New Year's Eve was an adventure. I made plans with Christine and a friend of hers that we would go to Jeong Dong Jin to watch them turn over the Millennium Hourglass at midnight, and we would stay and watch the sunrise in the morning.
I went and bought the train tickets early, and Christine and her friend were supposed to come over at 10:00pm. They showed up a little early, and I really wasn't quite ready -- the apartment was much messier than I really wanted them to see. I'd been tossing toys for Nabi, so they were scattered all over, and I was just about to clean up the toys and sweep when they showed up. So the place was a mess, but I made tea (peach and passion fruit flavor, which my sister Liz had sent me for Christmas).
They liked the tea, but were much less keen on Nabi. He's currently about medium cat sized, but they thought he was this enormous monster. Fortunately he was almost as afraid of them as they were of him, because they liked him best under the bed. Every time he got brave and came out to say "Hi," they'd scream and jump away. And as soon as they'd scream, he'd run away under the bed again. He was really being very good, and calm. I hate to imagine what they would have thought if he had been doing one of his wild cat routines. They wouldn't even try patting him when I held his face and paws for them. Needless to say, we didn't stay at the apartment too long, but headed for the train station a little early. We didn't have seats -- our tickets were for standing room only. But it's just a 16 minute train ride, so it wasn't bad.
We got there about 10:35, and wandered off to find the hourglass. I got a couple of pictures then, and since we had about an hour to kill, we wandered off in search of a cafe. We found a couple, but they were both full. So we wandered back to the hourglass to get ourselves established in a good viewing spot. Good thing, too. We were front and almost center, and quite a crowd filled in behind us.
There were a lot of people at Jeong Dong Jin, many of them on the beach, and a lot of them setting off fireworks. There was a stage set up behind the hourglass with a rock concert going on. It was some Korean singer, of course, not any name I would know.
About 20 minutes before midnight, the music stopped. At a quarter to 12 people started to count backwards from 5, and then the hourglass started to slowly rotate. It took it a full 15 minutes to turn over, and then there were lots of fireworks and cheering. Our fingers and toes were frozen, but we were glad to have seen it. Out first order of business in the new year was to find a cafe and warm up, and we managed to find one before the rest of the crowd.
The next stage of the plan was kind of up for grabs. Initially I had planned to see the sunrise at Jeong Dong Jin, but Christine said it would be very cold (and she was right), so she suggested we go to Jumunjin instead. Jumunjin is a tiny little town, what we in the states might call a suburb of Kangnung. Christine's friend Elizabeth works at a cafe there, and we could hang out there all night, and then watch the sun rise.
It sounded like a good plan, and we just needed to figure out how to get there. Getting to Kangnung wouldn't be a problem, but there wouldn't be any busses from Kangnung to Jumunjin until 6:30am. While we were drinking our tea and coffee and considering this, Christine's friend got a phone call. Next thing I knew I was told that a friend of hers was going to drive out and pick us up. There must have been a lot of traffic between Kangnung and Jeong Dong Jin, because it took him forever to get there. He had come with a friend of his so there were now 5 of us. And then it took forever to get to Jumunjin, too. It's much faster by train. Jumunjin is maybe 15 minutes by car from Kangnung, on the far side from Jeong Dong Jin. It took over an hour to drive there. The cafe we were looking for was right across the street from the beach, and the road was all parked up, both ways.
It was a very nice cafe. It looked sort of like a log cabin, but not quite, and had a small wood stove on the first floor. Lots of glass facing the ocean. The downstairs seating had swings. The upstairs seating, where we sat, was more conventional, but all the tables were made of slabs from the same tree. The table was huge, and had a large hole just off to one side. It seemed a little dangerous for the dishes to me, but we managed not to have any accidents.
I think the owner of the cafe is a potter. All the dishes were rough pottery, and there was pottery art on the walls. And apparently the prices on the menu for tea include a cup and spoon to take home. If you don't want the cup and spoon it's cheaper. A cute idea, and a good way to get your pottery sold. And the prices weren't much higher than a lot of the cafes I've been to, and were the same as some.
We ordered our tea, Christine's friend pulled out a loaf of bread (with whipped cream instead of butter -- the usual way bread is served) and I pulled out strawberries and cookies and we ate and drank.
The conversation was a little odd. The 2 boys talked together. Christine and I talked together. Christine and her friend talked together. Christine's friend talked to the one boy she knew. But apparently, according to Christine, because she didn't know the boys, she couldn't talk to them. And because her friend didn't know one of the boys, she couldn't talk to him. Makes me wonder how long after an introduction you have to wait before you can converse with someone.
After a while the boys went out to the car to have a cigarette, and eventually Christine's friend joined them. Christine and I talked some, and eventually took naps, and then woke up and kept an eye out for the first glimmerings of sunrise. According to Elizabeth the sunrise was due at 7:20, and we saw the sky lightening a little bit about 7:00. So we headed on outside and east down the beach.
It was even colder than it had been at midnight, and there were areas where the sea spray had washed up and turned to slush. It was sloppy and slick at the same time. We (and about 50 to 100 other people) headed up to the end of a big concrete pier and waited and waited. It took forever for the sun to come up. The problem was that there was a very thick bank of clouds on the horizon, so we had to wait for the sun to get above those. There was an old man standing near us who kept yelling for the sun to hurry up. Our fingers and toes froze again, even worse than before. The old man pretended that the lights from a squid boat were the sun. He didn't fool anyone, though.
Finally, after 8:00 the sun started to peek through the clouds, as bright and red as you could ask for. I took lots of pictures, all of which have heads in them. The people around me made their wishes, and the old man bowed 3 times to the sun. Then we made our way back through the slush.
Christine walked me to the bus stop, which was quite a long walk. It probably would have felt like a short walk if it was summer, but because I was cold and sleepy, it took forever. She waited with me, too, which was really nice of her. She was going to ride into Kangnung with me too, to make sure I got off the bus at the right stop, but I assured her that I could manage that. I don't think she entirely believed me, because she made me promise to call when I got home. Of course I had no trouble at all, but I called her anyway to let her know I'd made it ok. Then I fed Nabi and went to bed and slept all day.
