Thursday, October 28, 2010

Supes Dupes Important Update Announcement!


Yep folks, you're looking at this correctly. After much careful consideration, I have made up my mind to accept the job offer to teach English in Shanghai. Starting in April, this photo you see here will be my home! I'm seriously excited to start on this new adventure, and you all can be sure that there will be a couch available for you to hang out on. So come visit!

Also of note, I will be spending the month of March in the good ol' US of A. So start clearing your calendars now for visitings!

Oh HELL no! I did NOT leave the South Side for this!

Please pretend there is a screencap of Tim Meadows in Mean Girls pulling a fire alarm and saying "Oh HELL no! I did not leave the southside for this!" here.

Last Tuesday was...a day. I don't know if there was something in the Coco Puffs (or rather, kimchi and rice) that the kids ate for breakfast, but they were actin' like they had lost their damn minds yesterday! At first I thought it was just me...I was a little grumpy, over tired, feeling sick, and generally having one of those "But I'm not even supposed to BE here!" mornings. According to many of my other teacher friends, though, it wasn't just seemed to be a Korea-wide phenomenon. Perhaps there is something significant about October 14th that I'm missing.

The morning started off like most crazy mornings, with me trying to teach students who CLEARLY do not want to learn. Which, btw, is just the greatest feeling ever. I officially apologize to every teacher I ever had in the past for being a jerk in class. It is NOT fun from the other end. There was shouting and playing and general dicking around going on in most of the lessons, but it was the period of time before my 4th period class was to start that really made me just give up on the day.

A couple of boys were roughhousing, as they do, and generally seemed to be walking that line between fun and actual fighting that I've managed to tune out over the last seven months. Because that's just how it is here. Then all of a sudden, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that one of the boys was really struggling and that the noise coming from the two of them had been cut in half. I looked over and one of the boys had the other boy (who, incidentally, is my favorite student, Goatcheese) in a headlock. Fairly standard practice. But then I saw that Goatcheese was flailing his hands, trying to get out of the head lock. His eyes were bugged out, and he was CLEARLY NOT BREATHING. I was like oh HELL no and took the agressor kid over to my coteacher and told her what was happening. She said something in Korean, the kid nodded, and went to take his seat, and we started class.

And that was it. If I hadn't looked over, or if they were in the hallway or on the playground, this kid could have DIED (or at least passed out), and no one would have said a thing. I don't understand it...this is exactly why you have to watch children! I get it, boys rough house. It's a thing. BUT STRANGLING IS NOT OKAY. PEOPLE. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN NOT TO MURDER OTHER CHILDREN. Good lord!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

FINALLY Foreign Lands Roundup

Ugh so busy lately. Blah blah blah apologies blah blah blah two weeks late blah blah WHATEVER here's your damn round up of what went on in the world while you weren't looking (last week).

Now that's what I call SUCCESS

  • Haiti continues to be an important international success story. Possibly related to the collapse of the government a few years ago, or the literal collapse of the capitol city, Port-au-Prince, back in January, a confirmed outbreak of genuine, bona fide cholera is currently ravaging the country. Naturally, Charles Dickens will be rising from the grave this Halloween weekend to write an excessively long novel about life in the 19th century, because apparently that's where Haiti has regressed to. On the upshot, though, the early 19th century was a pretty decent time for Haiti, what with the successful slave rebellion overthrowing the French colonial establishment. Too bad it's basically gone right downhill for them in the intervening two centuries. [BBC News]
The poor mediocre French cars...
  • Speaking of the French, they are revolting! I mean, have you ever eaten lunch with them? HAHA I AM SO FUNNY. No but seriously, the young French are taking all their traditional angsty French ennui out on the government (by which I mean cars and storefronts) because the French government, led by International Man of Mystery Nicholas Sarkozy, was in the process of raising the early retirement age from 60 to 62. The Youngs were mad at this because "they thought it would mean fewer jobs for them" or because "they really don't like Sarko" or because "they were bored and French." So that's good for them. Just please try not to COMPLETELY ruin the country, guys, as some of us happen to be particularly fond of it. [France24] (yes the link is in French, deal with it)
We definitely won one for the Gipper.
  • The Afghan "government," in a desperate bid for "legitimacy" and "control of their national territory," have entered into to talks with senior Taliban leaders. I think this means we can successfully chalk up Afghanistan as another win for America. U-S-A! U-S-A! [Reuters]'re saying she did what?? WOMEN.
  • There was a fantastic murder in Belgium last week, one ripped from the pages of an Agatha Christie mystery. A trio of sky diving enthusiasts, two women and a man, went on a jump. One of the womenfolk's (ed. this is what spellcheck thinks should go instead of women's) parachutes failed to open, and the woman (obviously) perished. The case was considered closed until recent evidence surfaced indicating that the two women were in competition for the affection of the man. The investigation took place, and it was discovered that the parachute had indeed been tampered with . One can almost imagine Hercule Poirot standing in his quaint Belgian home, twirling his moustache until he finally realized that, when competing for the love of a man, a woman will go to almost any length. [RTE]

