Intrepid Girl Reporter

September 29, 2007, 5:01 pm
Filed under: anatopism, life progress
  1. internship emails sent out
  2. started watching Season 1 of The OC*, brought me back to junior year of college

*note: had forgotten how attractive Peter Gallagher, Tate Donovan, Adam Brody are 


here we go round

I have no winter job, I might not have a job next year either, I have a helmet haircut, I live with a fucking card sharp, and I’m through with men for at least a year. How are you?

Things are not quite that bad – I did, after all, get to attend HB’s Sports Day today, where I ate chicken on a stick and that candy we bought at Dollywood years ago, fool’s gold, except this candy was made on a skillet out of the back of a truck in the rain. I also got the chance to watch:  mass hula-hooping, mass choreographed techno dancing, and this event where these people wearing masks that looked like the Clintons had balloons in their pants and the kids had to compete to see who could pop them first. HB did samulnori, and he ran what they called the Marathon, which was actually just a race. Not 26.2 miles, no siree. HB and his best friend were in the same heat. HB kept on trucking. He’s pretty fast. HBBF is not, but his effort was valiant.

Today was also Apa’s birthday. After we got back from Sports Day, I made lunch for my family (fettucine with chicken and the pesto my American momma sent over; inexplicably, the pesto was much more popular than last dinner’s homemade roasted tomato sauce), and then Oma offered to take me for a haircut. Having been opsoyo last weekend, I was (am) in need of some family brownie points; besides, I’ve gotten to see the Jeju Crew a lot lately. Also, my host brother and sister have great hair, so I assumed it would be all right. She took me to her hair place, which turned out to be in E-Mart – and not the nice one in Sin Jeju, the ghetto one down by Tapdong. Good Deal. I really loved my haircut last time; this time, however, I look like a member of the Brady Bunch. And not in a good way. My bangs are a) too short and b) sticking up and c) I look like an idiot and I’m kind of mad about it. And, in retrospect, Oma’s hair is nowhere near as cool as that of HB and HS. But what could I say? “I don’t really trust you?” I don’t even have the vocabulary for that.

Sometimes, however, I don’t think that vocabulary is the problem. Oma asked me, yet again, exactly why I was single – and if I had a good answer for that, I imagine a lot of things would be very different. And on the way home, after omija cha and ice cream at a cafe in Chungangro, she asked me my American parents’ hometowns, which is an innocuous enough question (as well as an impressive one for her to ask in English). But hometowns are a more complex issue for us than they should be; I don’t really have one, my mother never really had one, and my father…the workbooks we were given in class didn’t have any sample sentences like “His family escaped because they were wealthy and well-connected” or “My grandfather was an idealist trying to reform a corrupt government from the inside out” or “I still struggle with the fact that all American history curricula suggest that my family’s role within the colonizing French government was essentially that of a collaborator.” I still can’t say, “I took a taxi.” Really, I don’t know how to say what I want to say in English, just like no one here seems to be able to explain why on Earth children are trained to dance King Tut-style to techno, regardless of how fluent they are.

Anyway. Meanwhile, I’m still looking for a winter internship – ideally, I’d love to work with an NGO or a newspaper or UNESCO, but what that requires is me getting in touch with those people, which, you know, I still need to do. I also got an email from TFA, and it looks like unless I can talk my school into letting me out reallllllllly early, I’m only going to be (barely) eligible for New York or California (or, God forbid, Las Vegas), which were not my first choices. And even then, I have to talk wherever I go into letting me either skip Initiation or make it up over…Christmas? Which is coming soon. ADULT WORLD STOP IT I just want to get a job with Sesame Workshop. Really. At this point, I’d even consider applying for grad school for next year, but I still need to take macro and micro to go to school for IR, and I’m still working on a bigger portfolio for J-school.

After we went out for a raw fish dinner with Apa (where I made the same mistake I always do – I ate what they told me to, assuming that no more food was coming out, when in fact there were three more, and better, courses still to come) HB and I played Uno, where he managed to shuffle his cards multiple times while still keeping his loaded hand on top. Twice. Then he made up the following song about me, to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”:

(IGR) is mischief, mischief, mischief

(IGR) is mischief, oh I’m sorry

And now we are watching Muhan Dojeon.

can’t touch this
September 28, 2007, 2:03 am
Filed under: anatopism, how we roll, life on Jeju, miscommunication, skool, teaching

I have to admit that the sign in the back of my room that reads “Grammar Time” was put up mostly for my own amusement.

Today I got to school and they told me that there was a schoolwide fitness test, which meant I would not be teaching at all, which is nice, although I would have liked to have known earlier, so I could have slept instead of getting up and all that. Whatever. I used the time to decorate the classroom with my Words of the Week and a few choice pictures of sleeping students. Now I’m going to go buy a new backpack, because mine broke yesterday, no thanks to you Jansport.

like water for Chuseok

The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, quiet with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth…among the sounds of night.

– James Agee, “Knoxville: Summer, 1915”

“Your name is Giant Super Deluxe Piggy.”