For New Year's, I took Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Kim, Mrs. Kim's son John, and Mrs. Lee's daughter Janet out to dinner for grilled pork. Mrs. Lee explained to Mrs. Kim about it being good luck to eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year's. Mrs. Kim thought it was pretty funny. But it's no funnier than praying on the rising sun, just a different tradition.
We didn't have sauerkraut of course, but I figured kimchi would do. After all, preserved cabbage is preserved cabbage.
We tried a new place that none of us had been to before. It was pretty good, but Mrs. Kim and Mrs. Lee both commented that it was terribly expensive. It was 24,000 won for the 5 of us. If that's terribly expensive, I'm going to have serious sticker shock the first restaurant I go to after I go home. What we paid is the equivalent of about US$20, and it's easy to spend that for just two people in the States.
Starting on the 4th I have a new teaching gig. I hope it goes OK. It's a 3 year old kid, and I'll be teaching in her home. I talked to her aunt on the phone, who speaks English as if she'd been raised in the US, and she and the kid's mom are worried because she's had Korean teachers, and is speaking her English with a Korean accent.
What concerns me is that I don't really know what to expect here, or what the kid'll be like, but I'm supposed to have a month's worth of lesson plans worked out for them when I go in on the first day. Oh well, I guess I'll just hope for the best.
Today I got half a tank of oil for the boiler which heats both my hot water and the ondol floor. It was 60,000 won (about US$50). I'm celebrating by turning on the water heater to wash the dishes tonight.
It was cold today, but sunny, and I don't think the heat came on all day. The floor is still cold. I've got the thermostat set for 18. I don't think that's too extravagant.
I was trying to explain "important" to the AET6 class today. I said Kim Dae Jung, Korea's president, is important. They said no, he's not, because he's not a good man. I don't agree with them that he's not a good man, but I let it slide, and merely pointed out that important has nothing to do with good or bad, but that he was important because he was in charge of the country.
Then I tried Bill Gates, who is important because of Windows. Then I tried Buddha. The Buddhist in the class agreed that he was important, but the Christians didn't. So I had to explain that even if they don't believe in him, he was important because he started a religion which is very big. Then I moved on to Mohammed, who is important for the same reason. I think they eventually got the idea.
I had a long day yesterday. Mrs. Kim has been bringing lunch for the teachers at the hagwon lately, and she mentioned specifically to me that she had brought lunch for me. I took this as a very kind hint that I shouldn't be going home during that break. And actually the food is much better and more varied than what I've been eating at home.
Then Mrs. Lee wanted to know if I would go over a friend's dissertation paper with her, to check the grammar. That came by fax at about 3:30, just after the last children's class. Mrs. Lee said she had to run out for a little bit, so I went ahead and got started on it. It only took about a half an hour, but then I waited around for Mrs. Lee to come back, which she didn't before the 5:00 class started, so there was another break I didn't go home on. Mrs. Lee was there at 6, so we went over the paper, and then I started a new "class" at 7.
It's not really a class, it's a private lesson with a little girl, Helen, who's about 3 or 4 in American years. I teach in her home, which is 'way far away on the other side of town. Mrs. Kim has to drive me there and then pick me up afterwards.
Helen is a cute kid, and I think the lesson went OK, but she's young enough that she's not going to be able to pronounce things right anyhow, so I'm not sure how much good one month of lessons from me is going to do her. I think Mrs. Kim is getting paid well for it though, because she seemed really pleased about it, and thanked me, and bought me a gift of strawberries, which is very extravagant. Then she asked if I'd like to come over for dinner, and we had a very good dinner, and John got to show me the new computer.
It's a very elaborate setup with a big computer and fancy computer desk. There's a little roll-out tray for the keyboard, and a hole in the desk for the monitor to sit down in, so the stand doesn't show, and a shelf above for the printer. They've got it set up in what was my room while I was living there my first three months, which makes me think that maybe the teacher who replaces me in February will get moved straight into my current apartment when he or she comes.
So, anyway, I didn't get home until about 10:30.
Mrs. Kim and I talked about my problem with getting the heat to turn on, and she said that the heat won't come on if the thermostat is set for say, 19 (degrees Celsius), and the temperature in the room is say, 15. She said you have to set it for 25 or so. Then you leave it on until the floor warms up, and then turn it off. She said to try it when I got home, and if it didn't work to call her, and she'd have the landlady come take a look at it.
So I tried it when I got home, and nothing happened. I fiddled for a while, because I really don't want the landlady coming in here, and still nothing happened. So I called Mrs. Kim, and while I was talking to her I fiddled some more, and tried pushing one of the other buttons (they're all labeled in Hangul), and lo and behold the heater came on.
I found that ondol heating works very slowly. I was mostly just out to take the chill off the air, but there wasn't any noticeable effect by the time I went to bed, and even though the thermostat was set for 35 (95 F!), by morning it had only gone up to 19 (66 degrees F). But 19 is really where I wanted it, and going on the likelihood that it would hold its heat until I left for work, I turned it off when I got up.
One other thing that I did yesterday was to experimentally mail a package 3rd class, to see how much it would cost. It wasn't a particularly heavy package, maybe 2 or 3 pounds, and I kept checking with the girl at the post office to make sure she understood 3rd class. I even showed it to her in the dictionary, and she assured me that 3rd class is what I got. It was 42,000 won (US$34)!
If that's 3rd class mailing prices, I'm much better off buying more luggage. It's a bummer to have to, but there's no way I can afford to send my stuff home that way. Mrs. Lee was shocked when I told her the price; she was expecting it to be about 8,000 won, and I was expecting 10,000 to 20,000. Actually, I kind of suspect it ended up being first class after all. We'll find out soon -- if it doesn't arrive back home in the States in a week or so, it really was third class. If it does get there quickly, third class here must be what we call first class at home.
Wow, it's snowing here! Sending all those pictures of snow from Ohio must have worked some magic.There's probably close to half an inch. I'll have to go outside and take some pictures before it goes away.
