I've just had a visit from one of the neighbor kids. I'm really not sure why he came over. At first I didn't answer the door, but you can't really pretend you're not home when your light is on, so when he rang the doorbell a second time I went ahead and answered it.
He said Hello very nicely and came in. I was in the middle of eating dinner, and asked if he was hungry, in English, and he shook his head and said, "No thank you," in English. We sat for a while, I gave him a candy bar, we played jacks for a little bit. I asked if he played omuk and he said yes, and I asked if he liked it and he said no.
We sat some more.
I tried to ask in Korean what he likes to do, but must have gotten it wrong, because he didn't say anything. I asked in Korean if he goes to school. He said yes, he's in first grade. Then we sat a little more, he said Goodbye, and left. It probably wasn't a half an hour total. I usually don't quite know what to do with a visitor I'm not expecting, and whom I can't talk to.
Nabi hid under the bed when the doorbell rang, and didn't come out until the kid left. I'm glad he does that, because if the landlady ever comes over for some reason, I'd just as soon she not see Nabi. I think the kid was kind of looking for him though, because he kept peeking under the bed. He may have seen Nabi through the window before.
A couple hours later, I had another visitor. It was the little girl this time, and she brought some balloons to play with. She asked for candy, and I gave her some, and we blew up balloons and batted them around for a while. Then her brother (?) came over (in his pajamas, I think) to tell her to come home, but he came in instead, and we batted balloons around a little more.
Unfortunately Nabi came out from under the bed then, which really got their interest up. But as soon as he saw the kids he went back under and wouldn't come out no matter how much they called. So they gave up and left. I asked them not to mention Nabi to their parents, but have no idea if I asked it right, so we'll see what happens. I hope the landlady doesn't hear about him.
You know, for first graders, these kids know a fair bit of English. I wonder if they go to a hagwon. Hello and goodbye, candy, cat, and when I batted the balloon into the girl's face and said I'm sorry, she replied "That's all right." Their pronunciation is good, too. No accent that I could tell.
Maybe half an hour later, the little girl came back. She brought tangerines for Nabi, in hopes of enticing him out from under the bed. It didn't work, of course; he had no interest in tangerines. But I grabbed a squid tentacle from the kitchen, and that worked much better.
I don't think she's ever handled a cat before, because she was a little rough with him. She did better after I showed her a couple of times how to hold him, but he obviously didn't much care for it, and eventually went back under the bed. He came out a few times on his own, though. I think he was as curious about her as she was about him. And I think she was almost as afraid of him as he was of her. So it was fun watching them play.
She would try to entice him out from under the bed by waving her fingers at him, and when he finally came out to pounce on her fingers, she would jump back, which would scare him back under the bed. This went on for quite a while, and she finally asked me to get him out so she could hold him. And after a few minutes of that she left again.
I hope that's it for the night. It's been fun, but I think I've had enough of it for now.
I have three balloons tied together here, from when the kids were over, and they've been lying around on the floor because I've been too busy to clean house. I was kind of curious to see if Nabi would play with them, which is kind of mean since they'd probably pop and scare him. But he does play with them. He takes the string in his mouth and drags them across the floor. It's pretty funny to watch, since each balloon is almost as big as he is.
I was in the mood for some cake yesterday, so I stopped by the bakery. There was a small roll cake that looked good, so I got it. It had what looked like chocolate chips in it, and since it was chips I knew it couldn't be red bean paste. I was half right. It's not red bean paste. It's whole red beans. Sigh. Every time I think I've found something chocolate, it turns out to be red beans. It's not bad, actually, and I like red beans just fine, but not when I'm expecting chocolate.
Randy and I were talking about the US election last night, and he said the last Korean presidential election was also very close, with only a 300,000 vote difference. And in our election we're talking differences of 3,000 -- or in Florida, 300.
I didn't have an 8:00 class tonight. Randy had to work, and Carol hasn't shown up for a couple of weeks now. So I asked Mrs. Kim if she'd like to go out to dinner with me, and while we were still waiting to see if Carol was going to show up, two of the 7:00 students came back to see if I wanted to go out for a beer with them. It was Susan, a teacher, and Bona, Seagull's wife (Seagull was one of my students at KEPCO, the electric company). So the four of us compromised and went out for pizza together.
