17 May 2011

So let the memories be good for those who stay

It’s settled now, and I have a good job at a good university.

Of course, I still have about an unknown quantity of résumés floating around the ROK, waiting for responses, but I couldn’t stand the anxiety of everything being unresolved anymore.[1]

The job that I’ve accepted starts next month. There was a second potential job that would have started after my current contract ends. While I’m happy enough with the job I’ve accepted, because it starts next month I won’t be able to visit the States any time soon. I’m a bit sad about it, really, because it would be nice to see people who care about me. I’ve made friends here… But life here is strange in some ways, because people are always leaving… it’s hard to think of anyone caring much when anyone else goes. When I do leave, it won’t be much different from one pebble being taken away from the beach. Even if the pebble’s a really fantastic pebble, there are thousands of others around, so it’s neither noticeable nor worth fretting about too much about the one that’s missing. [2]

And no one will remember me or think much about me when I’m gone.[3] This is how it is for everyone, I suppose, but it’s occasionally pleasant to think I somehow matter to someone. At least I know my mom misses me in Ohio, so I guess I’m sad I won’t see her[4].

Although… For a couple of weeks I didn’t go to my regular tofu lady, because I was broke, and her dubu is a little spendy. When I did return to her shop, she was so happy to see me, and told me that she missed me. So maybe the dubu lady will miss me… but I think telling people you miss them is kind of a polite thing that Koreans do.

Anyway, yeah. Just get used to one place, and then it’s time to go… But hey! Good job. Some trepidation... In other words, same ol’, same ol’.

[1] Oh, the lack of sleep… murder. Murder. I’ve become too well-acquainted with 3am. Not good for a person who generally wakes at five, whether she wants to or not. There’s nothing like being awake at 3am to make me miss the twenty-four hour diners of Brooklyn, though. Eat some rye toast, read a bit, chat with the diner’s proprietor who can’t help but wonder what a nice, sober girl like me is doing there in the middle of the night.

[2] “I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” It’s an Isaac Newton quote that has nothing to do with anything. I only know it because it was a practice drill I used when I was learning to type. I like it well enough, anyway, so I’m sharing it.

[3] Here’s one of the things about being the sort of person who listens more often than speaks… I end up knowing and caring a lot more about people than they probably realize. So even after I leave I know I’ll be wondering about this person’s knee problems, or this other person’s daughter, or a third person’s chronic digestive issues. I think about my second college roommate all the time, and I haven’t seen or spoken to her in ten years. I still remember childhood friends’ birthdays... In addition to this, I am particularly clingy. I try to keep it under wraps, but if you even sort of vaguely think of me as your friend, there’s a good chance that in my head I’ve adopted you as friend for life. It’s kind of like when Taran feeds Gurgi in The Black Cauldron; all you did was give me a damn apple and now you’re stuck with me forever.

[4] Also: Sad I won’t be able to find shoes that fit. Or pants. Or bras. Not that I’m at all large-chested. It’s just that the bras here are adorable in their tininess.

18 April 2011

So you got to let me know... should I stay or should I go?

So it goes…

Many moons ago, I was a fresh-faced girl straight out of grad school, who longed for nothing more than to land a good job in a good school district. I sent résumés out to schools all along the East Coast, attended job fairs, made endless phone calls, and, generally speaking, jammed my big-ass foot into any door that opened even the tiniest crack. And I got requests for interviews… many requests… I was, for the first time in my life,[1] sought after and in-demand.[2]

I got so many out-of-state interview requests that I decided I would take a two-week road trip, and interview in-person at as many schools as possible. My first stop was Louisville, Kentucky. After a six-hour drive, I arrived in Louisville in the early afternoon. A little tired, maybe, but I was ready to go. My interviewer and Louisville city guide was a sweet man named Robbie who had the kind of gentle Southern accent that would have made me want to bear his children if he hadn’t already been married and twice my age. Robbie interviewed me, then took me to see the sights of Louisville.

Here is where I mention that I sometimes get carsick. Usually it isn’t too bad, just a little bit of queasy unpleasantness that’s generally manageable if I have fresh air in the car, and it isn’t too hot, and I don’t really eat anything before I get in the car. But… see… When we went sightseeing, Robbie had the air conditioning on in the car, making fresh air out of the question, and it’s kind of warmer in Kentucky than it is in Northeastern Ohio, so I was wearing a heavy jacket, and I couldn’t turn down the food Robbie offered me…

And so I threw up, right in front of Robbie. Not exactly in the middle of the interview, but close enough.[3]

This is the long way of saying that now, whenever I have a job interview, and I’m nervous as hell beforehand, I can always soothe myself with the following thought: Well, I probably won’t vomit like I did in Louisville. Because really… it doesn’t get a lot more humiliating than that.[4]

