Intrepid Girl Reporter

My School: an excerpt
June 30, 2008, 4:45 am
Filed under: actual transcripts, skool, students

IGR walks onto the playground with a popsicle.

STUDENT #1 Teacher! Give me ice cream!

IGR You didn’t even say please.

STUDENT #2 Please give me ice cream.

IGR No. It’s my ice cream.

STUDENT #2 Ice cream is not good for you. Not healthy.

IGR Then why do you want to eat it?

STUDENT #1 Ice cream has poison in it.

STUDENT #2 If you eat, you will die early…er. Earlier.

IGR But if you eat it, won’t you die earlier?

STUDENT #1 Korean people!

STUDENT #2 It’s okay.

STUDENT #3 He is crazy.

STUDENT #2 Shut up!

STUDENT #3 He…no take…medicine.

Tuesday, 6/24: for the widows in Paradise
June 24, 2008, 12:16 pm
Filed under: life progress, rants, skool, students, teaching, the future

Despite my obvious affection for the New York Times, it’s articles like this one that make me want to knee it in its elitist groin.

It must be difficult, of course, to choose between a lucrative job in the private sector and an honorable job that allows one to “give back” in the public sphere. I’m certainly glad I’m not faced with that decision. One of the many perks of not being able to obtain ANY JOB AT ALL.

I’m not going to lie: I want to go to an Ivy grad school or, if not, at least one of the best in my field. That is, however, for graduate school in a specialized discipline. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t resent the way major news outlets (such as the Times) only focus on these most prestigious colleges, the ones that cut out the middle class by refusing to offer merit-based aid, and assume that they must be home to the best and the brightest. I once sat across from a Harvard student who didn’t know where the state of Kansas was. Note to Harvard: I do. Believe it or not, there are a lot of other schools out there that are not Ivies that turn out perfectly functional individuals. i’m also more than a little turned off by the way the article makes it sound like these public sector jobs should just be totally honored that these fancy fancy students might deign to give their expertise.*

That having been said, I do want to throttle My Own School pretty often. We were recently featured by Consumers Digest as the #1 liberal-arts value in America. We were also featured in Delta Sky magazine. Both stories made the front page of our website. Note to My School: Until you stop acting like it’s a big honor to be featured in DELTA SKY, we’re never going to leave the 40s in the rankings.

Nonetheless, I think I might try to apply to some of these companies too. I’ve been trying to work in the public sector, and no one wants to give me a low-paying job doing difficult and emotionally draining work, so I might as well start looking at jobs that would actually allow me to pay my own rent.

Tried to teach a pop-song lesson today, three different ways, and none of them worked, because my students are ungrateful little hoodlums. This state of affairs wasn’t helped by the young co-teacher, who switched from her customary usage of “maybe it would be a better idea if” to “I want you to,” which semantically means pretty much the same thing but totally makes it sound like it’s my duty to bend to my co-teachers’ whims. I realize that this is probably just a translation issue, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I played different classes Kanye, Sufjan Stevens, Enrique Iglesias and Stevie Wonder, and I was so frustrated at my classes’ refusal to even engage – and these are students I like! – that by the end of the last one, which may actually have been the worst, I was barely speaking to anyone. They shouted “I love you” out the window, but it was too late. Tomorrow’s classes get a lesson on the future tense instead.

We did have our final goodbye party at the 공부방 (after-school program) today, though, and they gave us each a beautiful tea set. I don’t even know how to describe how badly I want these kids to succeed.