I've been considering the things I miss from home. Not counting the obvious, like people and animals, here's what I miss:
I'm sure the list would be a lot bigger if everyone at home hadn't been so good about keeping me updated on things, and sending me care packages. And I expect after I come home, the list of things in Korea that I miss will be at least as big, if not bigger.
It snowed more today, and is snowing tonight. They must have snowplows. I haven't seen any, but the main roads are clear. The side roads are being left to their own devices, and are pretty slushy.
It was nearly ideal winter weather today -- about 32(F), lots of snow, and no wind. Good thing, too. I had my second lesson with Helen, and Mrs. Kim had a date with some friends tonight, so she drove me there and said I could catch the bus home. But she said that if no bus came after 20 or 30 minutes, I should take a taxi and she'd pay me back tomorrow.
The only problem was, we didn't know where the bus stop was. I managed to find two, and stood at the one I thought was more likely. Well, it wasn't likely at all, and I stood there for a half hour without one bus going by. So I gave up and took a taxi home after all. It wasn't too horribly expensive, just 2,300 won (less than US$2). And it wasn't bad waiting, but if there'd been a cold wind blowing I'd have been miserable.
My lesson with Helen went OK, but we had the lesson in the living room, and there were lots of toys lying around. In some ways this was good, as they made good props ("Show me something else blue."), but she got very easily distracted. She did pretty well, though. I'm encouraged by the fact that she jumped up and down and clapped her hands when she saw me. So at least she's enjoying the lessons.
I'm eating a nice supper now. Rice and kimchi, and cream of potato soup (or cream of potatoe to Dan Quayle). And Nabi, being a normal, well-behaved cat, is letting me eat it all, and isn't even trying to stick his nose into it.
Nabi says "2qw3333." Think he'll ever learn to spell?
Mrs. Lee and I took Nabi to the vet's for his rabies shot tonight. I took him in his cage, and he cried almost the whole way. We didn't find the vet we were looking for, but we found another and walked in. You don't need appointments for Korean vets. He came out of the back room where he was watching TV, and Mrs. Lee explained what we needed.
He was really nice, and pulled out the drug sheet (like they give you with your medicine at the drug store in the States) for her to look at, and let me keep a copy of it, gave Nabi his shot, and filled out the paperwork for quarantine (or lack thereof). Nabi was very good, but whether it was really good behavior, or just being petrified, I don't know. He was certainly very tense.
The vet also mentioned, and this was interesting, that the Korean government sponsors a day each year where anybody can get rabies shots for their pets for free. So he felt very bad that he had to charge me for it. I didn't feel bad paying for it, though. It was only 5,000 won (US$4), and he didn't even have change for a 10,000 won note, so Mrs. Lee ended up paying him (I paid her back later).
After dropping Nabi off back home, we went downtown to the luggage shop, but they were closed. So we window shopped ("eye shopping" in Korea) a while, and then I took Mrs. Lee out to dinner. I figured it was the least I could do after she helped me with Nabi.
We tried a new place that a friend of hers had recommended, and it was very good. I'm not sure what the main dish was called, but it was a sort of stew, with tofu, mushrooms, vegetables, shrimp and our choice of octopus or cow intestine. Mrs. Lee let me choose, and I chose the octopus. Mrs. Lee got to eat all the mushrooms, of course, since I'm not keen on them, and she enjoyed the opportunity. Usually she has to share.
The side dishes were very good too. Along with the kimchi there was seaweed, shellfish, quail eggs, and bean sprouts. And they gave us a bottle of Coke for "service." The stew was cooked at our table, and we sat and talked and ate for quite a while.
Then, since we were near a small road that had some jewelry stores whose windows I enjoy very much, we went window shopping along there. Turns out that road is known as "jewelry store road." We stopped in at the inlaid wood store, where I've gotten some gifts. Mrs. Lee hadn't known about it. We looked around and visited with the owner for a few minutes.
Then we looked in the windows of the "jewel" jewelry stores. It was more fun with Mrs. Lee along, because she's not afraid to go in and ask the prices. I'm always afraid the people will be really nice and helpful, and then I'll feel guilty if I don't buy something. That's not so bad if it's vegetables, or baskets, or pojagi, but it's not a situation I want in a place where things cost several hundred dollars.
I guess I must have expensive tastes, too. The cheapest piece of the ones I liked was 350,000 won (US$285), and there are two necklaces I've been admiring for some time that were priced at about 4,800,000 won (US$3,900). They're wonderful necklaces, but even if I had several thousand dollars to blow on them, they're the sort of necklaces that need to be worn with a low cut ballgown, and I'd need a ball or something to wear them to.
While we were in that one jewelry store, though, Mrs. Lee talked to the owner for a pretty long time. They have lots of jewelry "sets," which consist of matching choker, pendant, earrings and ring. They seemed to run over 1,000,000 won (US$800) per set, and Mrs. Lee said that when a couple gets married, the groom is supposed to buy five different sets for his bride. No wonder Koreans wait so long to get married.
I had my third lesson with my youngest student, Helen, tonight. I guess she didn't like her second lesson much. Her Mom said she's scared of me now, and doesn't like English.
What she really seems not to like is her letters. We didn't mess with those today, and I had brought in puppets to use for the lesson. She liked that a lot, but then got a little carried away with them. So her Mom wants me to teach her some discipline, too, and I'm supposed to do it any way I can. But I'm not going to spank some 4 year old kid who's already afraid of me and doesn't like English.
It does leave me feeling like I'm blowing it completely. Well, I do the best I can.
John and Janet came over during lunch break to play with Nabi. I think they liked it much better than Nabi did. John's too loud and moves too much, so he didn't want to come out from under the bed. He's pretty good when it's just Janet. He's met her a few times, and seems to remember her.
And, continuing my backwards journey through my day, this morning they had men clearing the ice off the sidewalks. There were 50 or 60 of them, using what looked like coal shovels and hoes. I thought they were city workers, but Mrs. Lee said they were assistant policemen, people who were fulfilling their military service by working for the police department.
There's still a lot of ice on the side of the road, which makes parking interesting. Mrs. Lee's car was stuck on the ice, and she asked some of the men if they would help her get it moved. In the end it took about 20 of them, and they practically lifted the car to get it out of there.
