Intrepid Girl Reporter

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.


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.

Thursday, 5/22: in case you were wondering how Koreans feel about the FTA
May 22, 2008, 1:58 am
Filed under: actual transcripts, okay seriously Korea, skool, students, teaching

From a birthday lesson. As you will soon learn, a lot of Koreans seem to be convinced that the sole reason for this FTA is so that the US can unload some diseased beef.

Who do you want to invite to your party?

Lee Myung Bak, Bush, cow

What do you want to do at your party?

I want to blame Lee Myung Bak and Bush

What kind of cake do you want at your party?

I want Lee to eat Delicious Madcow Cake

What else do you want to eat at your party?

I want Lee Myung Bak to eat American cow BarBecue

What kind of gifts do you want at your party?

I want Myung Bak’s die or come out from President


The picture of a cake that followed was adorned by candles reading “Lee Myung Bak,” “US,” and “Bush,” as well as a small bovine creature with the label “MAD COW.”


Apologies for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been juggling things from all sides.

Friday, 4/16: in which there’s no such thing as a free lunch
May 16, 2008, 5:54 pm
Filed under: okay seriously Korea, skool, students, teaching

Somehow, I brought all of this upon myself.

So I’m incredibly excited about the diplomacy program, MSYDP. We have a truly stellar group of students going, and without even having met most of them, I actually feel optimistic not only about the future of Korea, but about the world. They’re bright, articulate, engaged, passionate, and way more knowledgeable than anyone I knew during the years I spent at Martha B. King Middle School. (Incidentally, KMS was demolished a few years ago when it was revealed that it was built on top of a giant sinkhole. I’m just saying.)

Soccer and I are, however, taking copious notes for next year, the most significant one being: Get help in advance. I have to admit that I’m really, really proud of both of us not so much for what we’re doing, but for proving that we can do stuff I didn’t necessarily believe we were capable of. As such, we’ve been pulling more late nights than I care to count, including Wednesday night, when Soccer stayed up until 8AM (!!! – fortunately, we had no school on Thursday), and last night, when I was making diplomacy program packets until 5AM (unfortunately, school we did have). If my time management skills were better, of course, this might not be an issue; it would also not be an issue if I had a job, which, again, I feel like I should have gotten myself by now. But the facts remain: lots of work, etc.

This program is, in a lot of ways, reliant on the kindness of strangers. However, what we’re starting to learn is that other people’s tolerance and patience has its limits – which is reasonable, of course, if not a little frustrating. We had ninety-five applicants for twenty spots, which speaks well for the future of Korean diplomacy, but not so much for the time schedule of our judges, all of whom were volunteers and most of whom, I assume, had better things to do than score roughly twenty-two applications apiece. Soccer and I did not anticipate this. As a result, we have some unhappy volunteers. In a way, this feels like we’re hitting our heads against a wall; I mean, it’s not like we’re sleeping, or going to the beach, or doing anything fun, or talking about anything but this. But we did go to Japan last week. So I can see where some ire might arise. Nonetheless, we couldn’t score any applications ourselves; we had students involved, and there’s no possible way that it would have been fair, even if we were saints (and I’m not speaking for Soccer here, but I have a long way to go before the canonization process starts).

I guess what I’m starting to learn is that no matter what you do, it’s not going to go perfectly, and you still might step on some toes. Which one would think I would have learned a long time ago. It’s hard not to just say, you know, I do really wish I wasn’t inconveniencing anyone and maybe I shouldn’t have done this at all. But mostly what’s happening is that I’m realizing that a) I need to learn to take criticism without, like, absorbing it into my bloodstream, and b) next time we should plan things out better.

So, after my 5AM night, after which I mentally cursed myself for putting off writing this diplomacy simulation for so long, I went to class. And the first class went really well. This lesson (one on birthdays, I’ll post it later) isn’t originally mine, and unlike most borrowed lessons, I didn’t bother to restructure it according to the template I usually use, so I’m having a hard time getting a feel for the flow of it. But the first class was fine. In the second class, however, I found myself in a screaming fight with The Smartass, who was a) much bigger than me, and b) incredibly rude and disrespectful. Let me establish here that this is a student with whom I’ve had prior issues, as loyal readers may know. But unlike most of my problem babies, he hasn’t responded to personal attention at ALL, and he also doesn’t seem to have any major outside issues (mother in hospital, orphanage, etc.) that would contribute to his in-class behavior. Rather, he seems to be a smart kid who enjoys manipulating people and seeing what he can get away with. Usually, he gets other kids to do stuff, which is a whole other kind of discipline issue, but today it was him, and I sent him to the back of the room. And he wouldn’t even go. When I finally got him there, he was STILL being disruptive, pretending he didn’t understand me when other kids with far more limited ability knew perfectly well what I was saying (I could hear them discussing), refusing to do what I asked and yelling at me.

