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.


Friday, 4/18: NO FUN FOR YOU
April 18, 2008, 3:28 pm
Filed under: actual transcripts, host mom, okay seriously Korea, skool, students, teaching

2L – Break it Up

  • did REALLY well with syllables, said words too easy (who died and made them syllable king?)
  • computer didn’t work
  • Co-Teacher F does not understand sudoku, and once he learns concept of Syllable Sudoku worksheet, thinks it is a waste of time
  • “When I was young, all we learned was word and meaning, so for me, it’s a waste of time”
  • is this kind of like when he told me that he used to hit a lot more than he does now?

2I – Break it Up

  • strong work from the runt in the front
  • I can hear him telling the kids that he doesn’t get why we’re doing this

2E – Break it Up

  • dug game, etc.
  • generally well-behaved
  • already knew WotD thanks to Co-Teacher E, WTF Co-Teacher E

Can we please consider all of the things I could have done to be productive, instead of napping and watching “The Office” and staring at my computer screen contemplating my jobless future?

  • completed cover letter
  • written letter letter
  • made earrings
  • cleaned room
  • reworked resume
  • planned imminent trip to mainland

Instead I did exactly what I just told you, with a side of eel gluttony.

My latest attempt at finding a job culminated this morning, when I discovered that the application I had stayed up until 3:00 AM finishing had not, in fact, been delivered in its entirety, due to the fact that the person’s inbox didn’t accept PDFs, or SOMETHING. So I had to roll into school (with really gross hair, btw) on very little sleep and beg them to let me use the fax machine to send stuff all the way to America. That went over pretty well.

So that was probably why I didn’t react very well when Co-Teacher F told me that games were not legit. I mean, he has a lot of really good teaching-related advice as long as I’m not asking him about the validity of corporal punishment, and I think he’s admirably flexible considering that he’s taught through some of the greatest changes that Korean education has ever seen (i.e. the shift from no-fun to occasional-fun classes). But I was frustrated enough that I broke a huge, cardinal rule of kibun, which is to never put anyone in a position that would force them to defy their “senior,” and I turned to Co-Teacher B and was like, “Do YOU think this is a waste of time?” Then I had to apologize. Fortunately, no one got mad at me. Which is impressive, because sometimes I think that I would be mad at me too. Maybe I’ve been here too long.

Anyway, after that lovely morning, I finally satiated my naengmyun craving with Pottery Teacher. I don’t know how I ever hated naengmyun. I’ve eaten it three times in the past week, and it’s not even that warm out. Then Africa called and wanted me to have an adventure, but being the awesome person that I am, I had to go take a nap instead due to my absence of sleep the night before. Then I made plans to hang out with HM, because, truthfully, I thought all my friends would be busy, although I did legitimately want to hang out with HM as well. They turned out to not be, of course, and I got home from eating eel with one of my Korean friends only to find that HM was too busy to do anything.

Miguk Oma points out that HM was sort of a backup anyway, so I shouldn’t be aggravated, and I do sympathize – this woman runs a house and has a job, and she won’t even let me do my laundry. Last night we had some really great bonding time, too, in which we had a conversation about foods we like and do not like. (She hates dog, just for the record.) So I recognize how immature I’m being. I think I’m just stressed because I still don’t have any plans for next year. Some days are mine, Trebek, but not all of them.

Monday, 4/14: two stones in my pocket
April 14, 2008, 2:27 pm
Filed under: blogz, host mom, IGR Recommends, life on Jeju, movies, okay seriously Korea, television

Ordering t-shirts in Korea is a nightmare. You can get them in student (miniscule) or adult (too big for most people who would fit into a small, but still not big enough for those who would need an extra-large). Bless her heart, ACT came with me to the underground mall in Jungangro, which is more like some sort of hamster maze than an actual mall, and translated all my unreasonable demands, like having navy shirts (nope) and scaling the picture for different size shirts (also nope). Um, I really hope they come out.