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dear Blog

Dear Blog,

It's been such a long time since we've spoken. I'm so sorry for that. But it's been a particularly busy week and a half! You see, my grandfather came to visit two weekends ago, so much of my time was spent showing him around Korea (well not the whole country, but some of it!) And then last week was just so busy with school and trips and hanging out with friends and playing with birthday presents...I'm sorry. I have been a neglectful blog owner. Please forgive me?

I hope you do, because I have so much to tell you. Like my grandfather's visit, for instance. It was so great to see him, and pretty awesome that a 78 year old dude would fly out halfway around the world to visit his grandson. We did a lot - mostly eating - and we talked a lot, and it just felt really good to catch up with someone on the family side of things. I saw my America Friends (some of them) in July, and now I got to see my family (again some of them) in October, so I should be fairly well set until March.

Grandpa examines a traditional room at the palace extension in the Hwaseong Fortress
ANYWAY, Grandpa's visit. He stayed in Suwon, the larger city near me, and we mostly just bummed around the town like bums. The only really touristy thing we did was a visit to the Hwaseong Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was a lot of fun!

We also ate. A lot. I introduced him to Korean pizza, which is always an experience (think really sweet sauce and lots of corn), and watched him use chopsticks - he did very well, for a beginner. We also had a pretty good Chinese-Korean buffet and some delicious samgyeopsal (which is my favorite food) and some great sushi. In all, I think he left with a pretty good impression of Korean food (and convinced him to get a cookbook, so be prepared when you go to see him, family).

Beyond that, I've been teaching a lot and going on tours with other teachers and just generally doing stuff. It's weird to have a life that I'm not immediately putting on the internet, but that should end soon. I recently got my iPod Touch (the new one with the camera!) birthday present, so I've been playing with that. Mostly what this means is I will be on the internet A LOT more often. So hooray! Blog! You will see me again!

Plus I've got Foreign Lands to catch up on and you STILL need to hear about Jeju and then halloween's coming up soon so AGH SO MUCH BLOGGING COMING UP!

Friday, October 15, 2010

To Shanghai or not to Shanghai?

This right here is the question. photo via
As some of you might already know, yesterday, I was offered a teaching position in Shanghai, China. The job is with a company that will for now remain nameless, and will be essentially equivalent to hagwon jobs here in Korea - that is, I will work mostly afternoons/evenings, and during the day on Saturday and Sunday. I will, of course, have two consecutive days off each week (Monday and Tuesday at most branches). The schedule will change in the summers and winters during Chinese public school holidays (much like it does for Korean hagwons) to support more intensive classes for the students. The classes will be smaller, with students of a more similar language ability than what I'm teaching now in public school. The job looks pretty good on paper - the pay is super competitive for China - but I'm still undecided about whether or not to take it. That's where you come in, blog! Here we go:

