Thursday, September 30, 2010

Random Chuseok pictures.

Here's a dump of pictures I took during my Chuseok vacation.  I'm too lazy to narrate all this so just drink it in with your eyes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I bought a guitar.

And what a guitar! But more on that anon. If you want a guitar in Seoul, the place you must go is Nakwon Arcade. This bizarre structure is located right on top of Jongno sam-ga station exit 5, at the southern end of Insa-dong. It's probably high in the ranking of largest musical instrument stores on Earth. Classical guitars are not well represented, as is customary in guitar stores round the world, but there are plenty of high-end electrics and acoustics. Let's tell this story with some visual aids:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I climbed Suraksan.

I live right next to 수락산 (Suraksan or Mt. Surak).  I see it from the elevator lobby on my floor every day.  Today I decided to climb it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rocky Horror

The Rocky Horror Picture Show has a special place in my heart.  I think it's subtly sophisticated (yes, I'm probably overthinking it) and tremendously entertaining.  I like most of the songs and sometimes I listen to the soundtrack and sing along.  With gusto.

Shortly before leaving for Korea, I learned the musical would be performed in Seoul.  I was delighted but somewhat shocked.  Korea seems an odd venue.  I'm given to understand that Korean culture typically frowns on frank sexuality, and Rocky Horror is quite frankly sexual.  In 1975 it was too much for mainstream American audiences and it still has limited appeal in the States.

Even if open sexuality in general doesn't daunt the Koreans, there's the show's Q-factor.  Musicals are pretty queer to begin with, but Rocky Horror is exceptionally so.  We're not just talking about mincing or double entendres here:  Rocky Horror is straight-up gay and that won't be lost in translation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Surprise! Happy English 30 Minutes!

I'd just finished my last class of the day, turned off all the electric stuff in my classroom and was about to leave, locking the door behind me, when two of my co-teachers came in speaking Korean to each other.  One of them turned the lights back on while the other started moving furniture.  Still speaking only Korean and not having addressed me, they unfurled a banner.  One of the teachers summoned students from the hall to help hold the banner against a wall so it could be secured there with tape.  I lent a hand, still clueless about the proceedings.

The banner proclaimed the school's "English Day" and I was finally told my classroom would be used to proctor the one and only English Day festivity, a multiple-choice test.  After the test, the banner was taken down, refolded and stashed until--I presume--the next such observance.

All told, English Day lasted half an hour.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Yes, I do more than work!

I also eat, for instance.  In my apartment I have a microwave and range.  This would be sufficient to cook many things if I had a pot or pan, a plate or bowl, chopsticks, maybe a spoon or fork, etc., but I have none of that.  Just a microwave and range.  Therefore, the only foodstuffs I keep in the apartment are bread, bananas, and digestive biscuits:  things which require no utensils.  No, I don't eat the bread and biscuits over my sink.  I have a bag for that.

My breakfast consists of a banana, a biscuit and some bread.  Around noon I enjoy a lunch in the teachers-only cafeteria at my school.  This costs me about $2.50 and the meals are ample and generally tasty.  I eat one every day.  In the evening I need another largish meal though, so I've been dining out every night.  It's not too expensive; the priciest meals in my neighborhood run around $5 (the average meal is about $4) and are filling.

In the interest of mapping the gastric life of my area I try to patronize a new restaurant every 3-4 days.  Here's how it works, in case you find yourself needing a meal in a foreign city where no one speaks your language:  you walk around until you find a restaurant.  Restaurants are pretty obvious.  Then you go inside and search for a menu--these are also fairly obvious.  If there are pictures, more the better:  you point at something that looks foody.  If there are no visual aids, you decide how much money you want to spend and point at something in your price range.  They'll understand.  Then you sit down and wait.  If you're in a fancier place with no obvious menu, you do what I did in my Vegetarianism vs. Nihilism post below and hope for the best.

My only rule on these outings is that I must eat whatever I'm brought.  Adhering to the rule makes the thing more adventurous and ensures I at least get my money's worth.  My only nasty surprise thus far came this Monday when I went into a new restaurant, ordered a random thing and got a plate of noodles and clams.  The noodles were great, but a whole octopus, about 3 cm long, was buried in them.  I set it aside and ate everything else.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Again with the drastic unannounced schedule changes!

Let me walk you through my usual morning routine.  My "normal" work hours are 0830-1630 with the earliest class beginning at 0900.  I typically arrive at school around 0815 and begin sweating furiously.  The heat isn't so bad but the humidity in the school is very high and I'm wearing a shirt + tie.

First things first:  I climb 4 flights of stairs, enter my classroom, and turn on the AC and computer.  I want to have the sweating under control by class time, so I like to give the AC 30+ minutes to knock the humidity down.  I turn on the computer because it takes like 25 minutes from power on for it to reach functionality.

Next I dip into my super-secret stash of extra-soft, absorbent toilet paper (left behind by previous teacher for who knows why).  I use this to mop some of the sweat off my face and arms.

Then we're off to my office space, where I deposit my belongings, turn on my other computer and drink some water.  The AC is not turned on here until 0830 if I'm lucky, so I leave quickly, bound for the staff lavatory where I mop some more sweat with TP.  (Motion speeds the drying process.) 

I was going through this sweat-control routine today when I was informed of a sudden, drastic change in my schedule.  I was already at work early because I had to teach a class that was rescheduled due to last week's typhoon.  My school likes to reschedule these classes for as early in the morning as possible, meaning I started teaching today at 0830 instead of 0900.

When I went to my office after turning on my classroom's AC, I was informed that my schedule today had been changed:  I would now be teaching all the day's classes back-to-back, in one big chunk broken only by 45 minutes of lunch.  This meant 5 straight hours in the classroom.  The other teachers considered it grueling and my supervisor made me drink both lemonade (for calories) and coffee because she thought I would collapse.  Why can't this school figure out its own schedule?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Again with the drastic unannounced schedule changes.

So it's 0910 this morning and I'm sitting in my classroom reading through student comments about my predecessor and wondering why the halls are empty and the students I was expecting 10 minutes ago haven't arrived.  I step out into the hall and hear what sounds like some kind of assembly going on somewhere else in the building.  Okay.  Has my morning class been postponed?  Canceled?  Rescheduled?  Someone knows, but not me.  I go back to my office but don't find anyone who speaks English.  Back to the classroom.

At 0930, students start arriving.  When my co-teacher arrives she hands me the day's new schedule:  classes start 30 minutes late and are 5 minutes shorter than normal.  Okay.