The good news is that the shirt sale has raised around $100 for the book club, which we will use for expenses like paying for books for students who can’t afford them, having some sort of end-of-year party, etc. – i.e. stuff that either we or the students (probably us) would end up paying for out of pocket. So a giant thank you to all the Program kids who are supporting both us and Quagmire in his run for mayor of Scranton, PA, in 2013. I think I speak for both parties when I say: You won’t regret this decision.

We had our regular book club meeting on Saturday, of course, and I’m quickly realizing that the only regret I have about this club is that we can’t fit anyone else. I can think of a number of kids off the top of my head who would be amazing and who really need it, but I didn’t realize it in time to invite them instead of the kids we already have. I’m a little bummed. But we did have a great discussion as always, touching on racism (black people are more widely accepted in Korea now thanks to Beyonce and Ne-Yo, according to the kids), corporal punishment, and karma. We also had the palindrome contest; our students had been asked the week before to think of as many palindromes as they could, and SDY came back with twelve. I could not have been prouder.

This weekend also featured viewing of two movies: “The Two Faces of My Girlfriend,” a Korean film, and “Definitely Maybe,” which I saw with two girls from 2D. Unlike everyone else in Korea, I absolutely HATED “My Sassy Girl,” largely because I felt that the Sassy Girl in question had basically no redeeming qualities. Also, that movie is one million hours long. “The Two Faces of My Girlfriend,” which featured a girl with two personalities – a nice one and a mean one – was way ahead of “My Sassy Girl” in my personal rankings for the first, oh, hour and fifteen or so, until –


it is revealed that the reason she has two personalities (actually, it turns out to be three) is because her ex-boyfriend died rescuing her on an Antarctic expedition. It’s the classic romantic comedy formula – boy meets girl with two to three personalities, boy falls in love with one of those personalities while fighting off one of the other ones, boy discovers that those personalities were invented to help girl cope with tragedy of losing ex-boyfriend in polar accident. Anyway. I liked it a lot less after that.

“Definitely Maybe,” on the other hand, was one of the better romantic comedies I’ve seen in a long time. It fell under what I consider this sort of classic romantic comedy genre, in that there was a certain sense of escapism – unlike, for example, “Knocked Up,” where the characters are grotesquely and grossly real, the characters in the movie weren’t perfect, but they certainly didn’t face the same sorts of consequences or deal with the same sorts of body odor. There was a sort of gloss over New York City, that made you want to inhabit it, and I guess you could say that the characters had the same gloss. And of that genre, it wasn’t quite as good as, say, “Love Actually.” But it was good. It was funny, and endearing, and what I think I liked the most about the whole thing was how it showed a variety of different relationships and why they worked and didn’t work and changed. So in that sense, I felt like it was pretty realistic. Also, Ryan Reynolds is very attractive. (And he also cameoed in “Harold and Kumar,” like all true stars.)

I’ve also been catching up on American TV, namely “Top Chef,” “Hell’s Kitchen,” and “The Office.” Not going to lie: last week’s episode was not top-notch. But it wasn’t too bad, and I have high hopes for the rest of the season.

Lest my readers think I do nothing but stare at various types of boob tubes, other things I did this weekend: hit up Artspace C in SinJeju for an opening by this artist Mario Uribe (which, excitingly, featured both saucisson and hallabong), bought Korea Unmasked at BookTown, went out to dinner with The Teacher Formerly Known as Visiting Co-Teacher, who is now Hallim’s official co-teacher. She lives in a two story house. This is the Korean equivalent of, I don’t know, having your own private movie theater. Host Mom also took Hallim and I out to Hamdeok Beach, where we played on the rocks and ate some killer haemul kalguksu, which is a seafood soup with homemade noodles. Poor Hallim.

Tonight on the way to the screenprint shop ACT’s daughter (fourth grade) gave me some rocks she had collected in a river and then painted. She wanted to give me all six, but I told her they were lucky stones and so she had to keep some of them. Therefore:

Neil Halstead – Two Stones in my Pocket

My other recommendation for today is the blog of the divine Mindy Kaling, aka Kelly Kapoor on my favorite show.