Anyway, I had my first job interview since I started job-hunting today. I wasn’t sure what to expect, exactly, because I’d never had an in-person interview in South Korea. Previously, the interviews I’d had for South Korean jobs involved awkward phone calls over fuzzy connections with people who didn’t necessarily speak English particularly well. Because I had to work until 4:40, and had an hour and a half commute to get to the university, the interview was scheduled for 6:30. With some sweet-talking to my employer, I got out of work a bit early so I could be sure to make it on time. By sweet-talking, I mean that I told them I had to go to the bank. Since the bank closes at four, I left work at three. This gave me ample time to get there, find the appropriate neighborhood, and sit at a coffee shop while I waited for it to get a bit closer to the scheduled time.[5] At six o’clock, I walked over to the building where the interview was to be held. I went into the washroom, and blew my nose four hundred times to make sure I wouldn’t have snot running down my face during the interview.[6] I checked myself in the mirror to make sure I didn’t look too old and haggard, no mean feat for a woman of my age and sleep-deprivation problems. Then I went upstairs for my interview.

The interviewer was one of those impossibly thin Korean women, with a friendly smile and a gracious manner. She led me to a room where we sat and talked. It all felt very casual and comfortable, but I also felt as though I was fumbling my answers a bit.[7] The interview went better than I expected, though, because I was offered a job, pending release from my current contract. I don’t know if they’ll release me or not… and I’m not one-hundred percent sure I want the job. It’s far away from where I am now, and it was indicated to me by a friend that I would be missed if I left the area.[8] The university seemed almost too eager to have me, and it all happened very fast… I left the interview in a quandary, stewing in indecision and doubt. I wandered around the campus a bit, to see how nice it was, before deciding to head back.

As I walked back to the subway, I passed one of those claw machines, where you can win a toy if you have the right combination of luck and skill. I decided that I would try it, and if I won a little stuffed radish, I would push hard to get the job. Yes, because I believe in juju, when it suits me.

But I didn’t get the radish, so now I don’t know what to do.

I have another interview on Wednesday, and hopefully that will provide me more insight.

And hey! I didn’t throw up on my shoes, so it wasn’t so bad.

[1] Only time, really.

[2] How did it feel? Totally bitching, thanks.

[3] I didn’t throw up in the car. I had enough foresight to prevent that, thankfully. But somewhere near the Louisville Slugger factory, I stood on the side of the road and puked my guts out. I even got spatter on my fancy-ass suit. Truly one of the greatest moments of my life.

[4] Incidentally, Louisville offered me a job anyway. Why? Because I’m a badass. Actually, I still sort-of wish I’d taken the job there. Louisville’s a nice little city.

[5] Coffee shops near college campuses are filled with college students. I sat there and read a bit while I drank my tea, and admired the students. They’re so young and pretty. It seems terribly cruel that they spend their time hunched over books and computer screens, studying away. They should be out in a field somewhere, frolicking like bunnies.

[6] One of the beauties of having bad sinus problems is that I spend all of fall, winter and spring blowing my nose incessantly. At times, I swear half my body weight must be comprised of mucus.

[7] At one point she said I seemed demure, and questioned whether I could be assertive enough to lead a class. I assured her that I become a different person when I teach, which I do. I will pretty much dance like a monkey if need be in order to get my students to learn. Yes, in real life, I’m pretty reserved. But, I’ve found, if you’re an introvert, you have to force yourself to have a knack for theater if you’re going to manage in any professional sphere.

[8] Though I’m pretty sure it’s not actually me that will be missed, but my cat. I can’t blame anyone for missing Kaiju more than they’d miss me. He’s both cuter and friendlier than I am, and generally more fun to spend time with.

30 March 2011

I live like a hermit in my own head

Odds and sods:

Random Coffee Shop Korean: You like to read?

Me: Yes.

RCKS: You must like to read fantasy.

Me: Not really. Why do you think that?

RCKS: Oh. Because of your hair...[1]

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Part of the teaching assignment that I have for this semester of the school year requires me to teach an advanced class after school.[2] The class has no book or curriculum map, which means I get to pretty much make up everything. That’s kind of awesome. So asides from teaching the children bad pop songs, playing games, and completing Highlights[3] hidden pictures activities,[4] I’ve required them to write an English diary. They’re supposed to write five sentences in English five days of the week (twenty-five sentences altogether, for the mathematically disinclined). When I made this announcement in class, the students complained and complained until I told them that I would also write a diary, only mine would be in Korean, and that then they could read it and laugh at my horrible attempts at Korean. They seemed to think this was a fair deal, and stopped complaining.