We've had a fierce wind blowing all night, and it's still going on this morning. Probably blowing in colder weather. An article in the Korea Herald said that the snow we had was the worst in 20 years -- Mt. Taebek in Kangwondo got a meter of snow. Maybe it was the worst in 20 years for Korea in general, but not necessarily for this area; I've heard a story about snow up to the roofs of the houses.
I had another strange dream last night. This time I dreamed I had a job at a fast-food joint at home in the States on the weekends. I had to fly home each weekend to work. And I realized that I was paying about $1000 each weekend to go home and earn about $200, and was thinking maybe I should ask if maybe I could have weekends off until I finish up here in Korea. But I also realized that going back and forth meant that I could take home full suitcases and bring back empty suitcases and I wouldn't have to worry about luggage. I woke up before I decided what I should do.
I guess that dream did focus on my two biggest worries right now -- what I'm going to do for a job when I get home, and packing. And if those are the biggest worries I've got, I'm pretty lucky.
I went to Seoul yesterday. The traveling went very smoothly, more so than usual. As I was walking to the bus terminal, a bus pulled up and stopped at the bus stop I just happened to be near, so I sprang for 700 won and took the bus to the terminal. Bought my ticket, and the bus was right there waiting for me, and left in just 10 minutes. The drive didn't take too long, the subway came quickly, and I guessed right the first time which one to take.
My main purpose in going to Seoul was to get a book I had seen in Kyobo Bookstore last summer. But since I was going there anyway, and since there was a textile and apparel exhibition going on, I decided to check that out first.
It was in the COEX building, which is a big conference center. A rather confusing conference center too, if you ask me. But I finally found the thing. A nice lady helped me register and made me a name tag to go in. Then I had to hold the name tag up to a fancy machine which beeped at me. But they let me in, and I got to look at the whole thing.
It was billed as being a world textile fair, but it was mostly Korean companies. There was a display by Dupont, a display for American cotton, a booth with Indian cotton, and a booth with Chinese silk. All the rest (on 2 floors) was Korean. It was mostly for industry, of course, but I enjoyed looking at all the fabrics, and did see two really neat things.
One was a very nice lady who does natural dyeing. Mostly dyeing piece goods, and (silkscreening?) traditional Korean designs onto cloth. We talked for a while, and she gave me a handkerchief she had done, and I bought a set of underwear she had dyed in mugwort. Wearing it is supposed to be good for my bronchial tubes or something. She's very proud of Korean culture, and wants to make it known all over the world, "like Coca-Cola." Actually, I was thinking it would be neat to get her to a Midwest Weavers' Conference or a Convergence (another textile arts conference) sometime. She grows her own indigo (a plant which makes a blue vegetable dye) and everything.
The other really neat thing was a display of fiber called Chitosan, made out of crab shells. The roving (fiber prepared for spinning into yarn) looked similar to a coarse bleached tow linen, and felt about as rough. I asked how the got it from shell to fiber, but they said it's a secret.
They were really very nice, and spent a lot of time talking to me even though I told them I didn't have a business, and gave me all their literature and all. They mix the Chitosan 3% with 97% cotton, and it makes a very nice fabric which apparently (according to a bunch of studies in Korean) kills bacteria with a 98% efficacy. Now I've heard of some other fabrics that do that, mostly used to keep down body odor, but it's done by impregnating the cloth with nasty cancer causing chemicals. So this is a big improvement over that, and they see it as having a big market in the medical and baby wear fields.
I asked if it would be possible to buy some of the roving so I could try spinning it, but they would only sell it already made into yarn. They wouldn't even tell me how much the roving might cost. "That's a secret," they said. But I got a tiny sample I can show to people and they can touch, along with a sample of the cloth.
There's a big mall attached to the Coex center, and since I had some spare time after I finished at the exhibition and before I needed to meet Mrs. Lee at Kyobo, I figured I might check it out.
It took me a long time to find it -- as I said, it's a confusing building. It was very crowded, too, because they were having a "Character Festival" with animation characters. Actually it was actors dressed up as animation characters, and of course there were lines of parents with their children just out the wazoo.
What I managed to see when I finally found the mall wasn't really all that exciting. There are supposed to be some really interesting things there, but I think I'd have to plan a whole day just for that to find them. There were a lot of American food franchises -- TGIF, Popeye's Chicken, KFC, Pizza Hut, Szbarro's; I don't remember what else. A few more.
Then I caught the subway to Kyobo. I got there before Mrs. Lee and looked around some. I found some nice calendars, one for me and two for presents. The one for me is of the lunar year, and tells the different lunar festivals going on in Korea this year, so I can keep track of what I'm missing. The first one listed, which I probably won't attend, is a phallus carving festival (want your phallus carved?). Actually I bought it 1. because it's neat, and 2. so we always have a reason to have a Korean-themed party.
After Mrs. Lee and the kids arrived we had some supper, and Janet and Jean (Julie's still in Kangnung) went to the kids' section to play with the computers, and Mrs. Lee and I went off to look at books. I found a lot of good ones, some for presents and some for me, but couldn't find the one I was looking for. It had patterns to make hanbok, and I almost bought it the last time I was there, but didn't have 50,000 won to spare at that time. So here I was, ready to buy it, and it was gone. Mrs. Lee asked the sales clerk about it, and she tried to look it up, but since I couldn't give her the title or author she couldn't do much.
Then we went to the music section, so I could get some traditional Korean music. We got several things,which I hope are OK. I got them on Mrs. Lee's recommendation, but didn't get to listen to them or anything. One thing I got that I'm really looking forward to listening to, is a CD collection of the different temple bells in Korea, divided into Dynasties.
We kind of shut the place down, and had to run to get the kids. I felt like we were in an adventure movie as we squeezed under the half-closed security doors. You know the feeling, you roll under it just as it closes with a thud. Actually it wasn't so bad, they did stop them for us to escape, but I still had to get down on my knees to fit under.
Then the subway to the bus station to the bus ride home, the timing was perfect the whole way, even up to the taxi sitting by the bus when I got off. It was cold, and I had all those heavy books, so I sprang for a cab.