*I have a real problem with the low pay offered by most jobs in the public sector, including (and especially) those sponsored by the government. The wrong messages this sends are almost too numerous to mention: that these jobs lack the same prestige as better-paying ones in the private sphere, that working with and for others should be some kind of sacrifice, that there’s something inherently noble about working with others to better the world. Volunteering isn’t about “helping”; it’s about working to make a better life for all of us, and it comes with as many benefits (if not more) than private jobs. Everyone should be able to find something they like, in my view, that also happens to benefit someone besides themselves, but continuing to perpetuate this idea that working with others must require a little bit of unpleasantness that we have to suck up is totally detrimental to any efforts to get others involved. It also makes it way more difficult for people without independent means to take up jobs such as these. I realize that most public-sector jobs don’t have a lot of money, so I’m mostly referring to government-subsidized jobs (likte teaching and AmeriCorps) here, but it also seems to me that there is an inherent assumed correlation in American society with social-sector jobs and low pay.

And, I mean, if I were poor and learned that these AmeriCorps volunteers were being put on food stamps so they could “empathize” with me, I would be incensed. No one WANTS to be on food stamps, and I find it a little bit insulting to people who actually have to be on them that, should I join AmeriCorps, I’ll be expected to do it too, like poverty is some sort of game.

Monday, 6/16: threeve

It’s no great insight to note that the music of Elliott Smith is better suited for rainy bus rides and other rain-based activities than anything else. Getting to listen to him again was the only boon of today’s miserable and uncertain weather, which, like the past few days, has been ideal mopey folk weather and not ideal for anything else.

I’ve been listening to “From A Basement On A Hill” more in the past two days than I have since my sophomore year of college. Perversely, this is a sign of good mental health; when I’m actually sad, I want to listen to something that has no emotion to it whatsoever. The cold comfort of the inbetween, indeed. Which is a phrase that could just as easily apply to my imminent departure and my persistent lack of job offers.

Saturday the weather was the same, and I went with HM and her posse of Man Friends to 추자도, which is halfway between here and Jeollanam-do. It was lovely in a Wales-ish sort of way, as our affection for it was necessarily masked by the freezing mist that continually surrounded us. A list of things that Omma forgot to tell me to bring: $20 for the ferry, closed-toed shoes, a jacket, my passport, anti-nausea medicine for the second-worst ferry ride of my life. I discovered this when we got to the ferry terminal and three different Man Friends came up to me and said, “Why are you wearing slippers?” and, when I told them that I had worn them with HM’s blessing, turned to her and said, “Why did you let her wear slippers?”

Yesterday was better, with yogurt eaten in a park with Oregon and Arkansas. And today would have been fine, except that the Konglish Jeopardy lesson leaves me with the feeling I thought I’d shaken, that of being a beleaguered Will Ferrell trying constantly to keep up with Sean Connery’s moronic antics. Unfortunately, the test used to split the first graders into levels was too easy, and as a result, there are maybe five to ten advanced kids in each low-level class, and some really, really slow kids in the high classes. Nonetheless, my low-levels are pretty reliably slow, and on more than one occasion I found myself intoning into the microphone, “Do you understand? Does anyone understand? …Anyone?”

My day improved, however, with the viewing of “Forever the Moment,” a totally inspiring movie about the Korean Olympic women’s handball team. Are you still listening? Good. This movie combines the best of the inspirational sports-movie genre with uniquely Korean issues.

A few examples:

TEAM OFFICIAL, FIRING FEMALE COACH Why didn’t you tell us…that you were DIVORCED?



OLDER MAN: How can you be so insolent!


Interestingly enough, whenever I ask ACT about a problem kid’s family, she looks around and goes, “Well, you know, his parents are divorced,” like that explains everything.* Bear in mind that ACT is no Puritan. As previously mentioned, I’m pretty sure she’s a registered Socialist. I always have to look really serious and nod and resist the urge to point out that in America, that’s usually only the beginning.  


*A little bit of context: Because divorce is so stigmatized here, I suppose it’s possible that usually when people get divorced here, it means that things are REALLY bad. I’m not sure how that applies on Jeju, however, where the divorce rate is well above the national average.

Thursday, 6/12: at the rock show

Class notes had to come back eventually. Unfortunately, I stopped taking them for a while, which is why you were deprived. No fear.