I figured it was only fair, and writing five sentences every day seemed like a good way to improve my Korean. I don’t know if it’s actually worked out that way though. Mostly, I think it’s just led me to realize how fundamentally boring my life really is. There’s a daily struggle to think of something I can say in Korean and something that feels as though it’s worth bothering to say. Usually I just settle for the first part, which has led me to write many sentences about stuff like brushing my teeth and eating rice.

The reality of it is that my life is probably pretty boring to most people, though. I wake up, mess with the cat, eat, go to work, come home, eat, mess with the cat, read, write, go to sleep. More or less. Still, I don’t actually find it all that boring, because the interesting stuff is in the details. For instance, yesterday, when I got home to work, one of those FedEx post-its was stuck on my door. I couldn’t figure out why I’d be getting something from the FedEx people, so I was excited. I rushed downstairs to the guard’s office to sign for and retrieve my package. As I was signing for the package, the guard’s hand brushed mine. He exclaimed over how cold it was, and then proceeded to hold my hand for about two minutes. See, that, to me, is weird, and funny, and interesting (not to mention vaguely creepy in a strangely sweet way). But it isn’t something I can really relate to my students, and it isn’t something I’d be able to explain well in Korean.[5]

Anyway, I told my students that I would allow them to laugh at my bad Korean, but I plan to have someone check my diary before I present my sentences to the students. Some of them are convinced I know Korean anyway. This is far from the truth. I just know enough classroom Korean to fool them, because I often understand what they’re talking about. I’m able to figure out a lot of what they’re saying based on the few words I do know and the context of the situation. I can’t do anything really useful, like formulate my own sentences. Still, I figure there’s no real reason for them to know that. Long ago, I came to the conclusion that one of the tricks to living is to just act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t, and realize that everyone else is doing pretty much the same. Thinking this way allows for forgiveness.

Nowadays,[6] the other teachers gather in my classroom after classes have ended for the day. They drink tea or coffee, depending on their personal predilections. They invite me to join them for teatime, and I invariably do. The problem with this is that teatime can last anywhere from ten minutes to an hour and a half… and it’s conducted entirely in Korean. I try to listen and pick out words I know, and understand what’s being said, but after about twenty minutes of doing this, my brain is exhausted. So it wanders.[7]. Most of the time, teatime doesn’t bother me, but sometimes it’s tiresome.[8] I just hope that the kids I teach don’t feel the same way in my classes

[1] I’m not sure whether he meant the color or its length. It’s the color it is because that’s how it grows. It’s the length it is because I don’t like having strangers touch my head, so I’m lazy about getting it cut. We all have our glitches.

[2] Last semester, my after-school requirements included teaching daycare class. Daycare class was comprised of children who are between the ages of maybe six and eight. Frankly, I have very little use for children under the age of ten (actually, to be completely honest, I don’t have a lot of use for people over the age of ten either, but this is not about my misanthropic bent). They’re occasionally cute, but rarely tolerable. The class was a weekly hour of hell. The kids weren’t bad, but I felt a certain agony whenever I had to teach them. I’m much happier to be teaching the advanced class.

[3] You remember Highlights Magazine for Kids? It always had its logo, “Fun with a Purpose!” stamped on every cover. When I was a kid, I thought it said “Fun with a Porpoise!” I was always really disappointed by the lack of dolphins in each issue. I think I was probably in my teens before I realized that it didn’t say porpoise. I’m kind of a dumbass a lot of the time. Incidentally, did you know another word for porpoise is mereswine? No? Now you do. Isn’t your life just slightly better?

[4] Seriously. It’s good for learning prepositions, and prepositions are probably the trickiest part of language, because if you think about it hard enough, you realize that there’s really no consistent sense behind the way we use many of them (Is Oprah on the TV, or is Oprah on the TV? If Oprah’s on the TV, she’s bound to hinder one’s ability to watch Oprah). So I try to bombard them with preposition activities. Exciting, eh?

[5] I’m pretty sure I did a poor job of it in English, as well…

[6] Nowadays being a word that all of my co-teachers are particularly fond of. It’s cute.

[7] Today, I was thinking about the words gone, phone, and done. None of them rhyme, but when you look at them, you’d figure they would, right? English is such a mongrel of a language. I guess that’s part of its charm, but it really must be a pain in the ass to learn if you don’t grow up with it.

[8] Such as when they speak for five minutes straight and sprinkle my name throughout the conversation, and then don’t bother to tell me what it is they’re saying. I’m pretty sure they’re not plotting my death, but you can never know.

23 March 2011

Six months in a leaky boat... lucky just to keep afloat...

