorm room from class one lovely spring afternoon, when all of a sudden I looked up...and there it was.

The Bee.

Not just any bee, mind you, but the BIGGEST EFFING BEE I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE. It was flying in a doorway, lazily roaming about the place, trying to make sure no college freshmen crossed its deceptively wan path. I thought to myself, "ya know? I've had a good run. I bet I can get around this monstrous leviathan." So I stupidly attempted to duck to one side of the bee, but sensing my moves, it swung to the left to block my path. I was NOT going to be bested by a bee, so I tried to maneuver to the right, but the bee was too wily for my tactics, and blocked me again. Not to be outdone, I tried a right-left fake, but the bee was just too good. Defeated, I slunk off to walk the long path around to my dorm.

And yes, I am aware that bumbled bees do not sting. THAT WE KNOW OF. Probably anyone who's ever been stung by them has just vanished into a puff of terror and pain.

My bee troubles don't end there. After several years without a significant encounter with one of God's Stinging Menaces, I moved to Korea about 4 months ago. I knew there would be difficulties associated with a new country, new language, and new customs. But one thing I did NOT expect was a sudden resurgence in my life of BEES and their various Evil Stinging Counterparts (wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, Satan, etc). One day recently, I was in class teaching some elementary students, as is my wont, when a bee decided it would make our classroom its new home. I, blissfully, did not notice it immediately, and was alerted to its presence by a student shouting "Teachuh! Teachuh! Buttahfry!" I looked up, expecting a lovely butterfly to be flitting about the room, but ABSOLUTELY NOT. It, of course, was a terrifying bee, lurking about the fan, trying to decide which one of us to murder.

"OH HELL TO THE NAW!" I exclaimed. "You need to get the HELL out of my classroom, bee!" I pleaded with the bee to quietly exit the classroom, but to no avail. The bee was intent on remaining. I was in the process of mentally deciding which child to sacrifice as a peace offering to our new Bee Overlord (yes, Dahae looks pudgy and delicious!), when one of the students stood up on the desk, and with ice in his veins and nerves of steel, bravely shooed the bee outside. Crisis over.

But it's not just my kids I routinely embarrass myself in front of. I also gave a glimpse of my ridiculous fears to my coworkers while we were hiking a few weeks ago. My coteacher and I were lagging behind with a few other teachers, enjoying the scenery, when one of them spotted a woman selling honey. Delicious! I love honey, with absolutely no trace of irony whatsoever! So we decided to go check out her wares. I got about ten feet when I heard the sound. The evil sound. The buzzing of a thousand bees no doubt plotting the destruction of humanity for our wicked ways. With terror in my eyes, I begged off, insisting that I would stay and wait for them to return (if, indeed, they ever would return). Concerned, my coteacher asked me what was wrong, and I was forced to admit that I was indeed terrified of the creatures lurking just atop the hill. Probably controlling the poor honey woman (whose skull has likely been converted to a beehive in which they store their evil queen), luring unsuspecting hikers to their certain doom.

I'm not sure how much of my legitimate concern was lost in translation, because my coteacher gave me a look like I was some crazy escapee from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

Those of you who know me know that if I am anything, I am a respect-commanding figure. And I think you can see from the photos in this blog what a truly intimidating person I am. But there is nothing - NOTHING - in this world that will strike paralyzing fear and induce such paranoia in me as those effortless murder-bugs, the bees.

Except commitment. AMIRITE, LADIES??

PS apologies to Josh, who just wrote a similar post, and Meg, who will write it shortly. We were all having the same conversation/devising a bee-emergency action plan together.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It's Canada Day!

Today is Canada Day! Happy Canada Day to all Canadians.

I'm going to avoid too much snark here, because I am a Sensitive New Age Guy who Respects Other People's Cultures. I will just add, though, that if you see these guys (jeez could I pimp their blog any more???), please sing to them a rousing rendition of O, Canada. It annoys the hell out of them. Especially her. I don't know why. I think Canada maybe murdered her parents or her beagles once.

Anyway, that really has nothing to do with anything, except to mark the four-month-iversary of when I first left America to embark on the journey called Teaching the Children. And it's been...well...a journey. I've gone through periods where I hate my job and periods where I love my job, and as I finish up my last lesson plans for the semester, I have to say I'm pretty impressed I got through it at all.

I'm just that awesome.

I mean, really. 4 months in a COMPLETELY foreign country, starting out knowing NOBODY? C'mon. You're impressed that I managed to survive AND STILL TEACH CHILDREN. Nevermind that literally thousands of other people do this all the time.

So I'm a third of the way through the year, and the weird thing is I feel...nothing. Well, nothing in particular aside from OH GOOD LORD WHY WON'T THE SEMESTER END YET??? (I am as antsy as my kids are). I don't feel particularly accomplished, nor do I feel excitement at my 4 month-iversary. Probably because 4 months is the LAMEST THING TO CELEBRATE EVER (looking at you, obnoxious couples), but also because I think I'm getting into a routine here. Get up, go to work, teach, hang out with friends, blog about it.

Holy crap I am every other 20something out there. GO ME.

Yikes this is not the greatest blog post ever. And it occurs to me that I have no real way to end it. is a video of some dancing robots.

Shaking & crying.