While we were in the pizza place, one of the other 7:00 students (Choi, an art teacher, who flicked class tonight) came in with her husband. We invited them to sit with us, but they didn't. I expect her husband would have felt a little out of place.
We had a nice time sitting and talking, even though I missed out on a lot of the conversation. I'm getting to where a lot of times I kind of -- sort of -- know the gist of the conversation, even though I don't know most of the words. And every now and then they'd remember to speak English for me.
We got onto the subject of emigrating. Susan's husband works for Kodak, and he has to take an English test twice a year. His pay scale is determined by how well he does on the test. So he studies very hard, taking business English at a university for two hours every night after work. He hopes to emigrate to Canada some day.
Mrs. Kim said she wouldn't want to emigrate. When they asked her why, she said it's because she doesn't like English. We all thought that was pretty funny. But English was her least favorite subject in school. She likes math instead.
Bona asked if there were any way I could delay going home to America. I said that it would be difficult (now there's a Korean sort of answer).
I just remembered a really weird dream I had last night. There was a potter, and in order for his pottery to turn out right, he had to sit in the kiln with it while it fired. Another person and I were with him when he climbed into the kiln and closed it. I couldn't understand why he was doing this, because of course he would die a horrible death. And then we heard him strike a match. He was lighting a cigarette! We both thought this was stupid, because it was a gas kiln, and sure enough, as soon as he turned on the gas (the valve was on the inside so the potter could turn it on himself) there was an explosion. I was upset, but figured he was going to die anyway.
But then his mother came in, and was really upset. Apparently normally he only stays in the kiln for the first part of the firing and somehow survives, so his death was totally unexpected, and she was crying and carrying on. I tried to comfort her, and the next thing I knew we were making arrangements for her to come to the United States and live with me. We decided that the most logical thing was for her to fly into Chicago. I would meet her there, and show her around for a couple of days, and then we would come to Ohio. At the end of the dream I was in Chicago with her.
Now is that a strange dream, or what?
There is a Korean story about a bell maker who was ordered by the king to make a wonderful bell. He was convinced that by combining two metals (I think it was silver and bronze) he could make a bell with the perfect sound, but the metals wouldn't combine. The king was going to have him put to death for failing, but his daughter found out that if a person jumped into the melting pot, the metals would combine. She jumped in and sacrificed herself to save her father's life. The bell was successfully cast, and whenever it rang people could hear the girl's voice crying.
I suppose knowing that story could have caused the dream, but I don't see why. I haven't read it recently, and I wasn't thinking about bells or pottery last night. I didn't even remember the dream until I turned on the gas stove. Then it all came back to me very clearly, which in itself is unusual for a dream.
In other matters. It's very chilly today, and raining hard. Mrs. Lee said she heard it was snowing in Taegwallyon. Most of the persimmon trees on the street around the hagwon have lost their leaves, but the sycamore trees downtown near the pizza place are still green.
It was freezing in the university classroom. There's a kerosene heater in there, but we didn't turn it on. Maybe we should have. It took us forever to warm up after the two classes. When I got home I put on my warmest sweater. And even now, almost two hours after the second class ended, my hands are still cold. I made a pot of tea, as much so I could hold the cup as to drink.
I felt like shopping today, so I went down to the market and bought some groceries. It's a beautiful day. The air is cold and there's a little breeze, but the sun is very bright and warm. The air is clearer than usual, too. The mountains look like they moved into town last night and are near the bus terminal.
There are still roses blooming here, and oddly enough the forsythia is in bloom again. I've never heard of it blooming in the fall, but I've seen several bushes in yellow flowers.
Anyway, I had a wonderful time. I bought some cat food, so I got to say hi to the pet shop lady. She gave me a calendar. I bought lots of food from lots of different vendors. The lady I bought the dried anchovies from gave me lots of extra, I think because I knew a little Korean. I bought my usual donuts so I could have tea and donuts when I got home.
