Intrepid Girl Reporter

Tuesday, 7/8: to the winner go the spoils

A good rule of thumb for shopping in Korea is, “Did I own this in 1993?” If the answer is “yes,” which it often is, the clothes are best left in the store and on Shannon Doherty in “Mallrats.” This is apparently a rule I did  not regard once this entire year, as I discovered to my chagrin during my packing, when I pulled out item after item that was either a) consigned to a box for the after-school program or b) donated to HM. HM has never seen “Mallrats,” which is probably for the best.

Such packing is part of how I would like to account for my lengthy blog absence. I also spent a good deal of the time fielding letters from my students (to be reproduced here later) and receiving a touching and bizarre array of gifts. These included:

  • a Rubik’s cube
  • five different cell phone charms (a lollipop, a rabbit in a hanbok, half a fake stone heart, and two that said “Love,” once of which came from PopSongBoy#1)
  • a bag of junk food from Family Mart
  • a snow globe with a teddy bear wearing a crown that says “King of King”
  • cross-stitched models of kids wearing traditional Korean clothing
  • a $65 purse from Fila (!!!)
  • a planner that says “I ❤ NY,” followed by the subtitle “It’s clean, and it’s easy to find everything”
  • some beautiful photos of Jeju that I think my student actually took
  • perfume from a boys’ class that is borderline unwearable
  • multiple packs of gum


I also, of course, spent a lot of time saying goodbye, which is something at which I’m pretty good by now, having had lots of experience. HS cried when I left. HB disappeared, so I didn’t actually say goodbye to him, but I’m scheduled to call home on Friday night, so I should be able to figure it out then. HM kept looking up words that translated to things like “among the missing” and “lost in a sea of doubts.” Perhaps I should have studied my Korean a bit harder.

Now, of course, I am home. The Program, instead of routing me through Seoul to Atlanta and Johnson City, sent me from Seoul to Narita to Detroit to Johnson City, which makes a lot more sense, obviously. I was concerned about culture shock, but fortunately for me I spent FIVE HOURS in the Detroit airport, which – although it almost gave me a seizure – accelerated my culture shock and helped me get over it pretty quickly. Like shock therapy. I forgot how fat we are in America.

Also, I would like to offer a hearty non-recommendation to Northwest Airlines, which made me yearn for the halcyon days when I spoke broken Korean to the understanding clerks at KoreanAir. I tried to ask them to help me get my backpack, which I couldn’t reach, from the overhead compartment and they told me to get the guy next to me to help. For a moment, I wondered if I had made the wrong decision in coming home.


PS. I would like to plug my favorite two stores in all of Seoul, if I may, one of which I visited on Sunday in an attempt to assuage my loneliness (no, really). A-Land does not seem to have a website, even though I know perfectly well that it must, but it’s like a discounted and expanded Anthropologie, with more recycled products and stationery. I’m no design expert, but I do enjoy a good one, and the products they carry never cease to amaze me. It’s near American Apparel in Myeongdong.

My second favorite store in Seoul is mmmg (millimeter milligram), which makes the most brilliant paper products in Korea, bar none. Bizarre usage of English has its place, of course, but mmmg’s stuff is genuinely cool, fun and innovative. I have spent a lot of money there. Their products are available in the store below the Kyobo Bookstore in Daegu, and there are several stores in Seoul as well; there’s one n Myeongdong that I can never find, and an easier one to locate next to the Anguk subway stop, on the edge of Insadong. There’s a list of locales if you can go to their website, which used to work for me and does not anymore.


Saturday, 3/22: WE ARE NOT HUNGRY
March 22, 2008, 3:19 pm
Filed under: Catholicism, English Book Club, host fam, students

In case you were wondering exactly why this country sometimes makes me want to stick my finger directly into my eye sockets and twist it around, I give you the following conversation from today.

(Host Brother jumps out and scares me, twice, which is, as Host Brother knows, a particular dislike of mine.)

(Host Mom wants Host Brother to be in the English Book Club. There is no room in the English Book Club, and the book is probably too hard. Also, I need a Host Brother-free space.)

(Host Mom and Host Dad want Host Brother to go to America. Host Brother is not mature enough for this. I remind him that if he goes, he has to be nice, to which he agrees and then, thirty seconds later, says, “You think I am bad boy. Yes? Okay. Ommaaaa!” Then he holds his arm in front of my face for no reason.)