2A – Infinite Classroom Challenge

  • not perfect but did want to perform
  • a ton of girls with pinkeye…ew
  • can’t remember who won
  • unusually good perormance from…that girl in the front
  • Twin A is in this class, Twin B is in 2E (don’t forget)
  • don’t mix up Baek Mi Young and Baek Ji Young (dammit Korea)

1K – Konglish Jeopardy

  • had to do jeopardy instead of Muhan Dojeon because computer doesn’t play sound
  • noisy as all hell
  • got really into Jeopardy
  • keep insisting that poor IGR 1 is my boyfriend…if they only knew

After stupid teacher conversation thing I have to go to the opposite side of town to see HD’s stone exhibition. To be fair, I don’t really have anything else to do, since the stupid AmeriCorps application still won’t work – it is now telling me that my account is locked after too many invalid attempts (zero) to log on. I obviously cannot just give up on finding a job, but this (lack of) response is incredibly discouraging.

EDIT: I never made it to the rocks. I went out for ice cream, galbitang, and an avocado-cheddar BLT (all within three hours) and played Scrabble with Africa. But while I have your attention, let me provide you with a few old student haiku.

First, we have a few meditations on seasons, with the way they reflect on our own (and our friends’) lives.

There is the cool wind
There is the beautiful scene
So I like fall best

I like spring so much
Spring is warm enough to play
But, I do not play.

I like winter best
We can play snowball fight too!
Oh Ji Seok likes too

Spring is very warm
At spring are enjoy PC room control board
We are crazy

Reflections on love and its vagaries:

I love MC Mong
His face is very lovely and cute
But he have a girlfriend

I am handsome boy
I had girlfriend yesterday
Now I don’t have her

Love return give me
But we are loving with our
Love is beautiful

Paeans to favorite foods.

I like egg fry best
Because that is delicious
I very like egg

Envy for coteachers:

(Co-Teacher F) has much money
His salary is getting bigger and bigger
Now his salary is .6 billion

Descriptions of students’ selves and others:

I am smart and cute
Also I am wonderful
But this tall a lie

I am bad boy
I don’t have any money
But, respect me ha!

I am a good boy
Many people respect me
I am a cool boy

He likes a crain
He wants be crain driver
He loves a crain [ed. note: accompanied by illustrations of construction equipment]

Within this category, there is a very special subset devoted entirely to my student Monkey. Monkey’s name, I may as well tell you now (realistically, in Korea, this is not going to help you identify me at all), is Man Ki. Now you understand. I actually have a few more of these at school, so I’ll try to find and post them tomorrow.

Man Ki is psycho
Man Ki always see (?) bad things
So Man Ki is short

Man Ki is short
But Man Ki is cut(e)
Man Ki is crazy
and Man Ki always show the sexual video.

And, of course, the metahaiku.

It’s so difficult
I don’t do it either (?)
It’s a haiku [ed. note: the author of this poem is named Yoo Seok]

Wednesday, 6/11: big fat MSYDP recap
June 11, 2008, 3:15 pm
Filed under: MSYDP, students, teaching | Tags: , , , , ,

Finally getting around to a rehash of what was surely two of the best days I have spent in my year here.


So we get to the airport and corral the students into one area, after which we hand out their shirts, designed by yours truly and featuring a lovely dove on the front and their names on the back.* We have students from all of the Program middle schools in Jeju. One of Quagmire’s students takes her shirt and, upon hearing that she needs to put it on, says, “Do I have to?” It will later be revealed that this student – Quagmire 1 – is a vegetarian (the second one I’ve met in a year in Korea, and the only one under thirty) and speaks perfect English. I resist kicking her in the shins.

We get them checked in and settled at the gate, at which point the students from My School immediately start grilling Scooter on profanities in English. After discovering that they’re already familiar with the word butt, he somehow manages to convince them that “ear” is one of the worst words in the English language. Immediately thereafter, the students start calling each other ears and Scooter receives a text reading “YOU ARE A EAR.” Also, one girl loses her purse.

