Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Itaewon, Seoul Tower, Noraebang

On Saturday, the old training gang and I went to Itaewon, the foreigner neighborhood, to check out the international scene, grab a kebab and maybe even get some pie. There are a handful of kebaberies (probably not correct, but I thought I'd used it anyway) in Itaewon but fortunately Jon had found a list of the top 5 with explanations, so as soon as we arrived and met up with our friends, we headed to #1 on the list: Petra. The kebab, or chicken shwarma as it's also known, was delicious. Lunch also gave us a chance to catch up with our friends and find out how things are going at the other branches.

After lunch, we headed to the international grocery store, where I found such delights as nacho cheese, peanut butter, and nutella. I didn't buy anything since we were going to be walking around for a while and I didn't feel like carrying stuff with me, but the next time I'm there I'll to have to pick up some nutella for crepe-making purposes.

Next we went to an English bookstore. It had a pretty good selection but nothing tickled my fancy and I brought a few books with me in which I have yet to make a dent, so I once again made a mental note to come back at a later date.

We ended up also going up to Seoul (or Namsan) Tower which is located on the top of a hill not too far from Itaewon. It was a chilly and clear night so we had a lovely view but it was painful to be out there for too long.

We took these cable cars to to get to the top of the hill/base of the tower.

By the time we got to the top, it was sunset.

There were these locks all around the fence. Apparently couples put them up so that their relationships...are locked down forever? We saw a few handcuffs too.

It was nice, but really cold so we didn't stay too long. Also, it turned out that we couldn't actually go to the top of the tower without paying for another ticket (we'd paid to get to the top of the hill) so we just took our pictures of it and left.

After we left Seoul Tower, we headed back to Myeongdong to get some dinner. Mmm...Korean BBQ.

Finally, we went to Noraebang, which is Korean karaoke. It has the same basic principle as normal karaoke except that they have these little rooms ("bang" means room) complete with TVs, disco balls, and tambourines, and you and your friends rent the room by the hour. So instead of singing in front of a whole bar full of people you don't know, you just have to make a fool of yourself in front of your friends. And you get to be the DJ. They have these binders with thousands of songs, some of which were fairly recent, and a remote control so that you can pick whatever song you want. We did more than a couple Lady Gaga renditions and of course the requisite Journey, too. (In fact, my friend Alisa has compiled a list of songs we sang that evening). After you've finished singing, the TV grades your performance. Not to brag or anything, but we got quite a few scores in the 90s, including one 99. Ahem. All in all it was a fun day.

We're currently in week 9 at school, which means the students are taking their achievement tests next week and the term is coming to an end soon. I guess at the end of every term, our branch has something called Hwaeshik which is like an office party. Everyone goes out for dinner, usually Korean BBQ, and then does noraebang or goes to a bar. Sound familiar? We'll see if this aging twenty year-old can handle two wild nights in one week.

P.S. Now, I know what you're thinking: what about the pie? Didn't you find any in Itaewon? Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to look for the bakery, Tartine, to pursue our pie desires. However, on Sunday Jon and I happened upon some pie in the most random of fashions. First of all, it is important to note that pie, with fruit filling and buttery pie crust, is not easy to find in Korea. They have other sweet baked goods, but nothing that would satisfy the insatiable pie craving that lives deep within us all. Or at least within me. OK, now it's time for a tangent which will eventually lead back to the pie...My bank is called Woori Bank and the closest branch to my apartment happens to be in a hospital across the street. We went in late Sunday night so that I could take out some cash from the ATM. As I was withdrawing funds, Jon disappeared around the corner where a small bakery/cafe resides in the hospital. He returned with a large, pie-shaped box and a big smile. They had apple pie. Seriously, of all the places to find pie, a hospital? Anywho, we stopped by a convenience store to pick up some vanilla ice cream, then high-tailed it back to the apartment where I heated up the pie (in a frying pan because I don't have a microwave) and Jon dolloped some vanilla ice cream on top. It wasn't apple pie in the most traditional sense since it seemed to have some sort of an apple/sweet potato filling thing inside, but it didn't really matter.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Suwon, etc.

Man, I've been busy (working) and (too) lazy (to write) lately. Teaching is going well. I now have my own classes and my students have gotten used to me so things are going more smoothly. I even have my own classroom, which I will take pictures of at some point.

So the snow continued to fall over the last couple of weeks, but finally abated and began to melt yesterday. I also noticed a peculiarity at the park as I was walking through it: there is outdoor public exercise equipment. Why anyone would want to lift weights in the snow is beyond me.

I've tried out a few local food places, my favorite of which is called Pizza School. They have $5 pizzas with some very cool toppings. Jon and I got the barbecue rib pizza, a typically Korean invention that merges the two best things about their culture: food and efficiency. As you can see, they just bake the ribs right onto the pizza so that you can eat both at once.
Next we want to try this amazing "German" one which appears to have tiny cheese rolls for crust.