(Host Mom offers to drive me to English Book Club. While I appreciate this, I am not in a particularly friendly mood after these incidences.)

HM [something in Korean]

HB Do you have a mind to stay in Korea?

IGR No, I don’t think so. I will be leaving in July.

HB [something in Korean]

HM [something in Korean]

HB So you don’t like Korea.

IGR That’s not what I said.

HB So you don’t like Korea.

IGR Of course I love Korea. You know that. It’s just that, you know, I have to have other jobs too before I can get into grad school.

HB I see. [something in Korean]

HM [something in Korean]

HB So when will you get married?

One thing I’ve noticed about living here is that if you say no to something, people will just keep asking you until you cave under the pressure. Soccer and I were discussing this yesterday, attempting to discern when it is acceptable to say no and when it is not, and I was reminded again today as I sat in the car and found myself thinking: They might take it as a personal affront if I don’t want to stay in Korea for another year. Should I stay longer? I could stick it out, right? before I realized that that is a terrible rationalization for doing anything, especially things you don’t want to do.

The Catholic Church teaches that there are certain kinds of mysteries in the life of Jesus – joyful, sorrowful, glorious, and (apparently) luminous (that one is new, I guess, and I just learned about it thanks to Google – obviously I follow this sort of thing pretty closely). While I would like to point out that I am not trying to be heretical here, and I am not trying to say that I have ever, for example, been visited by an angel, the concept of mysteries and their presence and importance in our own lives seems like a useful thing to contemplate, especially when living abroad, regardless of your belief system.

It is a mystery to me, for example, how I can go from wanting to hitch a ride on the nearest plane home to being present at the first meeting of the EBC, where I can be surrounded by excited (if rain-dampened) faces who wanted to spend their Saturday afternoon talking about books in English. We’re reading Holes, which is by one of my favorite YA authors, Louis Sachar; it’s funny and poignant and, rather conveniently for us, was made into a movie. I love Sachar because his books are funny, he allows his characters to take themselves seriously, and he isn’t afraid to give them serious things to think about. And he’s got a lovely absurdist streak. (Although I do get him mixed up sometimes with Jerry Spinelli. Maniac Magee is a lot heavier, though.) The kids seem like they’ll love him too. I swear, my heart grew three sizes that day.

Today I also learned that Kind Mother, who is a member of the book club and who has always struck me as something of an odd duck anyway, owns twelve (!!!) hamsters. This is a mystery to me as well.

Anyway, these are not exactly the Sacred Mysteries. But when you leave your sphere (or your country, for that matter), you discover that there are certain matters that it’s helpful to accept while acknowledging your own basic inability to understand fully, and that the very nature of the mystery itself might be rewarding, even if the matter at hand is aggravating enough that you want to get out of your host mom’s car and run straight into traffic. I’m still leaving in July, but I imagine that it will take me at least until then to contemplate these matters, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Tuesday, 3/11: BUSHEE
March 11, 2008, 12:02 pm
Filed under: actual transcripts, host fam, host mom, politics, skool, students, teaching, U S of A

A semester of teaching under my belt and I still don’t know how to respond when students tell me that their nickname is Doghead.

(I do, however, know how to respond when they write that their nickname is Duck: OMGTHATSSOCUTESQUEEE.)


Waiting on the World to Change

Lesson: Discuss the American election, write letters to “Bushee”

  • all kids pretty participatory
  • get more from some higher students
  • highlight: Good Twin citing “unemployment” as a concern
  • assigned letters as HW
  • why does no one know John McCain? (because the media likes the other two candidates better)
  • “Bushee love war”



  • modified lesson to have them practice “what’s your name,” etc.
  • SUPER quiet and well behaved
    • except for that girl with the boy haircut who kept imitating me


    Waiting on the World to Change

    • computer didn’t work so had to move to English room
    • kids were AWFUL
    • quasi-stimulating debate?
      • IGR: “What issues do you care about?”
      • Student: “Jjajangmyun is too expensive!”
    • letters assigned as HW

    11 March 2008

    Waiting on the World to Change

    • Famous American, not hangman
    • got moved to sixth pd so not v. good
    • what’s up with my advanced girls not participating?
    • mostly wanted to write to Lee Myung Bak instead
    • assigned letters for HW