It's a sunny day today. I haven't been out yet, but I suspect it's still very cold. It's chilly in the back sun room, and a lot of times that's warmer than the rest of the apartment.
I need to get moving, since I need to go to Kyongpo for sand for Nabi's litterbox, and to the pet store for cat food, but I feel a little tired and a lot lazy. It's the sort of feeling that just begs for me to crawl into a hot herb-scented bath with a good book.
I also need to clean house. Nabi is expressing his teenagerhood by throwing wild parties and trashing the place. I never see his friends, but I can sweep up and leave the house for 2 hours, and when I get home, you'd never know I did anything. The only thing that stays done is the dishes.
And that's the news from lake Kyongpo. Talk to you later.
It was a cold day yesterday, The Korea Herald said it was the coldest in 10 years, with record cold temperatures in Chorwon, down to -26C (-15F).
But it was worse than just the weather, because the heat in the hagwon went out. The heater in room 2 wasn't working anyway, and then it started pouring water out all over the floor. Fortunately there wasn't a class in there at the time. I didn't have a class right then, so Mrs. Kim and I were bailing and bailing, and carrying the water to the bathroom to dump it down the drain.
After that none of the heaters was working, and even though I wore my coat and scarf through my last class (as did all of my students), we all froze. I told them if the heat wasn't working by today, we'd have class at the bar down the road. It should be OK today, though, because the repairman was there last night.
They've been engaged in more road clearing today. They're finally getting the ice out of the parking areas along the side of the road. They had a big backhoe, cracking the ice and scooping it into dump trucks, and lots of men were spreading sand on the thin layer of ice that was left on the road. I don't know if they mixed anything with the sand or not, but it's doing a very good job of melting that ice in the sunshine.
I'll have to brave the cold this evening to go get some cat food. I was lazy on Sunday and never did leave the house, and so I'm almost out. The temperature must be down in the single digits (Fahrenheit) at night. Even the weather seems to be geared towards preparing me for Ohio these days.
It was less cold tonight, and I was out of cat food completely, so after work I went out to the pet store. And since Nabi had been home alone all day, I put his collar and leash on him and took him along. He was Not Pleased. But he did better than usual, and only cried part of the time, instead of the whole time like usual. It was really pretty nice.
We got to see the pet store lady, of course, who talked nicely to him and petted him, and also the lady who sold him to me, who was pleased at how much he's grown. And just as we were getting home, we saw the neighbor kids and their parents heading out, and visited with them for a little.
Most of the passers-by who saw Nabi smiled. One lady looked very scared, so I made a point of not getting too close to her. One guy was very weird, although I have no idea if it had anything to do with Nabi or not. He saw me when Nabi mewed, and came up and tried to put his arms around me, and made kissing noises at me, and asked "OK? OK?" I think he was drunk. I pushed him away, surprisingly easily, and walked away, and he made no attempt to follow me.
It was strange, but not really frightening since he backed off so easily. Mrs. Lee told me once that a lot of Korean men think American women are all promiscuous, so that may have been why he behaved like that. And then when I didn't respond the way he expected, he must have realized he was wrong. Anyway, no harm done, and another story to tell.
Nabi was very glad to get home, and went straight under the bed, but he came out soon enough when I filled up his food dish. He's forgiven me now, and we played fetch for a while. It's one of his favorite games, ranking right up there with Gnaw on Mommy.
Apparently Mrs. Lee has found a teacher to replace me. She's teaching in Japan right now, and wants to go back to America for a while before she starts here. So she would be starting at the beginning of the summer, and Mrs. Kim asked if I could stay until then. I told her that the people back home in the States were expecting me back, but she said "Please," so I told her I would talk it over with them. Though I don't think any of them are likely to be too keen on it.
On other subjects, it was nice and warm today. Even to the point of raining a little tonight. Nabi is asleep in my lap with his head on my wrist, making it difficult to type, and even more difficult to eat my dinner. So I'll give up on the one and concentrate more on the other.
Today was the "annual day of education for hagwon teachers." Apparently this is a requirement for all teachers in all hagwons in Kangwondo. I don't know if it's required throughout the country or not. It's required by the Hagwon Owner's Association, under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, and with the Ministry of Education working in conjunction with the Ministries of Immigration and Justice, if you don't attend you can be fined and maybe lose your teaching license and (if a foreigner) maybe be deported.
And for all that, it struck me as a pretty useless thing.
This is the first time they've held it in Kangnung. Always before it was only in Wonju, and everybody had to go there. It was at a big building, the same place I saw Nanta actually.
We were all given booklets -- written in Korean of course. The whole meeting was going to be conducted in Korean, so they gathered the foreign teachers together to have a separate meeting in English. Plan A was that we would all go to a cafe and talk there, and the lot of us (about 7 of us foreigners, and 4 Koreans who were taking care of us) bundled into 2 cars and took off. The cafe was near Kyongpo, and was a neat looking building, but it turned out it wasn't open yet, so we had to fall back on plan B.
The other teachers seemed a little disgruntled by the whole thing, but I was pretty amused. They're all much younger than I am, and I think haven't quite learned to just go with the flow yet. And at least one of them was hung over, and not ready to be out of bed yet. Ah, youth. I'm glad I don't have to deal with it any more.
Anyway, one of the Koreans was director of a nearby institute, so we went there. The "education" was pretty funny. One Korean man said the main purpose of the thing was to collect money from the hagwon owners. All the owners have to pay 60,000 won for this thing. The "education" consists of the hagwon association talking about its plans for the year, and for the future. So we got to skip all that, and the director of the institute we went to (Hansol English Institute) asked if we had any questions, about anything at all, life in Korea, immigration rules, love affairs ...
Some of the kids (ok, teachers) asked a few questions, which sounded mostly like "how much could they get away with" things. And the director was pretty frank. You might get away with things, he said, and people do, but any time you're out of the hagwon there are many eyes watching you, and if someone decides to cause you trouble and turn you in, the authorities have to do something about it. And sometimes police want to prove their worth, and maybe get a promotion, and so will try to catch someone. And if you ever have a problem, or want to do something extra, talk to your director about it. That was about the whole thing.