Things I’ve Bought That I Love

“[The sandwich] is totally expensive…[But then] you will think, If this is highway robbery, let me always travel at night, and let me always get burgled.” Have truer words ever been spoken?

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.

    Thursday, 3/6: I just want some trail mix
    March 6, 2008, 2:38 pm
    Filed under: host mom, host sister, life on Jeju, life progress, pipe dreams, the future, U S of A

    The first thing I should establish here is that I’m not going to grad school next year.

    To be fair, Columbia’s rejection letter was really nice – they think my academic credentials are stellar, they encourage less than 5% of their applicants to reapply but they really want to see me again, I just need to get some more work experience, blah blah blah. And as Miguk Oma says, they certainly didn’t have to write all of that.

    I found all this out yesterday morning, before I had my laptop back, i.e. sitting in the freezing living room squinting at the stupid host family computer. I was not initially fazed. I found out on Tuesday that I got an interview for the AIF fellowship, which is promising. And I’m reasonably sure that if I apply again, I not only have a good chance of getting in, but I might actually get some money to fund my poor educational dreams.

    Subconsciously, however, this information started to stress me out. Basically, yesterday just sort of spun out into this sort of nunchi nightmare. Nunchi, for those of you who are not schooled in Korean culture, is the ability to sort of suss out a situation, to avoid making the sort of social miscues that Korean society abhors. I guess the news that my future is a lot less certain than I was hoping sort of dulled my nunchi, because I kept upsetting the kibun everywhere I went, including but not limited to: overextending myself at the inconvenience of other people, accidentally making Omma take me and some other teacher she knew to a really expensive eel restaurant near the Jeju Student Culture Center, accidentally sitting in the wrong seat on the bus, etc. I think the low point of my day was when I went to both E AND Lotte Marts to find some trail mix and I just couldn’t find any and I almost started crying in the store. I knew perfectly well that Korean stores do sell trail mix, but apparently none of those stores are in SinJeju, so I ended up having to buy separate trail mix components, which, for the record, are really expensive.

    Despite my own discomfort, however, I want to take note of a recent source of pride: Host Sister has refused to go to hagwon anymore. Not even joking. I can’t even come up with an analogy that will make the significance of this apparent to my American readers – all I can say is that Korean students go to hagwon. They just do. To give you an idea of why, here is the Korean life plan:

    1. To be happy, you need to have lived a good life.
    2. To live a good life, you must be successful.
    3. To be successful, you should probably have gone to a good university, preferably a SKY (Seoul, Korea, or Yonsei) school.
    4. To get into a good university, you have to have done well on the admissions tests.
    5. To do well on admissions tests, you should have gone to a good high school.
    6. To get into a good high school, you have to have done well on the high school admissions tests.
    7. To do well on the high school admissions tests, you need to study all the time.
    8. To study all the time, you need to go to hagwon.

    I partially credit this decision to her time in America and the fact that she saw that her life as a ninth grader does not have to be perpetually miserable. She told Host Mom that she can study just fine on her own, which is true, since she has been known to skip major family holidays in favor of studying. “Every day,” she told me, “I think about hagwon, do I go or not go. Every day.” Also in America: she got really good at SkipBo. But I played her yesterday and I still won.

    Anyway, moments like this sweet SkipBo victory remind me not to feel too sorry for myself, even though maybe I will spend another whole year abroad and if I don’t who knows if I’ll get a good enough job to get me into grad school? Maybe I should see if they have hagwons in America.

    walking in the air

    So I downloaded The Snowman, which is only THE BEST CHRISTMAS MOVIE OF ALL TIME*, for use in my classroom, during these last two useless weeks after exams. Playing it, I noticed that this version featured a live action introduction with a narrator who looked oddly familiar. Google reveals that this mysterious fellow is, in fact, DAVID FUCKING BOWIE. Perhaps more importantly, his presence does not improve the movie at all, aside from the fact that you get to see David Bowie.