  • On the one hand, I miss my friends and family, a lot. And I really feel like I should be starting grad school sooner rather than later.
  • On the other hand, this job in China would give me seriously good experience that would help any application to grad school and potentially the Foreign Service (the career goal I have been working toward since basically high school)
  • On the other other hand, I'm starting to let Korea get under my skin. If I'm feeling this way 7.5 months in, can I really hack it for another year?
  • On the other other other hand (this is getting really handsy...), if I can't hack two years away from my friends and family, I SERIOUSLY  need to reconsider this whole "Foreign Service Officer" career path...
  • On the other other other other hand, this place offers FREE MANDARIN LESSONS, which is probably the most important language to learn today (with the debatable exception of Arabic)
  • On the other other other other other hand (seriously this is getting ridiculous) hagwon jobs are NOTORIOUSLY painful and generally unpleasant here in Korea...what makes me think that this one will be any different?
  • On the other other other other other OTHER hand, did I mention free Mandarin lessons? And isn't all of this just stuff I can put up with until my time comes, knowing that it will be really good for me (character-building and all that) in the long run?
As you can see, I've got quite a lot to think about. It's becoming this gigantic, handsy monster, and I could really use some honest opinions. What would you do if you were in this situation? Would you take the leap? Or would you get the career officially started by going for a masters? Halp! (he said because it is 2006 apparently)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Foreign Lands Roundup

And I was doing so well! But whatevs, you will just have to deal with having your roundup a little late. TRUST ME IT IS WORTH IT.
Life on Mars? What do you think now, Bowie??
  • You all should know this one. But just to make sure, I am going to tell you again anyway. Last week, an alumina (whatever that is) plant exploded or whatever in Hungary. I know, I know explosions are inherently cool things. BUT NOT THIS ONE EVEN THOUGH IT IS A REALLY COOL COLOR AND ALL. See the problem is that alumina waste is SUPER toxic and is currently working on killing all life in the area. And now it's flowing toward the Danube and everyone is all like "oh noes that's a giant important waterway in Europe" and not  like "oh cool now Hungary looks just like Mars!" Either response would be acceptable, I think. OH also fun fact: Hungary was for a long time all like "no it's cool, guys, this super toxic stuff is just fine, don't worry," which means they are basically American. Congrats! [BBC News]

This is what will happen to Korea without kimchi. Just ask Toronto, eh?
  • SUPER IMPORTANT NEWS FROM KOREA: the heavy rains and hot temperatures of this summer, combined with the extended winter (that lasted until basically may) have combined to pretty much completely destroy the cabbage crop in Korea this summer.(And yes, I know that because I am writing from Korea, it doesn't really count as a foreign land BUT THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR SEMANTICS) So now a head of napa cabbage (from Korea) is costing like $12-$15 (USD) per head, and everyone is like OH HOLY CRAP WE WILL HAVE NO KIMCHI ANYMORE, EVER. Which really sucks, because the people here seem to like it. I could probably take it or leave it. [WPost/Neocon War Pamphlet]
This is what democracy looks like. Messy piles of paper.
  • Kyrgyzstan had an election, and, proving itself to be ready to wear the "big boy democracy pants", was unable to come up with a clear winner. These elections, however, were only parliamentary, and really it's just a matter of the third place finishing party (Respublika) caucusing with one of the larger parties (either Ata Zurt or the Social Democrats) to form a governing coalition, so clearly the Kyrgyz have a long way to go before they are ready to engage in real indecisive democracy. [Reuters]

The Netherlands Antilles. It was a nice place, if you can ignore the crippling poverty and ruinous drug trafficking.
  • WHAT IS THIS A FOURTH BULLET POINT??? Yes, it is! It is a super important thing that happened yesterday WHICH IS WHY I HAD TO WAIT UNTIL TODAY TO POST IT. You guys! The Netherlands Antilles are no more! Following the close of a council of the five constituent islands of this former-part-of-the-Netherlands, the islands have chosen to dissolve this unity and go their separate ways (though still technically part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands). Curacao and Sint Maarten will join Aruba as autonomous country things (kind of like Greenland is to Denmark), while the islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Bonaire will become special municipalities in the Netherlands. So basically, each of the 5 islands in the (former!) Netherlands Antilles are now their own thing, but still within the Kingdom of the Netherlands as a whole. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, your author has now been to an Administrative Division that no longer exists. It is basically like saying "I've been to the USSR" or "I've been to Czechoslovakia" or something. AWESOME. [BBC News]

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Weighing my options

I've officially crossed the 7 month mark here in Korea, which means that I've only got a short while to really figure out what I'm going to do come March 5th, 2011 - the day after my contract officially ends. The first order of business will naturally be to return to the states to visit some friends/family I'll not have seen for a year or more, but that's not really a viable long-term plan. As appealing as "hobo riding the rails" sounds, I don't think it'll really work out for long-term career goals. America's train network just isn't that great.