All the Koreans at the official meeting had to stay till 1:00, but we were done by about 11:30. One of the teachers, a girl from New Zealand named Zelda I believe, asked if I'd like to come downtown for some lunch with them, so I went along. She and her roommate, Lisa, also from New Zealand, were very nice, and we talked about our homes and our animals.
Lisa decided she wanted a cat, so after lunch she and I went wandering in search of one. We didn't find one, but it was a great excuse to wander around for a while. She's only been in town for a couple months, so I got to show her some of my favorite things. We wandered the traditional market, saw the lacquer tables and the Buddhist shop, went to the hanbok store and looked in the windows of the jewelry stores. She really liked the inlaid wood store.
We went to Be and Be, the cafe, and I ordered a parfait, as much so she could see one as for any other reason. She got a real kick out of it. And she mentioned she wished she could read the hangul, so I gave her a short lesson on that.
We eventually wound up at the place where I got Nabi, and asked if there were cats available, but the woman said no, not until spring. I guess cats come in seasons, like any other crop.
It was a fun time, though, and we exchanged phone numbers. I'll probably give her a call this week. Neither one of us has much by way of plans for the Solal holiday, and she hasn't seen much around Kangnung yet, so we could do some sightseeing together.
The second half of my day was just as enjoyable as the first. I had dinner with Annie and a couple of her friends. One was a neighbor housewife of hers, Mrs. Kang. She was very nice and funny. You'd never guess she's a housewife; she acts very young and single.
We met Annie's friend Vinnie at the restaurant, and had a good meal of sangyopsol -- that's grilled pork belly. Pork belly sounds nasty, but it's basically bacon cuts that haven't been preserved into bacon. Except this restaurant cuts it much thicker. Usually it looks like bacon, but here it looked like chunks of pork.
After dinner we left Vinnie behind and went to the norae-bang (it means, literally, "singing room") down the street from the hagwon. Mrs. Kang sang Korean songs, and danced along. She's very good, even scored 100 on the machine one time. And you should see her lap dance a karaoke machine. It's a hoot.
Korean housewives have come a long way from the shy, demure, stay-at-home tradition. Annie had me guess Mrs. Kang's age, and I decided she had the body of an 18 year old (really!), and the face of a thirty year old. It turns out she's 41. That lap dancing must really keep you in shape.
I sang American pop songs, of course, and Annie sang some American and some Korean. She had me try one Korean song, and sang along with me. I didn't do too badly; I'd guess I hit about half of the words. Fortunately it was a nice slow song. I sang along with her on the English songs.
One of the songs I chose was Yesterday Once More by Karen Carpenter. One of the lines in the song, where she's talking about the songs she loved as a child, says "I wonder where they've gone." Well, I know where the old pop songs I've loved have gone. They've all gone to Korea. Listening to music here is serious nostalgia.
We stayed at the norae bang about an hour and a half, and it's a good thing it wasn't any longer because I couldn't sing another note -- probably because all the songs are in the wrong range for me and it really strains my voice. There's a way to change the pitch on the machine, but I don't know how, and by the time I figured out the right spot the song would probably be half over anyhow.
Speaking of karaoke machines reminds me of an article I read in the Korea Herald one day. It was describing a shipment of aid to North Korea, and among other things were several hundred goats, and 300 karaoke machines. They included the music, although I think they checked it for "subversive content." That's so odd, to send karaoke machines. Especially at a time when North Korea doesn't have enough electricity for basic services, let alone luxuries (except for the bigwigs), and is asking South Korea to send them electricity. Well, I never understand the logic of these things.
Well, this is getting old real fast. I've lost my wallet again. I had it with me in my coat pocket when I went to Kyongpo to get sand for Nabi's litterbox. I had a very nice time watching the waves, drinking my tea, and eating chocolate biscotti (yum!). Buried the old sand, gathered my new sand and headed off to catch the bus. As I neared the bus stop I put my hand in my pocket, and my wallet was gone. My change purse was still there, my seashells and keys were still in my other pocket, but my wallet was definitely not there.
The first thing I did was retrace my steps to where I had been, but I didn't find it. I even dug up the area where I'd buried the old sand, on the off chance that I'd accidentally buried it, but no luck.
The next step was to figure out how to get home. Two hours is a long time to walk with a ton of sand on your back. I found a taxi driver, and explained to him that I had no money here, but I had money at home, and he was fine about taking me. Took me right to my front door and waited while I came upstairs to get money to pay him. I tipped him 1000 won because he was so nice about it.
I checked the apartment, in case I'd just left it here, but of course I hadn't. And I walked back to the bus stop in case I'd dropped it there, but of course it wasn't there either. I figured if I'd dropped it there, someone would have picked it up by now.
So I guess the next step is to call Mrs. Kim and tell her, so we can go make a police report. What a pain, as much for her as for me. Not to mention my feeling stupid to be losing wallets so often. I'm just not going to bother carrying one any more; it's too much hassle. In 40 years I've never really lost a wallet, just temporarily misplaced them occasionally. And now it's getting to be a habit.
Just a sign that it's time to come home, I guess.
I just got back from watching the Solal sunrise at Kyongpo. I didn't manage to stay up all night. About 2:00 I decided I was sleepy and was darn well going to go to bed. I did clean house (a little) and myself and hung up my good luck rice scoop thing before the new year, so I should be OK. I'm sure it's easier to stay up all night if you're playing games with a bunch of other people than if you're home alone reading Harry Potter books.
Anyhow, I got up a little before 7, made some tea to take along, got dressed in my nice new hanbok and jacket, wrapped my Hopalong-the-sheep wool shawl around me for extra warmth, and headed out to the bus stop. It was about 20 minutes before the bus came, and I kept arguing with myself over whether I should just take a taxi or not, since the sky was getting lighter and lighter all the time. I cut it a little too close, you see, because I remembered how long I waited and how cold I got on January 1st.