In un-food-related news, a large group of us from training met up in Suwon (about half an hour south of Anyang City) where Quinn, Alisa and Alex are living. We visited the Hwaesong fortress. I forgot my camera. Fortunately, six of the eight of us did bring cameras and there are plenty of pictures to steal from Facebook. Here's one I particularly enjoyed, compliments of La Toya, I believe.

Up next, we head back to Itaewon to visit the international grocery, Mexican restaurant, perhaps a place that serves pie, and maybe even a pub or two. Oh, and I may be trying out for a bowling team. Results to come.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Snow Day and my Second Week

We had some serious snowfall, about 11 inches, which was apparently the most snow in South Korea since they started recording snowfall in the 1930s. It also meant that we got the day off! Yay! BUT...we have to make up those classes on Sunday. Boo! But then my Wednesday afternoon class was canceled because the two students that were in that class switched to different classes! Yay! The best thing? I still get paid for that class because I'm guaranteed a certain number of hours per week.

My second week didn't go quite as well as I was hoping. I figured it would get easier with experience, but each class is different and I didn't teach any of the same classes I taught last week. I taught test-prep and Bridge last week, and this week I taught MG, Birdie, and a ton of Albatross classes. The only thing I haven't taught as yet is the level I was trained in, Eagle.

I actually had one really bad class this week. It was an Albatross class with four guys and a new girl. They didn't do their work or answer my questions and about halfway through the class they just ignored me altogether. I didn't blame the girl as much since she was new and didn't know the protocol, but the five of them made a 3-hour class feel like a 10-hour torture session.

In brighter news, my co-teachers are very friendly and nice. Most of them live in my building or in buildings nearby. I also found out that two of the other trainees from my group, La Toya and Chris, will also be at my branch. So of the five of us that were at the love hotel, three of us will be together.

Oh, and I'm officially here legally! My alien registration card finally came through. This means I can get a cell phone and be connected with the world again!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Teaching and Moving-in

I've officially started teaching. It's hard for me to make any kind of general statements about what it's like because there are ups and downs, different classes can have such different atmospheres, and I can feel anger and frustration one minute and pride the next. For the most part, the younger kids are awesome and the high schoolers make me want to kick someone in the shins.

One thing that made last week (and will probably make next week) so difficult is that I am subbing. I'll get my own classes after next week, which will be nice because I'll finally be able to start remembering names and building rapport with my students. Until then, I'm perpetually left to answer, "Where's Teacher [Insert name here]?" Last week I taught Bridge, a lower-level class for ten to twelve year-olds, and IBT, a TOEFL test-prep class for high school kids. I loved teaching Bridge; our lesson was on apiculture, or beekeeping, and at the end of the class the kids had to create a talk show discussing the positives and negatives of beekeeing. IBT was not so fun, but I got my revenge on Friday when the kids had an hour and a half long test, for which I had no sympathy.

Next week I teach Memory English, which is a very low-level class for very young kids, and Albatross which is one of the highest level classes for students with near-native fluency. It should be an interesting transition going from "What is summer camp?" to "Let's discuss logical fallacies."

In other news, I moved into my apartment on Thursday. It's a pretty good sized officetel (a newer studio apartment) featuring built-in cupboards, a washing machine, a cool-looking full-sized fridge/freezer, a video intercom thingie so that I can see who's knocking on my door, and an OK view of a courtyard currently covered (rather majestically) in snow. When I moved in I didn't have any furniture so I slept on the floor, but two good things happened: (1) I got an email from someone at my school saying they had a bed, a table and chairs for me (for free!) across the street. And (2) I have a good (and strong) friend who pretty much single-handedly moved in the queen-sized bed, mattress, table and chairs, and then proceeded to put it all together for me too. I made him brunch in return. I have since purchased some sheets, a comforter, and a few other things for the apartment but since I haven't been paid yet I think I'll hold off on any big purchases.

I haven't had too much time to explore this new city I'm in, but it's pretty relaxed compared to Seoul. There's a park a few blocks away, plenty of restaurants and bars, and even a few brothels (how do I know, you ask? Well, according to a semi-reliable source, a brothel is identified by two barbershop poles. I've seen a few places featuring these poles and they certainly look like brothels. I know, at the very least, that they are NOT barbershops.)

So that's it for now. I work "full" days Monday through Wednesday and then half days Thursday and Friday so maybe I'll head up to Seoul later in the week. It's still insanely cold here and it snowed again two days ago but I guess I'm getting used to it. I asked my students when it would warm up and they said it usually gets colder in January. Hm.