    Moral of the story: The Snowman > David Bowie > the rest of us

    I’ve had the past three days off, effectively creating a five-day weekend, which was nice to say the least. “Nice” might not even be the best word for Saturday, where Aewol’s co-teacher’s boyfriend proceeded, at noraebang, to rap along with popular artist G-Dragon, as well as 2Pac. Also, his name was Steve Son. As in, “My name is Steve, son.”

    Of course, five free days without drama is an impossibility for the Jeju Crew and for my host family too, I think. We can’t help it, really; being thrown into this immediate closeness, spending so much time together, it’s almost inevitable that we’re going to make mistakes sometimes. When you finally start to know people, it’s so much easier for you to hurt each other. I got in a massive fight with HB; I got into another fight, not as large but just as difficult, with Scooter. I didn’t want either of them to happen. But these things, they feel like fires: you can avoid them, yes, but the brush collects and blazes later. And I’d much rather burn them out now.

    But later HB told me that he likes me, although he doesn’t love me, which someone told me means that he does, really. And Scooter and I went suit shopping on Tuesday and had just a good friend day – we ate pizza, and Christmas shopped, and made fun of the guy at Zini’s (who is now – if you are interested – featured on the poster outside the cafe. He is reading earnestly), and split a chestnut 빙수 (sundae). Then today I had lunch with Oregon and Transy, and went to the five day market with HM, and she told me to sleep in the car as the Weepies played in the background. Then we went out for 갈비 and 냉면 to celebrate HS’s finish with finals, and I know it’s such a tired theme, how lucky I am. What should I compare this to, my favorite pair of shoes?

    Speaking of shoes: I went into Athlete’s Foot this morning to try to get a pair – I currently have NO shoes that protect me from the rain – and I asked the guy if he had my size in these shoes, and he was like, “Yes.” Silence. After an uncomfortable pause, one that went on far too long, I was like, “…Can I try them on?” Then he seemed to take it as a personal affront when they were too big. As it turns out, they’re for men. Who knew? (Not Korea. Take that, gender stereotypes!)

    Now I have a personal statement to finish – I have, rather suddenly, decided to apply to what the Koreans call 대학윈 now that TFANY is out of the picture. I’m applying to Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), which is quite a long shot, but it’s also the only program I’m pretty sure I’d attend sight unseen. I don’t know if I’ll get in this year or not – if I don’t, I’ll just apply next year, although getting in this year would be pretty much unbelievable. It’s so terrifying to think that This Is What You’re Going To Do With Your Life, but as Miguk Oma (in her infinite wisdom) pointed out, one has to make some sort of choice at some point. And as the life of Miguk Apa has proven, you don’t have to stick with it.

    In two weeks I’ll be home. But the days here feel so bright sometimes.

    Finally, someone found my blog by searching for “burnt toast poem,” and I feel obliged to provide.

    Eating burnt toast or kimchi –

    The decision seems easy to me.

    Beautiful it is not,

    But toast don’t smell like rot.

    I sure hope that this breakfast is free.

    I’ll be here all week, kids.

    Today IGR Recommends: The Snowman, and concurrently, bittorrenting. I cannot actually share a copy due to filesize, but I can direct you to Azureus, and from there recommend that you Google “the snowman” + torrent. And realize just what has been missing in your life all these years.

    *I do not make such statements lightly.

    sweet child o’ mine
    November 28, 2007, 12:54 pm
    Filed under: actual transcripts, host brother, host fam, host mom

    “You should learn to play the game called ‘How to Use Chopsticks.'”

    – HB

    HB also just bought some silver sneakers with gold accents and they are super fly. We went to get his yearbook picture taken and I mistakenly thought I had to get it taken with him, but really they just wanted me there for moral support, I guess. The students here seem to get their yearbook pictures taken at studios, which gives them an oddly poignant air; the majority of the pictures are…I don’t know. I have to figure out a way to share them without violating my students’ privacy. I have NO IDEA how that is going to happen.

    Oma loves Cadbury chocolate. Bringing gifts back from the States will not be very hard.