Thus, I'm left with a few options, and I figured that you, Blog, would be as good a person as any to talk to about all this.

So here it goes: Nolen crosses (possibly) a line in sanity and continues to talk to inanimate objects about life things (oh also I'm doing it in a listicle form. Blow me):

  1. Option 1: Stay in Korea for another year (though not at my school). The reason why I couldn't stay at my school is manifold and complex, but suffice it to say they have become a gigantic assache, and one that I do not think I will put up with much longer. The volumes of administrative bullsh*t I'm left doing, the last-minute nature, and the generally contemptuous attitude my school takes toward me just cannot make it worth my time, especially not in my crappy old apartment with a landlady who refuses to fix the broken water heater. On the other hand, there really isn't anywhere else that pays as well as Korea does. Sometimes I do like it here, I least, more often than most of my friends. I could almost certainly tolerate another year in Korea if I were in a different school in a different place. But I don't really want to just "tolerate" a place...I want to actually be happy! 
  2. Option 2: Grad school back in DC. I'm also actively applying to two grad schools in the District of Columbia: George Washington and Johns Hopkins, both for International Affairs/Relations. The pluses of this are pretty obvious: I'll be back in Washington, which I miss terribly, with many of my friends, whom I miss even more. I'll also be getting along with my career, which might help this feeling of mid-20s ennui that is enveloping most of my generation. The cons: grad school is EXPENSIVE, yo. We're talking something like $50,000-$70,000 for the two years it'll take to get my MA. Also, I am fairly certain that my application will be something like infinity times more competitive with another year of Overseas Experience to add to my resume, and I KNOW that there are fellowships that will be much easier to get with that added boost. So it might behoove me to continue on this two year pre-grad school path.
  3. Option 3: This is a new one. Recently I've considered the possibility of teaching another year overseas, but not in Korea. And after much thought and consideration (read: wikipediaing) I landed on Shanghai, China. It's got a decent climate with four seasons; it's a big, cosmopolitan city; and the cost of living in Shanghai is relatively low (compared to Seoul or Tokyo, or even Beijing). It's also a chance to experience Chinese culture and hopefully learn Mandarin, an infinitely more useful language than Korean (sorry, Koreans). On the downside, it's another year away from my friends and family back in the states, and it's a HUGE unknown. At least in Korea or America, I have a pretty good idea of what I'm getting myself into...China? Not so much.
So that's where I'm at, Blog. Thanks for listening, though I'm not sure how much it really helped. We'll see.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Taxi rides

Well, one taxi ride in particular. This weekend, a friend of mine and I went to go see the movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's autobiographical "Eat, Pray, Love" which I understand is a fantastic book. I would only recommend the movie if you enjoy watching movies that are about 45 minutes too long of pretty white ladies being whiny, neurotic, and self-centered. Or if you happen to be into the delicious travel/food/man candy porn that litters the movie (which I was, for sure).

One scene in particular jumped out at me. It is a smash cut from a lovely Thanksgiving breakfast in Italy to a harrowing taxi ride in India, which, to me, immediately brought to mind every time I have ever gotten in a taxi in Korea. Weaving through traffic, playing roller derby in the streets, ignoring traffic laws and good sense and the looming specter of death - all of these are, to me, emblematic of getting in a taxi in this country. I suppose it comes from a country where cars have really only been around for a generation, and have only very recently become ubiquitous, but it. is. terrifying.

Row upon row of terrifying hell demons.
For me, though, one particular ride stands out as the absolute worst. Two weeks ago, during the Chuseok holidays, some friends and I decided we would take a taxi from our pension to Jeju City to grab a bit of Indian food for dinner (having become thoroughly sick of our personal stash purchased from the Emart upon arrival in Jeju). The ride there was fairly standard - swerving, changing lanes, barreling into oncoming traffic - but it was the ride back that really took the cake. It started out spectacularly from the get-go: our taxi driver clearly had no idea where we were going, so instead of refusing our fare, he spend a good 30 minutes trying to figure it out. While the meter was running. Asshat.

But whatever, he finally figured it out, and we began our journey back to the pension on the beach. As we regaled each other with stories of awkward taxi rides past (I think Mel won with the cabbie who grabbed hold of her ankle for the whole ride), we appropriately decided to let Meg help with the navigation.

