Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pink, spongy eye.

The school nurse made an announcement during one of my classes.  My co-teacher told me the school is experiencing a conjunctivitis (no, she didn't say "conjunctivitis") epidemic and the nurse was telling everyone how to avoid contracting it.

The principal made an announcement a few minutes later.  He said that any student who intentionally contracts conjunctivitis will be punished.

(Yes, students are exposing themselves to pinkeye to get out of school.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Plans change.

Many foreign teachers in Korea complain that their schools make drastic schedule changes without warning them, telling them the schedule has changed, or that someone is considering changing the schedule.  Today, my first day of classes, I became another victim of this peculiar style of organization.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Polyester doesn't breathe.

First day of school—no classes for me until the 30th though. I got through the day, but I’m definitely in over my head.  I feel woefully unprepared for Monday.  Time to swim or die.

I looked natty in my polyester suit but I paid a terrible price. I was met at the door by the principal and escorted to his office, where the temperature was 27 degrees and the humidity dire. What followed was truly epic sweatiness. I was sweating so profusely that the vice principal fetched me a thick wad of tissues and the principal himself got up to crank the ac. Then a secretary or something served us steaming hot tea. Great. A stream of sweat was coursing out my sleeves as the three Koreans spoke about I don’t know what. Me, I imagine. Within seconds I had sweated a handprint onto my pant leg. This meeting went on for an eternity or like 6 minutes, I’m not sure.

At least my effort was visible. All the information the principal had to judge me with is what my head co-teacher told him and what he could figure out with his eyes. Hopefully he thought “I respect this young man for undergoing such terrible suffering in order to respect me with his dress” rather than “this disgusting foreign animal is disgracing my cushions.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Breaking of the Fellowship.

Today the whittling down of our group and the isolation of its members began in earnest. There were ~340 hires at the orientation, all occupying two dorms at the university. We were divided into cliques but we still ate together, mingled in hallways and on streets and steps, and slept in dorm rooms with roommates.

After today’s lunch we all boarded buses bound for our respective education districts. There were 14 buses total, carrying around 20 people on average; the group got a whole lot smaller in an instant. Most people were sharing buses with strangers as well… but at least these were English-speaking strangers sharing a common experience.

At the district office we were met by our head co-teachers, who had come to transport us to our schools. The group of 20 friendly faces we spent 1-2 hours on a bus with all disappeared in a few minutes.  At the end of the day each of us would sleep alone in a strange place.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pictures from the Korean Folk Village

You figure it out:  I can't.
Bizarre Korean t-shirt.
These are the only two pictures I took.  Nothing else was worth photographing.

People are very cliqueish.

Orientation has been on for 4 days.  Several cliques were visible on day 2 and now they've ossified.  I'm in a clique myself but have been trying to bring into it as many people as possible.  Being a stranger in a strange land, I think it best to have more rather than fewer friends.  I'll talk to anybody and I make a point of including people who don't seem like shitbags in any plans my clique has in the offing.  I'm trying to enlarge the circle.  But it's not working.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sorry wounded people, I shan't donate blood to you in future.

Today's first event was the unnecessarily thorough medical exam.  I had my vision tested for acuity and colorblindness; my hearing tested; my blood pressure, height, and weight measured; four vials of blood and two of urine collected; and a chest x-ray taken.  I'm surprised I wasn't checked for a hernia or prostate cancer or wired up with electrodes and ordered onto a treadmill.

There were complications with my donation of blood.  Finding a good vein was no trouble for the nurse.  She easily pierced and drained it.  The experience was increasingly painful with each vial, and as she withdrew the needle it felt as if she were pulling out a fishing hook.  My next stop after the vampires was the chest x-ray, so I proceeded down four flights of stairs and entered the queue.  One of the other people waiting drew my attention to the eyeball-sized swelling under my wound and suggested I return for further medical attention.  Light pressure on the swelling resulted in fresh bleeding, so I agreed with the wisdom of his suggestion and took the elevator back up.

I fetched another alcohol swab and with it began applying more serious pressure to the lump.  As I headed back down the hall towards the elevator, intending to rejoin the x-ray queue, I began losing consciousness and collapsed into the nearest chair, in front of one of the Koreans working the health gig.  She asked if I felt okay.  "No," I said.  Here the conversation rested.  I began sweating copiously, became quite unable to move, and started to lose sensory functions.  Another Korean in a white coat walked by and asked me if I felt okay.  "No," I said, and on she went.