But the bus came just about the time I'd decided to take a cab, so I took it after all. And I was just a little too late. I saw the beginning of the sunrise from the bus windows, over Kyongpo Lake. It was just up as I got onto the beach, and some people were leaving already. But I figured that just up was good enough, and spread my little mat and sat and looked at the sun and drank my tea. There weren't a lot of people on the beach. I guess Western New Year has mostly supplanted Lunar New Year in terms of watching the sun rise.
You're supposed to pray, or wish, on the rising sun, and I prayed or wished that I would know what to do about staying here the extra months until the new teacher can get here. And the answer did come to me. While I want to make everyone happy, that's impossible. And as much as I like Mrs. Kim, the people at home who love me are more important.
So I've decided. I'll come home in February. I'll have to tell Mrs. Kim tonight. It'll be a bummer, and I wish I could wuss out of doing it, but I think she'll understand.
I had dinner last night with Mrs. Kim. It was a nice, quiet evening. Along with me, John and Mrs. Kim, we also had Joy, a former teacher at Best, and her baby (10 month old) daughter.
Joy is Korean, married to a Korean-American, and speaks English as well as any American. She actually studied in England for a while, but I didn't notice any English accent or anything. I met her once before at the hagwon, shortly after her daughter was born. She seems very nice, and apparently was a good and energetic teacher. She seems a little less energetic now. I suppose chasing after a baby all day will do that to you, and this one seems to need a lot of chasing.
We had tokk-kuk (rice cake soup), which is traditional for Solal. John and I played some omuk, and I helped Joy crochet a slipper for her baby. And of course after dinner we had fruit, and later some squid to snack on. Joy was really impressed that I liked the squid. Mrs. Kim and I were both in hanbok, and we admired each other. She tried on my new jacket, and I have to admit that it fits her much better than it fits me. It's a size 77, but it is a little big on me.
I left a little before 11:00, and walked home. Joy offered to drive me, but I think it's out of her way, so I said I'd just take a cab. But I was in the mood for a walk, so that's what I did. I can't let Mrs. Kim know when I'm going to do that at night. She thinks it's dangerous.
She did ask if I'd decided whether to stay, and I said yes, and that it wasn't good news, that they really needed me home. She seemed to take it OK, and didn't argue or anything. So I don't feel too horribly guilty.
Christine invited me to her house for breakfast this morning. She lives out in Jumunjin, and actually came into Kangnung to ride the bus into Jumunjin with me, so I wouldn't have to worry about where to get off.
I met her mother, who is very small and pretty, and looks to be about my age, although she's probably a fair bit older. Her mother cooked an enormous meal. There was ttok-mandu kuk (soup with rice cakes and dumplings), rice, kalbi (a meat dish), chapchi (a noodle dish), several vegetable dishes, kimchi, and rice cakes. And before she brought out the food we had snacks, and afterwards we had fruit. It's 5:00 now, and I'm still full.
Christine lives in an apartment, and it was very typical of a lot that I've seen. The living room had a long, low cabinet with drawers in it, with a huge TV on top, a set of shelves, a couple of pictures, and of course a cuckoo clock. The cuckoo bird may have been broken, though -- I didn't hear it sing while I was there. Or maybe it flew south for the winter.
Christine's mother didn't eat with us, but sat and watched us eat, and kept telling me to eat lots. She doesn't speak any English, but I was able to say a few polite things in Korean, and Christine translated some for us. Her father apparently was embarrassed because he doesn't know English, and hid in his room.
Christine and I talked for quite a while. Her major in school is chemistry, but she really hates it and wants to study English. Unfortunately, you're not allowed to change majors. She'd like to come to the US and study after she graduates here, and her mom seems keen on the idea, but her dad doesn't want her to go away. She'd like to go into tourism or something, where she can take people around to English speaking countries, or really do anything where she can speak English.
Christina is in town today, and her mom decided she'd like me to come over. They live in an apartment too, although it's older than a lot of the ones I've seen. Actually, it's older than all the other ones I've seen, and is set up inside more like a traditional house, with a sliding door between the living room and the kitchen and old fashioned windows. It had a sofa, and the huge TV, a large fish tank with just a few tropical fish in it, and a big pendulum style clock on the wall instead of a cuckoo clock. There was also a big wooden box that I think was an antique rice box. It was probably 4 feet high, on short legs, and had a wonderful brass lock shaped like a fish.
It was pretty fun, because along with Christina and her husband, I also got to see Chris, meet a couple of his friends, one of Christina's sisters (very cute) and Chris's girlfriend. And of course Christina's mother and father. I could really only talk to Christina, Chris and one of Chris's friends, but of course it was mostly Christina I wanted to talk to, since I don't get to see her very often. Her whole family is nice. And I did figure there would be food involved, but it turned out to be another whole huge meal, featuring ttok-mandukuk. That's 3 meals in a row now, so I should have lots of good luck this year. And Christina's mom packed up some food for me to take home, too. She said it's a Korean custom.
Christina is starting to look really pregnant now, but she said that the morning sickness has finally stopped. She's eating well, too. She ate more than anyone else, including all those 20-something boys.
We talked about a lot of things. One of them was Chris. His mom wants him to go study in America for a while, and asked if I could help. I don't know what I can do, really, but I figured I could ask my friend Cal about it. He's worked with a lot of Korean students, and might know what's involved.
We also talked about the possibility of Christina coming to America for a visit after she has her baby. Again, her mom is real keen on the idea, and has offered to take care of the baby, and Christina's been wanting to go abroad for years. She was figuring September or October as being long enough to recover from childbirth. Of course there's the very strong possibility that she'll decide she doesn't want to leave her baby so soon, so we'll see.
She doesn't know yet if it's going to be a boy or a girl. She asked the doctor the last time she was in for a checkup, and he said by law he's not allowed to tell her until 28 weeks, apparently because so many women want to abort their pregnancies until they have a son. Christina's feeling a little bit of pressure from her in-laws to have a son, too (as if that could make a difference in the outcome), because their other son has 3 daughters and no sons.
Mrs. Kim and I were going to go to Donghae this morning to get me a new green card, but it started snowing a lot last night, so she called and canceled. She's worried about trying to get over the mountains without chains on her tires. I guess they don't much use snow tires here. I don't see why we couldn't take the train, but didn't argue with her. We'll have to go next week some time. She says I can't leave the country without it. I'm not sure why. I'll ask Mrs. Lee when she comes home.