A side note about Meg's navigation abilities: I have gotten lost with her ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS as she was walking back to her apartment (where she lives) from the train station in Pyeongtaek (where she goes all the damn time)

To her credit, the ride almost went off perfectly. Aside from the wrong turn that nearly took all our lives. Let me tell you guys: always make sure you are making the correct left turn. Taking the one before can result in an early watery grave.

And that's where we almost ended up, Mel, Lionel, Meg and I. Traveling down winding, completely dark road bordering the beach at high tide with a taxi driver who doesn't know the area or the meaning of the phrase "take it easy", well, that's enough to make a praying man out of anyone. The inky blackness of the ocean lapping at the shore just feet from the road, the midnight blue sky lit only by the milky moon, and the imposing silhouettes of the giant wind turbines on the coast convinced me that the four of us were about to be Mary Jo Kopechne'd (too soon?).

Heart, stomach, and liver in my mouth, making peace with my maker with each death-defying swerve, I closed my eyes and tried to find a happy place. Though the entirety of that section of the journey took perhaps only a few minutes, it felt as though it were going on for literally hours. When we finally escaped the Death Cab (though it had nothing to do with cutie, so don't ask), we collapsed onto the ground heaving a sigh of relief and giving thanks we had survived the ordeal.

And then we collapsed into a stiff drink. And all was right with the world again.

Foreign Lands Roundup

Busy week last week, culminating in the monument to ex-empire, the opening of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, hosted this year in Delhi, India. To which Canada may or may not have sent any athletes, because the facilities for athletes may or may not actually exist. Hurrah! But now for some actually important events:

Some polices in Ecuador. They are upset.
  • A coup was attempted in Ecuador last week, because apparently Latin America has decided to practice "the 1980's" again. Rafael Correa was attacked with tear gas and reportedly bullets, and was held hostage for a short time on Thursday. He has since escaped? been released? left the hospital using "legs"? and the situation in Ecuador has for the most part normalized. As far as that goes in South America, anyway. Upon being attacked with the tear gas, President Correa was reported to say "If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him, if you want to. Kill him if you are brave enough!" and then make a very vulgar gesture involving his crotchal region. Because he is that badass. Oh, and apparently the police were frustrated because they were not going to get raises in the coming year. Which, all things considered, seems like a lame reason for a coup d'etat. Well done. [BBC News]
The old Babri mosque, Ayodhya, India. It is not there anymore. (photo via)

  •  In 1992, the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh (in India if you couldn't catch that) was demolished by Hindu hard-liners in the city, prompting a months-long series of devastating riots throughout the country, killing thousands. The most widely-known of these riots occurred in Mumbai (then Bombay), killing 575 Muslims and injuring thousands more. You will know about these riots from the beginning of Slumdog Millionaire. Thanks, Hollywood! Following the demolition of the mosque, a commission was set up to determine to which community - Hindu or Muslim - the site belonged, with the Hindus arguing that it was the ancient birthplace of Lord Rama. The Indian High Court released its decision after 18 years of deliberating this week, and, as you might have guessed, they punted. They concluded that the site, essentially, is significant to both parties, while refusing to take a decision about how to actually resolve the dispute. Everybody's pissed. (But then again, everybody's almost always pissed about something. Just ask the Israelis and the Palestinians). [Hindustan Times] [Yes, it's a real paper, losers]
  • Two more countries decided to jump on the elections bandwagon this week, and, in order to prove just how Westernized they have become, neither country managed to actually make a decision about their future presidents. In Brazil, Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party and favored candidate of current president Luis Ignacio "Lula" da Silva, won 47% of the vote, short of the outright majority she would have needed to avoid the Endless Election Syndrome currently plaguing democracies around the world. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the already impressively confusing elections (they choose 5 presidents and 700 MPs to represent the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, as well as the Bosniak, Croat, and Serb populations. And that's just the beginning) have, to the surprise of exactly no one, been unconclusive. No shit, Sherlock...not even Miss Cleo could read that mess. Hopefully, though, this will bolster BiH's application to join the EU and NATO by indicating their willingness to have ludicrously complex, western-style elections that take months to decide. Hooray democracy! [Brazil - BBC News, BiH - BBC News]