After a few minutes I was able to persuade the first Korean to fetch me some orange juice, and within 20 I was able to walk again.  I think it would've been easier and more pleasant not to resist the faint and just conk out for a while.  I imagine I would've woken feeling refreshed.  The swelling is gone now but I'm left with a nasty, expanding, painful bruise.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Yeongjong Airport Town

The Incheon airport is not in Incheon proper but rather on an island a bit off shore.  The island is also host to a municipal unit called "Yeongjong Airport Town," which I think the Oceanside Hotel is probably part of.  Here are some pictures:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Vegetarianism vs. Nihilism: Guess Which Prevails

I'm a vegetarian.  I don't eat meat because I think doing so is morally objectionable for several reasons which aren't worth getting into here.  When I went veggie however many years ago, I understood there would be times when I would have no choice but to skip a meal or eat around a pile of meat if I wanted to uphold my principles.  I accepted responsibility for feeding myself.  Principles have costs; if you aren't willing to bear the costs, you can't have the principles.  I've paid my dues whenever the need arose:  during my month in China, the staple of every meal was meat but I steadfastly refused it all, no matter the social awkwardness, and got by with the help of rice.  I planned to do the same in Korea. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pictures of Airport Weirdness

This is a piece of art on display in the O'Hare international terminal.  Title:  Male Sin.  WTF.

O'Hare toilets feature a sophisticated automatic dispenser for plastic ass protectors.

An accessible urinal in the Incheon airport.  Try to imagine how this would be used.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

If there's a quiz on this, I'm screwed.

I've just finished the 15-hour EPIK Online Pre-Orientation Course, a mandatory training supplement.  With no cheating it took about 4 hours.  It seems customary for the designers of these things to seriously overestimate the amount of time their courses demand.  I'm reminded of the 20-hour Grammar Awareness Course I completed for my TEFL certificate in perhaps 5 hours (no cheating).

This EPIK course is mostly irrelevant, frequently bizarre and occasionally incomprehensible.  The first two characteristics are evident right from the start:  the course begins with a series of bullet-point lectures on developmental psychology delivered by a guy with an accent I can't place (South Africa?).  He began with Freud's psychoanalytic pseudoscience and I subsequently enjoyed watching him try to look professional and relevant while describing each stage's associated erogenous zone.  Yes, that anal stage is a doozy!  How does this apply to teaching English in a Korean public school?  It doesn't.  In fact, it doesn't apply to teaching anything anywhere unless you're teaching a class on the history of psychology, in which case it is a grotesque antiquity of some historical value.  Thanks, South African guy, for the superficial, unnecessary review of intro psych.

The text for each lesson is riddled with clumsy language and grammatical errors but still somewhat useful because each lesson ends with a quiz featuring questions and answers lifted verbatim from the text.  This leads to serious comprehension problems due to the text's high level of grammar fail, but don't worry if it's impenetrable:  the quizzes are unscored and allow you to guess until you arrive at the correct answer.  But the lesson isn't complete until it's been open in your browser for 15 minutes, so don't learn too quickly!

Did I mention everything is bullet points?  List of things I hated during my education:  (1) PowerPoint presentations (2) bullet points (3) PowerPoint slides of bullet points (4) waking up at early o'clock in the morning (5) watching others succeed and enjoy themselves.

So in conclusion, I've retained little of the information presented and I'm boned if someone grills me on it later.  Sorry EPIK, I just can't be bothered to remember that "Vygotsky's Sociocultural Perspective" is a subpoint of "The Cognitive-Development Viewpoint" of developmental psychology.  But the funniest part about this whole thing is that I had until January to finish the pre-orientation course.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Online banking is a farcical absurdity.

I'm not closing my US bank account because in an unpredictable emergency a cache of USD is helpful.  I need some way to manage and interact with it while I'm in Korea, preferably without using the phone, so I set up online banking last week.  I immediately forgot my username and had to jump through a hoop to get it back.  Now, as is de rigueur with such things, I have to choose secret questions and supply secret answers to them for the next time I forget my username.  You know how this works:  you select points of personal data that no one is likely to know or be able to uncover without considerable difficulty but that you can regurgitate at any time.  This exercise quickly degenerated into absurdity for me.  There are twenty-one questions in all and I can answer two of them consistently.  I have to choose three.  The two I can answer are in the same group, so I can only select one.  Bummer.

Although some of the questions are clearly aimed at a demographic I don't represent, i.e. married sports fans with children, in aggregate they're supposed to partially define a typical contemporary American as a person.  What does it mean that I can't answer them?  I guess it means my account is extra secure because any ironically well-informed villain who knew all the answers would still be unable to bypass the questions because--double irony--he has no way of knowing the answers I made up.