Upon arrival in Seoul, Scooter and I abandon the other chaperones and make a Starbucks run in the airport.

The Embassy comes to pick us up and take us to the hostel. En route, we discover that one of Soccer’s kids, Soccer 1, can do a Rubik’s Cube in less than three minutes. We spend the entire ride trying to come up with combinations that he cannot solve. During our Two Truths and a Lie icebreaker, I am forced to confiscate both the cube and the cell phone on the grounds that he is not paying one bit of attention. One kid tells us that he has a son. Another one says that he has a car. Scooter’s host brother tells us that he is an only child, that he wants to have good relations with all of us, and that he likes PE, of course, because he is a man. Make of that what you will.

We make it to the Embassy, where two officials give talks to the kids. One of them goes fine, if perhaps a little bit over the kids’ heads. The second one features the following exchange.

KID: So what’s the most exciting part about being a diplomat?

DIPLOMAT (who is rather portly): Probably eating all sorts of new foods. Of course, being a diplomat, you have to be careful with that sort of thing. For example, I’ve eaten whale

(Students recoil in horror)

but, you know, when I was a diplomat I had to stop eating that.

IGR (trying desperately to steer the conversation in another direction): What’s the most delicious food you’ve ever eaten as a diplomat?

DIPLOMAT (blatantly ignoring IGR’s pleading eyes): Well, I don’t know about delicious, but I’ve certainly eaten a lot of interesting foods.

IGR: But –

DIPLOMAT: Like eyeballs.

OTHER CHAPERONE: You mean like when you get a whole fish?

DIPLOMAT: Well, that’s one kind.

SOMEBODY ELSE: Um, what other kinds have you eaten?

DIPLOMAT: Let’s see here…There was water buffalo.

SCOOTER: Isn’t that too big…

DIPLOMAT: It’s big enough that you can’t eat it in one bite, that’s for sure!

(Students recoil again)

DIPLOMAT: It’s kind of like eating the yellow part of an egg.

Well. After that we take the kids to a university, where they get a campus “tour” that involves us going up and down a staircase in the library, but the kids also get to meet real live graduate students. At this point one of my kids – we’ll call him IGR 1 – looks at my former boss at the Embassy and goes, “Your ears are scary.”

“What?” she says.

“They look like witch’s,” he adds.

At this point I have to call her aside and explain what havoc my worthless friend has wrought, while Scooter tries to explain why saying things like that is not an acceptable move for a diplomat. Or anyone else.

Then we take them to a “Chinese” place, where they eat jjajangmyun, which is about as Chinese as chop suey. After they’re greased up we all head to the Program headquarters, where the Program has graciously allowed us to use their facilities for a diplomacy simulation on global warming.

This is where things get good. My group, Russia, sports hats that I made out of pie plates and tissue paper, with the exception of the cube kid, whom I have taken to calling Rubiks. One of the girls wears a costume made by her mom. Germany wears suspenders (hot) and shorts (hotter). Japan affixes red circles to white t-shirts, except for their prime minister, who has mysteriously acquired a kimono reading “Nippon.” India has custom costumes for each role – businesswoman, prime minister, fruit seller – except for their scientist, who wears a turban made of toilet paper. He will later complain that he cannot hear or think due to his toilet paper hat. The Saudis have headdresses improvised from t-shirts and headbands, thanks largely to me, as a certain chaperone was forced to get crunk the night before with his teachers and called me not knowing where he was.

During the simulation we get such quality lines as, “Because Hiroshima was bombed, how can you even consider nuclear power?” and “If Japan gives Saudi Arabia public transportation, how can they not help India as well?” and “Would Japan just consider investing the money in Saudi Arabia instead?” (“No.”) Quagmire 1 is the star of Saudi Arabia, dropping words like “aspects” and showing off her New Zealand accent and just all around being vaguely reminiscent of some sort of Korean Christiane Amanpour. One of Scooter’s kids, Scooter 1 (not the host brother), argues passionately for Japan. The Indian prime minister speaks fluent English, which turns out to be the result of two years in America. And my kid, IGR 2, represents Germany like there is no tomorrow. I half expect him to start singing “Deutschland Uber Alles.”