– Host Brother

In America, my father cooks the turkey.

I just want to clarify that. There are enlightened households, and mine is one of them, more or less, even though the turkey is only one of the many food items offered at Thanksgiving and (hello, 2005) occasionally it is not ready until after the rest of the meal is over, because deep-frying a giant bird is a lot more complicated than anyone anticipates.

But mine, I recognize, is in the minority, which is what made my first Chuseok much like an American holiday:  the womenfolk were in the kitchen, while the men sat around on the floor and watched television and made fun of each other, as best I could tell. I only caught snippets – I wanted to cook, so I found myself crouched on the floor next to some women who were probably somehow related to my Apa, scooping panchan (side dishes) into little bowls. Near me, a pot of that classic holiday food, seaweed soup, kept a rollicking boil. While we scooped and snacked on this sort of sunflower-seed brittle, the men were in the next room, doing something that wasn’t cooking. I’m not sure what it was. I think it involved sitting around and smoking.

My host family celebrated the holiday in what appeared to be an adapted manner:  we ate the food, but if an ancestral tribute was made, I missed it. Also, my host sister stayed home to study, or maybe to look at pictures of her favorite boy band, which has a name that sounds sort of like Tongbangshingee. The meal was bigger than usual, which is saying something; there was soup, fatty meat, pajeon (fritters), and a lot of variants on kimchi. Despite the holiday, Koreans still seem to eschew both napkins and drinks with their meals (unless that drink has at least 5% alcohol by volume), and my family was no different. I know this is going to sound ethnocentric, but really, Korea, a glass of water would do wonders for culinary appreciation around here. So would a dash of soy sauce on plain rice. For that matter.

Chuseok was actually the first extended time I’d spent with my family all weekend, which proved to be a source of tension. Saturday: City Hall wandering, Korean movie watching (“My Sassy Girl”? Highly overrated), noraebang-ing, further visits to the good people at Bagdad Cafe. Sunday: jjimjilbang, celebration with my friend G’s host fam for her host brother’s birthday. On Monday, from G’s house, I called home to check in and asked my Apa how he was; the short answer was, “Not happy.” Actually, our conversation went something like this:

IGR Apa! How are you?

APA (Korean Korean Korean)

IGR …Happy?

APA No. Not happy!

IGR Why?

APA Hillary (Korean Korean Korean)

IGR What?

APA (Korean Korean Korean)

IGR Because of Hillary?

APA Yes, because Hillary (Korean Korean Korean)

IGR I’m sorry?

APA (Korean Korean Korean)

Welcome to my life. So I came home, asked for permission to go to see my friend E (whose family had taken off for Seoul for Chuseok without her), and went to talk to my Apa at his business, which he was so busy cleaning that he refused to talk to me. So from Monday morning to Tuesday afternoon, all I knew was that he was mad at me, but not why. And either no one else knew, or they didn’t want to tell me.

So after the family deal we sat down yesterday and hashed it out, and it turns out that spending the night outside your home is bad manners, maybe for the family? Or maybe for the people with whom you’re staying. Also, you can sleep in DVD rooms, but you shouldn’t, because that puts you at high risk for mugging, apparently. He wants me to come home at midnight every night, but he’s offered to talk to my American parents and see what they think. Meanwhile, I’m totally sixteen again.

But aside from all that – aside from any program drama, any fatigue, the five million things I’ve put off for too long – last night I went to the playground with Oma and HB and HS and we all tried to climb the wall by running up it as fast as we could. Sometimes I wonder: can something be your best memory if you know, even as it happens, that it will become precious? But then I stop thinking about it and remember how it felt to scream on the swings under the full moon.

making banana pancakes*
September 21, 2007, 4:06 pm
Filed under: anatopism, dumb miguks, food, host brother, how we roll, life on Jeju, U S of A

I seriously don’t want to get out of my chair. That’s how tired I am. It doesn’t make sense, because an hour ago I was trying to persuade everyone to go out, and now I’m sitting here reading articles on Wikipedia with titles like “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe” and I’m actually too lazy to move, although not to type, evidently.

Tonight was as good a night as any for a Pancake Party**, which sounds like a euphemism of some sort, but actually refers to a party where you eat pancakes. If you party like we do, which is to say like rock stars, a pancake party can also be a pancakes and guacamole and salsa party, after which everybody will be too full to do anything but wash dishes and play “Starcraft” with my host brother. Like I said, rock stars. We were celebrating the arrival of maple syrup and cumin from the New World, aka my mother, so we were basically like pilgrims, you know.

Future Mexican food/breakfast endeavors, however, probably will not include avocados so underripe that it is difficult to cut them open, or the decision to cook the avocados in a pan, with some milk. Just saying. I don’t know what our guacamole tasted like, except for “not guacamole.” But it was pretty good, honestly.

*I hate Jack Johnson, but I like breakfast

**This actually belongs in my food blog, but due to picture uploading difficulties, that blog is on temporary hiatus.

psycho student, qu’est-ce que ce?

