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.


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

IGR walks onto the playground with a popsicle.

STUDENT #1 Teacher! Give me ice cream!

IGR You didn’t even say please.

STUDENT #2 Please give me ice cream.

IGR No. It’s my ice cream.

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

IGR Then why do you want to eat it?

STUDENT #1 Ice cream has poison in it.

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

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

STUDENT #1 Korean people!

STUDENT #2 It’s okay.

STUDENT #3 He is crazy.

STUDENT #2 Shut up!

STUDENT #3 He…no take…medicine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Monday, 6/16: threeve

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

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

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

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

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

A few examples:

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



OLDER MAN: How can you be so insolent!


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


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

Thursday, 6/12: at the rock show

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


2A – Infinite Classroom Challenge

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

1K – Konglish Jeopardy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on love and its vagaries:

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

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

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

Paeans to favorite foods.

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

Envy for coteachers:

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

Descriptions of students’ selves and others:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, of course, the metahaiku.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure A: the ao dai

Figure B: the hanbok, for serious

Your call.

Sunday, 6/1: 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.