It's still snowing today, a little bit, and there's lots of snow on the ground. The streets are full of slush and puddles, and you wade across them more than anything else. There was a bunch of kids on the sidewalk having a snowball fight when I went out to run my errands. I was a little worried about getting past them unscathed, but they were pretty careful how they threw them, and I didn't have any trouble.
I need to go downtown today too, and also do some major housecleaning. My adult class and Mrs. Kim are coming over tomorrow at 1:00 to give me a birthday party, and I want to make sure I have enough food to be properly hospitable. I have some fruit and snacks, and want to buy some rice cakes. And then I'll make crab cakes, french toast and scones. And I'll probably order some jajangmyen (noodles in black bean sauce). That's very popular with Koreans, and pretty cheap. And I got some juice and rice beverage, and can make tea and coffee. Poor Nabi will probably hide the entire time.
I had a lesson with Helen last night. She really wasn't in the mood to study, and kept complaining that she was hungry and sleepy. Seven in the evening is awfully late for a 3-year old. Finally her mom brought in a snack, and we just sat and talked. And then the time was up. I always feel like the lessons aren't doing much good, but Helen's mom said Helen's other English teacher, a Korean lady, says that Helen's pronunciation is much better than the other kids'. So I guess it's not a total waste of time.
On my way out, I ran into one of the foreign teachers I met at the Annual Day of Education. He lives in the same apartment complex as Helen, and was biking home. I forget his name, but I think he's from Wyoming or Montana -- one of the wild west places. We just talked for a couple of minutes, and then went on our ways.
I also had a visit with Randy today, probably the last time I'll see him. It was nice to see him again, and we had a good conversation. I had already eaten dinner, but he hadn't, so first we went to a restaurant. It turned out to be the first restaurant that Christina ever took me to, way back last February. Little Heaven, Randy said it was called. It felt like I had come full circle.
Randy got some dinner, and I had a cup of green tea, since I remembered that the black tea they serve is Lipton. Since we were the 60th customers, I was given some pretty pink roses.
After that we went to a cafe, where I had a rice beverage and Randy had a beer, and we talked some more. I mentioned that I was thinking of calling Seagull and trying to see him and his wife, and Randy suggested setting up a meeting with several members of the old class at the electric company. So he said he'd arrange things, and we'll see how many we can get together with next weekend. And then he walked me home.
It was a nice party. Christine, Jay, Goodspeed and Crystal came. Mrs. Kim called to wish me a happy birthday, but said she wouldn't come today. She said we'd be having a party with all the teachers tomorrow instead.
I guess I had enough food -- there's some left over. The french toast and crab cakes all got eaten, and Crystal really liked the Jello. She asked if I could teach her how to make it, but of course that's the one thing I couldn't help her with. I gave her the leftover packages of Jello to take home, since she liked it so much.
They brought a cake, with candles and poppers of course, and all pitched in on a really nice present for me. It's a traditional Korean tea set in celadon.
We sat and ate and talked, and eventually dragged Nabi out from under the bed and played with him. Christine wouldn't go near him, and Goodspeed played some but was a little nervous. Jay and Crystal liked him a lot. Nabi wasn't too keen on it, though, although he did play a little, and he eventually went back under the bed.
Later we played Yute, the game with the 4 sticks that you toss. Jay had never played it before. We played in teams, and had a good time with it. Crystal and I won 4 out of 6 games.
As soon as everyone went home, Nabi came back out from under the bed, pretending nothing had been happening at all.
Well, I've had two birthday cakes so far, and (sorry if this spoils a surprise or something) I'll probably end up with another one when I come home. Mrs. Lee gave me a little party at the hagwon today, with a nice chocolate (not red bean paste) cake and a huge lunch. She gave me a slip (white, not pink) for my birthday, and John gave me a notebook. Underwear is tremendously expensive here. The price tag on the slip was 28,500 won (about US$22).
Movie didn't make it to the party yesterday, but he gave me a birthday present after class today. It's really cute, and pretty funny. A pair of cups that fit together to make a heart, with a little saying about "I believe in love."
My schedule is going to change next week, apparently, since Helen's mom wants her lessons in the afternoon now. And it'll change at least one day this week, so I can go to Donghae and get a new immigration card. Mrs. Kim wanted to go on Saturday, but I've already made arrangements to visit a weaver in Seoul that day. So she asked if I can go by myself. Should be OK. I'll take the train to Donghae, have Mrs. Kim write down the name of the office for me to give to the taxi driver, and have her write a note to the people at the immigration office. I expect they'll take care of everything from there. I have to get it done this week, because if you wait more than 2 weeks, there's a 100,000 won fine. I expect if I showed up at the airport and tried to leave without it, they would make me pay that fine, too.
Christine seems to be really following through on the "going to college in America" idea. She was kind of funny, though, about not wanting to send her university grades in with an admissions application. She said it was because her grades have been so bad since her junior year.
For undergraduate study the university I checked only requires a 2.0 GPA, and a TOEFL (English proficiency test) score of 575 (out of a possible 1000 I believe). So I asked Christine today what her GPA is. "Oh, it's terrible," she said. "3.7 or 3.5." I laughed, and told her that was considered very good in America. I'm not sure she believed me. She hasn't had a TOEFL test yet, but is supposed to take one in March. I expect she'll do OK on it. Probably at least the 575, and maybe the 600 she needs to go into a graduate program in English. Randy scored something like 900, but his English is exceptionally good.
I got a card from Mom today, and she suggested I get goodbye gifts for Mrs. Kim and Mrs. Lee. I think it's a good idea. And speaking of gifts, I got a real surprise today at the hagwon. Gilbert got me a birthday present! It was a scarf and a pair of gloves. I think it was because I gave him a Christmas present, and he may have felt a little funny about it. Anyway, I thought it was really sweet of him.
Not much else to report. I go to Donghae tomorrow afternoon by bus, to get my replacement green card, and then come back for my 5:00 class.