Probably the highlight of my friend C’s visit to my school today was not the fact that she got to watch my classes, not the fact that we ate fried chicken and gossip for lunch, and not eating weird cake in my principal’s office as he sat staring at us, mute. The highlight was probably my students saying things like “Teacher’s friend, are you from Africa?” and “He is handicapped. He is handicapped in head. Many handicap.” C is from the Philippines. Not from Africa. Not from anywhere NEAR Africa, actually. However, in Korea, it appears that all dark-skinned people look alike. (Although this still doesn’t explain why one of my students once asked me if I was Uzbek.) I’m also not sure where to go with the “don’t say handicapped, ‘handicapped’ is not a bad thing” lecture except to say that, you know, they shouldn’t say handicapped, because a) that’s not a term in common usage in America as much anymore and it is my duty as a teacher to inform them of that, and b) their statements are ril insensitive, especially with the implication that being handicapped is, in fact, an unequivocally bad thing. I’m not exactly politically correct myself, so I’m loath to teach a “these words will get you beat in America” lesson, but really. For a country whose cell phones are capable of cooking dinner, one would think that such outmoded ideas would be…well, outmoded. If I can keep them to the more common epithet of “Psycho! He famous Korean psycho boy!” I’ll be happy. Psychos, after all, do have a commonly accepted negative connotation.

I did play alphabet games with some truly adorable elementary school students over by City Hall today, though. Like, actually the cutest students alive. The girls were, anyway – which is a change from my school, where the boys are far more endearing. We played this game where we tossed a ball and each student had to say the next letter of the alphabet when they caught it, and when the ball got to a given letter, that kid had to come dance with me to “Come On Eileen.” (I got tired of Prince.) Then we played another game where they had to make the letters with their bodies. That wasn’t actually a game. It was more for my own personal entertainment. There were a few older girls who helped the tiny ones with their letters, and some boys who mostly pushed each other and occasionally the girls. Jerkfaces. Most of the little girls were really shy, but there was this one who was really funny – she wasn’t quite as quote-unquote cute, she wore these pink glasses and a ratty turquoise polo and her hair was messy and her teeth were kind of funny, but she totally marched up to me and was like, “What’s your name? My name is Jie-Min.” (All names changed, of course.) The nice thing about these kids, also, was that they all liked me. Then I had coffee with my friend D (really, I’m going to have to start making up names, the letters will begin to overlap soon) at two different shops in City Hall, which gave us the opportunity to compare and contrast the ambiances of both, and I mailed some letters. And tomorrow is the weekend, and Pop-Song.

(Note: I was talking to one of my students today, and I told her I would see her tomorrow in choir, and she gasped, “You remember me?” and threw her arms around my neck.)

OH! And I got a box today from America, box 1 of 2, containing, among other things, maple syrup, cumin, vanilla, and a copy of Ender’s Game for my host brother. If you’ve ever read Orson Scott Card, raise your hand. If you can name the song that references EG in the title, bonus points.

too good to not be true
September 19, 2007, 1:21 pm
Filed under: skool, students, teaching

I’m not sure about this, but Korean Minkus’ last name might be Ham. It could just be the result of incompetence with the Roman alphabet, but you have NO IDEA how badly I want this to be true.

Also: I’m pretty sure that I’ve found my sport, and it’s yoga. I had my first class today, in a little studio over by City Hall, and I can’t remember the last time I had such an endorphin rush. And I didn’t even have to run. I did have to spend a bit of time convincing my teacher that despite my outward appearance, I wasn’t about to die, because, you know, Koreans don’t sweat. She kept running over with paper towels and whispering, “Okay? Okay?” Once we had established that I was okay, she would push my leg or my back or my arm or whatever until I started whimpering. Good deal. But I feel really good, and this comes from someone who never thought that anything would supplant her twin favorite sports of debate and academic team.

Tomorrow I start volunteering at this after-school program/free hagwon sort of thing. Ironically enough, my host teacher tells me it’s run by the Salvation Army, the group responsible for my departure from the ASP I ran in college. But I couldn’t really tell when I visited today, and besides, I’m not running it…although I am apparently teaching English classes to elementary school students. I sort of just thought I was tutoring, but no. So I guess we’re singing the alphabet song tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’ll leave you with a dialogue from class 1J, and this kid I’ll call Malcolm X due to his Malcolm X-style glasses. Class 1J is my absolute favorite class, even though they are horrifically obnoxious and around 75% of them were late today. (That means that 75% of them danced to Prince.) By the way: it turns out that fully half of my Pop Song boys are in 1J, so the affection must be reciprocated. And Hyuk totally belongs in “The Sandlot.”

IGR Who can read today’s date?

MALCOLM X I can! Teacher!

IGR I am going to call on someone who is quiet.

MALCOLM X Teacher! Teacher!

IGR I pick…(Picks someone who is not Hyuk, obviously.)

MALCOLM X Oh my God. Why? WHY?