Once we’ve realized that there’s no way we’re going to solve the global climate crisis in three hours, we head back to the hostel, where the chaperones want nothing more than to go to bed. This is prevented, however, by the fact that one of those chaperones (yours truly) has to go break up a boy-girl party. There are seven boys on this trip – three first graders and four second and third graders – and they’ve divided pretty neatly along age lines, so I assume that the older boys are the ones hanging out with the girls. What I discover is that the ones most active in co-ed interaction are Rubiks, whom I later discover that the other kids have named Cubeman and who looks like a nine-year-old, and Scooter 1, who is the smallest of the older boys and the most partial to things like art and France. I force them out, but I really just want to give them a high five.


Chaperones, being sensible, head to bed around 12:30. I am woken up by Soccer around 6:40, who tells me that IGR 1 is sick. I go downstairs, give him an Advil, and discover that maybe sixteen out of our twenty students did not go to sleep at all, much to the chagrin of the other hostel guests. Secretly relieved that at least they’re making friends, I tell them that it’s their own fault and hustle them out, after which I stay back at the hostel with IGR 1 for another couple of hours, which allows me to sleep in. I am actually sort of grateful to IGR 1 for this opportunity.

We get an Embassy vehicle to the Embassy building, where the kids are listening to a Korean FSN discuss his job. He seems reasonably interesting. Then we take our heavy-lidded charges to lunch, which is an American buffet that thrills them to no end and just leaves me missing home. Also, my boss mistakes Rubiks for IGR 1 and asks him about his ears, which just confuses him, and requires me to explain Scooter’s stupidity further. We go back to the Embassy, where another speaker is scheduled to come. I stop listening and go make a contact list and check Facebook instead.

Finally at the end we have an awards ceremony. We hand out prizes for best costume (RUSSIA REPRESENT) as well as for diplomatic excellence and “patriotism” during the simulation. They are elated. So am I.

Here are a few excerpts from their program evaluations.

What activity did you like the best during the program? Who was your favorite speaker, and why? What part of the program did you learn the most from?

I liked the simulation the best. My favorite speaker is ******. Because he explained about the diplomacy with the easy words and he’s humorous. So it wasn’t boring. I learned the most of the simulation. I felt like I was a real diplomat.

The diplomacy simulation. I liked [IGR] the best. And I really liked [the hostel]. All the other girls did, too.

Negotiation simulation! Ms. [Quagmire 1] spoke with lots of data, so she was making us embarrassed. Also, Ms. [Singer 1] created some creative ideas whenever Team Japan was attacked. I learned it’s very interesting to negotiate, discuss, or debate.

I think [Quagmire 1] was the best speaker, because I felt that she thinks a lot and more extendly compare to me. And also, she speaks very fast Unbelievable!

Talking with a university student was a best activity to me. However, I wanted to to take a campus tour. We couldn’t. [Ed. note: Actually, you did.]

I like the best about when I went to the restaurant.

What was your least favorite part of the program? Why?

Well, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, so I think [one of the speaker]’s lecture was my least favorite. Also, it was too long, so I got bored. *But [speaker] seemed like a nice person.

[One of the speakers]. Because his story is too long. And I thought he spoke to himself.

Going to [university], I couldn’t learn lessons while I was walking up the stairs, and going through the library.

What would you change for the program next year? Why?

This program was short. I want more longer.

I would lengthen the time. I loved lots of things about this program, and I want to stay for few more days.

Add more related lectures like real diplomats’ lifes, or more showing way to be a diplomat. (It was kind of out-focus.) And it’s very, very short. (Most people are disappointed about it.) Let’s longer it.

I was very interesting, but it was so short. We met many good friends, however we have to separate with each other as soon as we become friends.

I think this program terms was very short. How about three days?