And in other news…

As I have no classes most afternoons, I usually spend them at my desk planning lessons. While doing this today, Mrs. Park[1] came into my room.

“I have bad news,” she said.

Uhm. I think. Ut-oh. I wondered what I did wrong. I was pretty sure I hadn’t done anything, but it’s hard to tell sometimes. So I sat across from her, and said, “Ok…”

She pulled out a half-dozen sheets of paper, none of which I could read, seeming as they were in Korean. Then she proceeded to explain to me that the school would not have funding to renew my contract for the following year, and that the program was ending.

So… in six months I will be unemployed again. I guess that’s the bad news.

Mrs. Park continued to explain that, though the program was ending, it would likely start again in March of 2012, and at that point she would like to re-hire me[2]. However, that leaves six months of hang time. She then went on to explain to me that she had called her husband, who is a professor at a university, and discussed my situation[3]. Both of them seem to feel that I could easily get a position teaching at the uni level[4], and she said she would help me to do this so that I could stay in Korea until the school could hire me again. She told me that I was a good teacher and that the school wanted to keep me…

But what can you do?

In truth, I’ve been thinking about trying to teach at a university next year anyway. But I’d also thought that, failing that, I’d stay where I was and take another year of a job that provided me ample time to write and pursue all those interests that I’d let wither since becoming all grown-up[5]. Plus, I actually kind of like my job. I get on well with my coworkers, the kids love me[6], and I have fun teaching, even if it does feel a bit more like performance than education.

Anyway, I guess this is motivation to make that jump, right? Good for the career, all that. My one concern is that is that I think Mrs. Park will try to get me in at her husband’s university, which is even farther away from Seoul than I am now… and while there are worse fates in life than having someone willing to get a good job for you, it’s a bit rough for foreigners here outside of Seoul.

I’ve been sick the past few days, so I sound like Peppermint Patty when I talk. This, combined with the fact that I sneezed one time, led one of my co-teachers to decide that I must go to the hospital. So I did, because that’s how they do around here. The closest hospital to me - which is really more like a clinic than a hospital - is a children’s hospital, but I was told to go there anyway. For some reason, my mere presence there caused the nurses to laugh. A lot. Normally I would be ok with this. I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that my life is pretty much bound to be long patches of doldrums interspersed with bursts of humiliation. But being sick makes me cranky, so it hurt my more tender feelings…

Well. Back to doldrums for me… and job-hunting, apparently.

[1] This is her real name. I feel ok about using it though, because I there are only slightly fewer Parks than Kims in my cell phone’s address book. I’m pretty sure you couldn’t hunt her down.

[2] Because I’m awesome.

[3] Have I mentioned that it’s great that she cared enough to do that? It’s pretty great. That’s the good thing about life: When life is unexpectedly shitty, you find out all sorts of people care about you far more than you figured they did.

[4] Again, because I’m awesome. Actually, it’s really because I’m kind of ridiculously overqualified for the position I currently have. Had I done any significant amount of research before coming to Korea I would have known that before I arrived. Instead, I found out about a month later, when I had the opportunity to interact with other foreigners. But research is for suckers. Or people who are good at planning things. I’m really, really not good at planning things. I tend to figure that most things will work out ok. I’m ok with that, because it turns out that they usually do.

[5] You know what’s nice? I have time to draw. When was the last time I did that? High school? Almost… Actually, when I was in Virginia, I tried to take a drawing class, but the lady who taught it was… not very good. I mean, I guess her ability was fine, but she was a bit crazy. The very first class, I arrived early (I’m from the Midwest; we do that sort of thing), so I had time to talk to her and look at her artwork. Because she was the inquisitive sort, she ended up finding out about my past jobs, my past attempts at grad school, and my general meandering through life. Later on, when we got to the actual drawing portion of the evening, she told me that she could tell by my lines that I was a person who would “wander down many paths”. Really? I’m pretty sure she could figure that one out by the fact that I’d told her I’d moved about ten times in ten years, and switched my major a billion times, and my career almost as many… and I was only 28. But whatever, yeah. It was the lines. Oh. And her art? You remember that scene in Ghost World, with the art teacher, and the tampon art? It was sort of like that. I shouldn’t slag art teachers, because I’ve had great ones, and one probably saved my life. Still, they do tend to be a fruity lot.

[6] They do! I’m not lying! They attack me in the hallway, chanting “Kashereen teacher! Kashereen teacher!” and demand that I hug them or give them high-fives. I am so not a high-five person. Even the kids who are bad for the other teachers respond well to me. I think this is because at least 75% of my communication is achieved through pantomime and goofy faces. And really, who doesn’t love Charlie Chaplin?