    Sometimes I think that it’s rather self-indulgent to assign these lessons; what useful vocab are they really going to carry away from this? Am I just trying to elicit quasi-profound Konglish for my blog? And – since I don’t buy into any sort of ideology as simplistic as that which I present – what am I doing, really? But then I remember that a) almost all of my teaching, not just this, is geared towards my own entertainment, and b) we’re going back to numbers next week, and there’s absolutely nothing profound they can get out of that. Interestingly, much like the refugee lesson, my first class was stellar and also alone, and more interestingly still, it was once again Eun Jeong’s class – and EJ, by the way, is quite the participator now. I wouldn’t necessarily describe her as a model student, but she doesn’t whine as much and she listens a lot more. VICTORY IS MINE. For the time being, at least.

    This afternoon was another afternoon in which, despite my best intentions, I found myself bogged down in frustration with the fact that seemingly no one understood me. The hot water was still off at the apartment, so I called Host Mom to get her to give directions to the jjimjilbang to which we usually go. Upon arrival, however, there was some sort of sign blocking its driveway, and the taxi driver started babbling something about how I couldn’t go and making these sorts of “Ayyyyyy!” noises, so he took me instead to this resort in the middle of nowhere (and certainly not in my city) that supposedly had a jjimjilbang, but in fact only had a sauna, which was closed. This was roughly a $14 taxi ride, partially because the taxi driver took me out in the middle of boondock, and partially because for some of the time we were stuck behind this guy who appeared to be driving some sort of fertilizer machine. So finally Host Mom was like, “You know, Host Dad’s Gym has a jjimjilbang,” except by “jjimjilbang” she meant “a public shower and a sauna the size of a toll booth.” Then I came home and made chili from this spice mix I bought at the commissary, but it was a little bitter and no one liked it, as evidenced by the fact that, as discreetly as possible, Host Mom has set out a bunch of leftovers.

    Monday, 1/14: doctor, heal thyself
    January 14, 2008, 8:29 am
    Filed under: host fam, life on Jeju, students, teaching, travel

    Sitting here waiting for Hallim to call me back – this is my fault for having waited so long to figure out the travel plans, for delaying things when it feels like I can’t deal with anything – to see if we’ll make it to Hong Kong for the Lunar New Year, which I can’t help but imagine would be anything but transcendent. Transcendence being something I could use a little of – I’m not sure why things have been hit-or-miss since I got back here, but I find myself more easily irritated and unsettled, more frustrated, more apathetic. The following exchange should illustrate both my triggers and my failings in this regard.

    HB: Can you help me read?

    IGR: I can. But I’m waiting for Hallim to call me back to talk about travel. I’ll help you as soon as I’m done.

    (five minutes later, HB comes in IGR’s room)

    HB: (stands there)

    IGR: I’ll help you as soon as I can.

    HB: Okay. (touches lamp) Why you leave on? So hot! (turns it off)

    IGR: Because I need it to see. Can you turn it back on?

    HB: But will explode!

    IGR: But it has to be used sometime. I think it will explode if you leave it on for a really long time, but that’s all.

    HB: Use this light. (motions towards switch)

    IGR: …Okay. Can you turn it on?

    (Slowly, HB goes to turn it on.)

    (five minutes later, from the other room)

    HB: Do you know “Make Me A Supermodel”?

    IGR: Yes.

    HB: It’s on TV!

    IGR: Okay, I’ll be there in a minute.

    HB: No.

    IGR: But I want to watch it. I’m coming.

    HB: No.

    IGR: But –

    HB: No.

    So you see. It’s a bit ludicrous to be driven to distraction by a twelve-year-old, especially when you’re twenty-two (maybe twenty-three, Korean), but at the same time: he’s absolutely maddening. Nonetheless. He shouldn’t be bothering me this much – and he’s not the only one. At this point, I’m positively twitchy. And frustrated with myself for a multitude of reasons and –

    I just had the following conversation with HB.

    HB: We will read from this book.

    IGR: What happened to Ender?

    (HB starts reading from book)

    IGR: I mean, we don’t have to read Ender, but tell me so I stop asking you. Do you not want to read it?

    HB: No.

    IGR: You don’t?

    HB: (hyperventilating) NO! (gets up and puts book away)

    IGR: Okay, we can read that book instead.

    (HB turns on television)

    IGR: Do you want me to help you?

    HB: (watches television)

    IGR: HB. You are hurting my feelings when you don’t talk to me.