It should be maintained for a long time. Just 2 days were not enough to have fun. It just gives me a miss about new friends, brothers and sisters.

No, I think children or teenagers are accustommed at ‘global warming’

Do you still want to be a diplomat after this program? Why or why not?

I still want to be a diplomat because I think the things that diplomats do are very meaningful and cool.

A diplomat is more attractive to me. Before this program, I seriously considered to be a diplomat, and this program made my dream more solid. I want to be a diplomat, but should think about more. (People around me keep making me confused.) ㅠㅠ

I really ‘do’ want to be a diplomat. It’s such an interesting job.

I didn’t decide.

Wednesday, 6/11: dog survives after swallowing toxic toad whole

Let’s start with a few fun facts. Shall we?

The speed with which pinkeye is spreading through My School is both staggering and disgusting. While the most significant outbreak occurred last week, and I thought we had maybe eradicated it, two second graders came up to me yesterday and pointed to their eyes with an expression that can only be described as delight. I haven’t worn contacts for a month because I can think of about fifteen things I would rather do with my time than get an eye disease. Ew. (I am also avoiding touching my students, which is difficult, as they seem to want to constantly high-five me.)

This week I taught a lesson borrowed from a Program kid in Gyeongju that was based off Korea’s own national treasure, Muhan Dojeon, a show which translates to “Infinite Challenge” and bears the unique honor of being Soccer’s second favorite television show, after Mary Tyler Moore. I was anticipating the lesson being – well, if not infinitely challenging, then challenging enough – but much to my surprise, some of my worst classes have taken to acting it out quite well. Some of the others prefer screaming. Whatever floats your boat.

I’m still trying to get all my job applications done, specifically the AmeriCorps application, which I have filled out, in whole or in part, no less than seven times, only to have their computers keep eating it. Do you think they’re trying to tell me something? I alternate between feeling like I’m surviving and like I’m thriving. Some days the mosquito trap in my room works, and other days I come home to find that not only has HM unplugged it, but she has also let bananas rot to the point that small fruit flies have taken over the kitchen.

*I would like to state for the record that I do not think hanbok are flattering. I just don’t. They’re neat-looking, and they can be pretty in and of themselves, but the fact that this modernist take on it still doesn’t work is a testimony to the garment’s innate inability to flatter. Not that I’m biased or anything, but I feel pretty strongly that the garment of my people is both more attractive and less baggy.

Figure A: the ao dai

Figure B: the hanbok, for serious

Your call.

Sunday, 6/8: on clothes
June 8, 2008, 1:52 pm
Filed under: life progress, the future, travel, U S of A

When I first saw New York I was twenty, and it was summertime, and I got off a DC-7 at the old Idlewild temporary terminal in a new dress which had seemed very smart in Sacramento but seemed less smart already,…and some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever read about New York, informed me that it would never be quite the same again. In fact it never was.

– Joan Didion, “Goodbye to All That”

I have this feeling that when I open my suitcase in Johnson City, all the things that I bought in Korea will turn into dust. Never mind that I did this once before. This time I’m coming home for good, at least for a little while, and I can’t imagine that the colors will stay, that I’ll be able to pick up my clothes without watching them disintegrate in my hands.

I have a little less than a month left here, depending on when I finally decide to leave. I’ve been putting it off. I can leave as early as July 5th, after which I’ll take classes at the state university in my town, and…then what? I know I can’t stay here, but I haven’t heard back from a single job (except for the one that told me that they would interview me if I were only in the States). I know that if it weren’t for my friends and my family here, my time in Korea would seem like a dream, so far removed is it from the region its promoters so optimistically name The Mountain South. I’m pretty distant from the Eastman Kodak plant here.

I have no problem going home as long as I have something new to which I can move on. I’m not ready for this to be the pinnacle of my life. I’m a little scared of how fast I’m afraid this experience is going to disappear from my life, but I might be more worried that once those shirts and dresses that were so beautiful here disappear, I’ll have nothing to hold in their place.