So here we get to the more shameful part of the story. A few days ago, I was listening to an old TAL episode where Dan Savage was telling a story about how he swore at a kid one time and lied about it, and how he realized that he’d been worse behaved than the kid himself, and how he actually yelled at his son now because he felt that his son needed to know that however bad kids can be, adults can be much, much worse. And while I certainly didn’t agree with everything he said in the story (it mostly had to deal with threats and yelling as a disciplinary tool, which my family rarely used or needed), that struck me as a good point: there comes a point where children may think they are being as bad as possible, but of course they’re not, which puts them in a risky position. In other words, Savage is right: I do believe that adults can be worse. Because today I was. And that story didn’t make me feel any better about what I did, which was lean in and tell him, “You know, I will not hit you, but the other teachers will.”

I got my comeuppance, however, because it DIDN’T EVEN WORK. He didn’t budge. He kept yelling at me and refusing to do what I said. I had to get another teacher, which made me feel as though I was losing authority over my class – and I don’t exactly run this classroom as a dictatorship. My authority is already pretty loose. But I felt like I was losing control.

After that, things actually went pretty smoothly for a while. One of the kids apologized to me for the Smartass’s behavior. We got through the lesson, I held the raffle, and then some kid groped me.

Aside from the classroom break-ins and vandalism, the time I saw one kid hold a knife to another’s throat, and the frequent profanity I hear, this is the second time I have been sexually harassed by a middle schooler in the past year. REALLY? IS THIS NECESSARY? I do feel to blame on this issue, because if I had asserted my authority better (which, to be honest, is just not my style) maybe some of my boys would see me as an adult and not, I don’t know, some sort of sex object for conquest. But at the same time I also recognize that one aspect of this culture into which I’ve moved is that I don’t know that I’m ever going to command the same respect as a Korean teacher. Because I’m not Korean. I never will be. And part of Korean society – and I’m not saying that this is good or bad – is that you either have that in or you don’t.

I’m still pretty torn up about it. I told ACT that I don’t want to teach that class anymore, because I don’t feel safe. I feel like I’m giving up and that these kids have driven me out, and I never, ever wanted to be that teacher – I wanted to stick around longer. But, under the circumstances, I’m not sure if I have the capacity to command that authority. And it’s a shame, because there are a lot of kids in the class that I love. But I also don’t think I should have to keep a ten foot radius between myself and my students at all times.

My school has been my biggest ally in so many ways – they’ve encouraged me to pursue other avenues after this, they’ve let me out for outside commitments (i.e. Program) and travel, they relentlessly offer me gross rice cakes that I don’t want. So I don’t blame them at all. But I guess there has to be a flaw somewhere. My school’s flaw is that it has some kids I want to punch in the face. All things considered, it doesn’t reflect that badly on the school itself, but I do hope we can work something out where I don’t feel like I have to be so constantly vigilant.
To end this on a somewhat lighter note, one of the teams in the first class today was the Handsome Animals. And, to borrow a line from one Dave Barry, that would make a great name for a band.

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.

Thursday, 4/17: sweet and sour
April 17, 2008, 4:28 am
Filed under: okay seriously Korea, skool

Lunch today was spaghetti, which is worse than American caf spaghetti, if such a thing is even possible. Fortunately, I only pay for lunch three days a week, and even though I have not technically fulfilled that quota for this week, I can escape with the excuse that I just haven’t paid for that delicious food, ergo I am denied the privilege of eating it.

Anyway, I just downed an entire package of sour strawberry chews in like five minutes. Maybe this is why, despite my poor eating habits, I don’t seem to be losing very much weight this semester.

The Teachers’ Book Club has been canceled, as the book chosen was too hard for the non-English teaching (but Anglophone – got that?) teachers. The whole point of the stupid book club was to allow the English teachers to practice and become better teachers, but then Co-Teacher E invited these other teachers who only speak some English to join, and now the book is too hard, so instead they want me to lead a conversation each week, which I suspect is just going to turn into a conversation class. Which would be fine, and a good way to get to know other teachers, but is also a) not what I signed up for and b) not something I have time for.

The MSYDP, however, is shaping up quite nicely – Program teachers were supposed to distribute the applications today, and they were uniformly enthusiastic I LOVE MY FRIENDS. Fingers crossed.

Today they’re playing James Blunt or something on the soccer field. Last semester they played Celine Dion and “Stan” by Eminem. I guess it’s a good thing my kids don’t really speak English. WHERE AM I?

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?