    (HB ignores IGR)

    IGR: I want to help you read, but I can’t help you if you won’t even talk to me.

    HB: I am sorry.

    IGR: Okay. Let’s read, then.

    (HB gets up and goes to room)

    IGR: Do you still want me to help you?

    (HB ignores IGR)

    IGR: HB? Do you still want me to help you?

    HB: Ago. You said you could not help. So I will work with my father.

    IGR: I said I couldn’t help you because you wouldn’t talk to me.

    HB: No. You said could not help. So.

    IGR: If you change your mind, let me know.

    Naturally, five minutes later he comes in and says he wants me to help him – but at this point I’m too frustrated, and I have to write this down so I don’t forget it and think my latent frustration is just craziness, and here we are. He also told me that he did, in fact, want to read Ender, but that the other story was his homework – I forgot that “no” in that context is the equivalent of the American “yes” (really), but he didn’t bother to explain, what with the standing over me and breathing like a rabid bull and all. I asked him why he does this and he didn’t answer. We just struck a deal where he will talk to me when I talk to him, even if it’s to say he doesn’t know or doesn’t want to answer, for a week. This deal was brought about in part because I threatened to have ACT talk to Oma.

    So, despite the fact that I am not failing in any quantifiable sense, I feel like a failure in so many small ways sometimes. Winter camp is only okay; my kids are showing hardly any enthusiasm, even the kids I was really excited about having, even though ACT keeps telling me I’m doing fine. Actually, I take that back; they’re showing enthusiasm in their work, but not in their demeanor, which is to say that they’re putting a lot of effort into crafting their own superheroes, but not into answering questions, looking more than 25% awake, or coming to class anywhere NEAR on time. So I’m glad they at least like the content, but I can’t help but feel demoralized. We probably could have gone to Hong Kong if I’d bothered to try to break into Asiana’s website myself, instead of relying on a stupid travel agent; before, you couldn’t get in without being a registered user and I’d lost my user number, but now apparently you can, which I would have known had I checked. But now (update from earlier in this entry) we cannot, because Hallim can’t do the early flight and neither can I. And friends…I love my friends, I really do. But most of them aren’t around – it’s just Scooter and me on this side of the island right now, and Aewol sometimes. And I can’t shake this trigger-happy temperament, this tendency to have no patience for anything or anyone, least of all myself.

    So I can feel myself tempted to do what I always do – push people away and make them ask me to come back, so I can know exactly how much they love me. Which is not only one of my worst tendencies but also one of my dumbest, that I can’t just trust anyone. I keep telling myself that it’s only because I’ve just gotten back, because I’m still spinning inside, looking for a place to settle, but I don’t know how much of it is true.

    Tuesday, 1/8: in which we hope the journey is not the destination
    January 8, 2008, 3:00 am
    Filed under: host fam, okay seriously Korea

    Because if it was, I want my money back.

    I’m laying here in bed at 11:39 AM ostensibly due to jet lag, although the reality, as we all know, is that I probably would have been here anyway. Sitting here, adding Scrabulous to my facebook profile, because I need another way to waste time. I just challenged four people, one of whom I haven’t spoken to in almost a year. Reason #1139 why I am of little worth to the human race.

    I am back here in the ‘Ju, however, which merits celebration, because for a while I thought I was going to have to sleep at Gimpo, and then I thought I was going to have to sleep at Incheon. I’ve done it in Atlanta (twice) and both times acted as a strong disincentive to my oft-repeated claims that I’m going to become a hobo. Essentially, here’s what happened:

