Intrepid Girl Reporter

Thursday, 7/31: where the faucets dispense fudge
August 1, 2008, 4:24 am
Filed under: Cheki, life on Jeju | Tags: ,

One of the few perks of having finished my time with the Program and not having found employment yet is the freedom to post pictures of myself and my friends. It’s the little things, people.

Behold the Cheki. Ultimate Frisbee Party, Jungmoon.

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.

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]

Sunday, 6/1: teach them well, let them lead the way

Would you believe me if I told you that I’m so excited about the prospect of MSYDP that I actually can’t sleep? How on Earth could it be possible to love something that has apparently sucked all of the life force out of my limp, exhausted body? Would you buy that I’m almost delirious thinking about it?

Well, BELIEVE IT, suckers.

I’m not even joking about this. This program – which at times I have believed to actually be sucking the blood out of my body – is coming up in two days and we are on a roll. Except for Scooter, who is convinced that his kids have no idea what’s going on. The rest of us have seen the future, and its name is MSYDP. Hallim met with her team today and apparently they solved Japan’s energy problems. I love this.*

Other noteworthy things that have happened this week:

  1. Started emailing with three of my favorite girls, all of whom are friends and in the same class. They’re wildly enthusiastic about everything and super funny. I almost feel this sense of relief, too, because I’ve been wanting to have contact with my kids all year, but most of them haven’t seemed comfortable talking to me outside of class until now. Which makes me sad, obviously, because The Other Kids In The Program get lots of outside time, and I’m not sure why my kids are only comfortable with me now, but I’ll take what I can get.
  2. One of those girls actually likes Jeff Buckley. She also actively blogs and likes Korean punk music. I think she might be the only one in this school of 1500 that falls under these categories. I feel like I did when I was teaching at Summerbridge and I met Amara, the only camper who wasn’t a Rihanna fan. (This is also “Besame Mucho”/sloth girl.)
  3. I wish I could write in more detail about my students, for writing purposes, but this blog is supposed to be anonymous and I’m still trying to figure out how to balance detail and anonymity.
  4. Went to a festival with Soccer and two Book Club girls. (Note: Also found out that one of my favorite boy students is widely perceived to be arrogant and unkind. Whatever. I still like him. Also, he has never behaved that way towards me, which is more than I can say for a lot of my other students.)
  5. Saw some B-Boys and like ten more of my students at aforementioned festival.
  6. Saw “Iron Man” again with HB and HBBFF and another HB Friend.
  7. Someone told me the desks had been changed in one of my classrooms and Monkey started singing “Changes” by David Bowie.
  8. Rediscovered the Pretenders and “Back on the Chain Gang.”
  9. During “Would You Rather” lesson, offered Korea winning World Cup vs. Japan giving up Dokdo. CTF was like, “But that’s not a valid question, because Dokdo belongs to Korea.” I responded that I agreed, but that Japan continued to claim Dokdo. To which he told me, “Well, that’s kind of like China and Tibet. Maybe soon an earthquake will hit Japan, just like it hit China.” Open Response Question of the Day: readers, how would you have responded?

*So when I was at this festival on Saturday, as I mentioned, I was with one of my girls from Book Club who goes to My School and who is incredibly smart and pretty and sweet and also really shy and doesn’t have that many friends. The girls I ran into are good students for me – participatory, skilled at English – but also widely perceived to be running with The Wrong Crowd, i.e. the crowd that wears too much eyeliner and dates older boys. That crowd. At the time, I was torn between hanging out with my book club student, whom I wanted to know was respected and valued despite her lack of social success in the middle school arena, and these other girls, whom I wanted to sort of watch over and encourage to at least keep studying. Which is sort of the dilemma I face with my intense joy re: the MSYDP kids. They’re brilliant. I love working with them. I see them doing incredible things. But then I’m like, these kids don’t need me. And my elation at working with these kids is definitely equaled by the excitement I get when I actually engage some kid’s attention who doesn’t usually care. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wish I had more time in the day to hang out with all of my kids.

Wednesday, 5/28: where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing
May 28, 2008, 2:41 pm
Filed under: life on Jeju, skool, students, teaching

Getting fat, being lazy.

This is not actually true. Well, the fat part might be, as, with my current schedule, I skip meals and then eat an entire baguette. The other day I made a baguette sandwich with fried eggs and Dijon mustard and it was totally amazing, but then I ate the rest of the loaf and that was not as good.

I don’t really have the energy for a solid post, but here’s a brief update on my life: MSYDP has taken over; I’m still applying for jobs; my school is taking me out to dinner because I agreed to teach the class that includes the delinquents that screamed in my face and/or grabbed my posterior. They told me I could choose where we went and I selected Japanese. Japanese food here is very expensive.

To be honest, I did think about bringing the Program in to deal with this, and I dropped a few hints for my school along the lines of the Program being really worried and concerned about whether or not the school could handle another foreign teacher. But truthfully, I felt like I was in one of those old ads for the Becker Law Firm where the old guy is like, “Let’s clean them out,” and his young nervous associate is like, “But they hired Gary Becker!” and the old man turns pale and is like, “Let’s settle this one.” In this metaphor, the Program would equal Gary Becker, and my school would equal the sleazy insurance exec. Also, and much more importantly, bringing the Program in to advocate for me could potentially have some pretty serious consequences for ACT, who might not have the seniority necessary to survive something like that, and while ACT is the only person at my school I’d take one for, the point is that I would.

Anyway the cherry blossoms have been replaced by blown roses that grow over the fences, and my students have taken to practicing their recorders (the instrument of choice for Korean middle school classes) outside, sounding like a chorus of demented little songbirds. Yesterday, coming back from Sicheong, I ran into one of my less participatory but more friendly students, and after she told me her favorite artist was MC Mong (not Big Bang?!?) we listened to some Kanye together and she actually bopped her head. I’ll be ready to go home, but I’ll miss this life.

Wednesday, 4/30: 5-7-5
April 30, 2008, 4:16 pm
Filed under: actual transcripts, life on Jeju, skool, students, teaching

haiku composed by 2F:


They are handsome boys

Wow! They are sing very well


(Group effort.)


I took a victory nap to celebrate.

Today didn’t start off too well, as I a) woke up at 8:40 (which is the time I’m supposed to be AT school), b) somehow made the copier spit my papers out with such force that they all fell to the floor, into the cranny between the copier and some sort of cabinet, c) LOST my chalk holder (I had it for a month – a new record), and d) started teaching the wrong lesson before my students made me aware of what was going on. Fun stuff.

But then Oregon came to watch my classes and my students all loved her, of course. So that was cool.

Sometimes I look at the Facebook photos of these people I haven’t seen since I was maybe thirteen and it’s so strange to see them now. Even stranger to think that I can guess what we’ll look like when we’re old.