    • twelve-hour flight from ATL, sitting in a row in front of one screaming baby and behind another*
    • arrival at Incheon
    • frantic scurry to Gimpo in order to meet 8:45 flight, via limo bus
    • discovery at Gimpo that all flights are suspended due to fog
    • consolatory visit to Dunkin’ Donuts
    • withdrawal of ATM funds, discovery that I have a lot less money than I thought
    • announcement that all flights from Gimpo are canceled, thus necessitating my return to Incheon
    • return to Incheon for 9:30 flight, also via limo bus
    • phone call in broken Korean to Oma explaining that no, flights do not normally leave Incheon for Jeju, but yes, in this case they are
    • flights out of Incheon also suspended due to fog
    • still suspended
    • arrival of primary school class
    • meeting with this woman in my yoga class who teaches in Hallim (?)
    • still delayed
    • call ACT to delay camp start so I don’t have to teach the next day
    • Scooter, who bought a book I needed for camp, offers to meet me at airport with book, declines once he learns I MAY NEVER GET HOME
    • Host Fam keeps calling me to tell me not to eat dinner, as Apa has made raw fish (if one can make that)
    • around 11:15, KoreanAir offers to provide snacks and drinks, which never materialize
    • herded onto plane to wait around 12, find self surrounded by high school boys’ soccer team, all of whom keep talking about me
    • wait for approx. 45 minutes
    • they tell us to get off the plane and that it will not be flying tonight
    • five minutes later they change their mind, despite the fact that fog looks thicker than ever, i.e. if they can take off in this they could have taken off hours ago
    • I finally get in around 2AM
    • raw fish dinner with Apa, some ginseng wine**

    *Weirdly, there were maybe twenty Vietnamese people on the flight. All of whom, in a statistical anomaly, were dumb as dirt. (Maybe they were related?) The woman behind me got into a protracted argument with the flight staff about whether or not her kid had a seat and refused to listen to anything they had to say, after which her baby kicked me from behind for the next ten hours. I was a little bit mad at them for making us look bad, even though every culture has its share of idiots.

    **Ginseng tastes like old cigarettes.

    But I am here now, and so happy to be back with my Crew. Host Fam was pumped to see me and vice versa. I start teaching camp tomorrow, thanks to the abovementioned travel difficulties.

    I’m debating a belated year-end recap. Maybe later.

    Friday, 12/21: I GET WHAT I WANT
    December 21, 2007, 3:47 pm
    Filed under: host fam, IGR Recommends, music, television

    It’s been a while since the IGR threw her (admittedly influential) weight behind anything, but I’ve finally found something worth plugging. It’s also about two years old, thus proving that I am destined to be terminally uncool, like you didn’t know that already.

    Ted Leo – Since U Been Gone

    Oh my.

    Ted Leo is an artist who is perpetually on my “To-Listen” list. Perhaps this will push him up. I do need something to occupy me during that 12-hour plane ride on Sunday.

    Speaking of which: I was mo unhappy that I was not available to leave today, thanks to the school festival tomorrow, at which both HS and my presences (?) are requested. However, Soccer and Scooter were both scheduled to leave today and, thanks to bad weather at Gimpo, missed their flight, which means they are paying to crash in Seoul this evening. Besides, if I had gone today I would never have gotten to sing the Kelly Clarkson version of the above-mentioned song at noraebang with Host Fam. (I did upset the kibun a little bit by putting in “Stairway to Heaven,” though, because somehow I forgot that it’s eight minutes long. Oops.)

    Enjoy the link above – I obviously fancy myself a combination of mp3 blogger, lesson plan blogger, Jeju blogger, and juicy personal life blogger, although the reality is that I’m not very consistent with any of those things. And I’ll sure never have the layout of Music For Robots, which is my second plug for today. Okay I’m done.

    PS: Steven, why did you have to go and get yourself kicked off Project Runway. Yes, your dress belonged at Goodwill, but you seemed to have a good grasp on the surreality of the whole thing, and I would totally have been friends with you in real life. Which puts you in stark contrast with Ricky, whom I would probably punch for crying all the damn time.

    Sunday, 12/16: they don’t love you like I love you
    December 16, 2007, 3:09 pm
    Filed under: host brother, host fam, host sister, life progress

    HB is acting out in the way that only a sixth-grader can, standing in my room and declaring that he will “never not talk to me,” then staring in my mirror and refusing to leave. His ire is understandable in a sense; he’s mad because I’m spending time with HS that HS never had before. On the other hand, I offered earlier to play with him and he said he wanted to wait until after I was done with HS, and now we’re out of time. What he’s also been doing is waiting until it is obviously inconvenient to play (ex. HS says she’ll be ready in five minutes, HB wants to take that time) and then getting angry when I can’t do it. I suspect that Oma and Apa have already talked to him about not being jealous, so he’s drawing attention to his concerns in the only way he knows how – making it look like I’m not paying attention to him. Also, by making fun of my Korean, which he has never done before. Understanding is exhausting sometimes.

    In the meantime, I’m writing my CV, and at this point I’m starting to wonder if I can include things like “crochet” under my skills category.