I also got some Cheju bananas. They're really cute, about 3 inches long. I'm tempted to make fried bananas with honey out of them. And I found some persimmons. I'll definitely have to get a persimmon tree when I get home. They're really messy to eat, but boy, are they good.
I had to stop shopping for two reasons. One is, if I buy too much food, it rots before I can eat it. The other is that those bags get heavy.
Nabi is digging through the grocery bags. I took the anchovies out, and don't think there's anything else to interest him, but he can probably still smell them.
It's looking like it'll be a pretty dull Christmas here. Even though it's a national holiday, apparently they don't really do it up. Mrs. Lee says that people who go to church go to church, little kids get presents, and older kids hang out with their friends just like on any other holiday. Christmas is on a Monday, so I'll get a long weekend for it. Maybe I'll go someplace.
I'll also have a three day weekend for New Years, but for that I have a plan. Not for the entire 3 days, but New Year's Eve I want to go to Jeong Dong Jin to see them turn over the Millennium Hourglass, and then watch the sunrise on New Year's Day.
I also get 3 days off for lunar New Year, January 23, 24, and 25. Don't know what I'll do then, but some interesting things should be happening.
Nabi had his first look at the great outdoors today. I want him to get used to it, before he has to deal with airports and such-like. I put his collar and leash on him, and tucked him inside my coat (so as not to be too obvious about having a cat in the apartment) and carried him downstairs.
About midway to the main road I took him out of my coat (he was squirming anyway) and just carried him in my arms. About halfway up the block he decided he'd had enough, and buried his face in my neck and gave little plaintive cries. I carried him up to the corner and around the alley and home.
He seems fine now, and I think he'll get used to things OK. We'll try again tomorrow. When he gets to where he's not afraid all the way around the block I'll try putting him down and holding his leash and see how he does with that.
I've been thinking about what I might do if I could bring some of my students to America, and of course one thing would be to take them out for sundaes. They don't have anything like that here. And I thought about it so much, that I ended up wanting a sundae.
At first I was rather at a loss, but then I remembered Baskin Robbins, which is one of the very few American franchises I've seen in Kangnung, and figured I could get a simple sundae there. So I spent a nice hour and a half wandering around downtown, "eye shopping" (the Korean term for what we call window shopping) and looking for Baskin Robbins.
I ran into one of our students and her parents there. She's one of the newer students, I don't know her very well. And I was very embarrassed, because I couldn't converse with her parents. I hope they don't think too badly of me and the hagwon because of it.
Anyhow, when I got to Baskin Robbins, it turned out that they don't have sundaes at all. I settled for a double dip cone -- Quarterback Crunch and World Class Chocolate. Both were very good. I ate it while walking home. I was rather chilly by the time I finished it, but not as bad as you'd think considering I was outside in November eating ice cream. At any rate, I was glad to get home to a nice cup of tea.
The neighbor kids came over again last night, this time bringing pears and cake. So I got out the candy, cut the cake and a pear, and we ate. Actually, we didn't get too much eating done, even though they managed to finish off the candy.
Nabi hid under the bed as soon as he heard them in the hall, and of course he's the main reason they came over, so I spent some time luring him out. No sooner did I get him in my arms than there came a knock on the door. It was the kids' mom, come to fetch them home.
I invited her in, and we had a conversation, half in Korean and half in English. She knew enough English words for me to get by in the Korean. She asked if it was OK for the kids to come over, and I said yes. She asked if I spoke Korean well, and I said no, that the kids spoke enough English. Well, they do for what they want to communicate to me (candy, Nabi). She said that when they saw my light on in the window, they wanted to come right over.
She petted Nabi, rather hesitantly, and asked about his claws, so I squeezed them out for her to see. She touched one and gave a little shudder. Maybe claws are one of the things Koreans don't like about cats.
After a few more pleasantries she took the kids home. She seemed very nice. I don't know if she was checking me out to see if I was dangerous, or if she just wanted to make sure the kids weren't being a pain, but it was a nice little visit.
I had a rather interesting lesson in one of my classes today. It started off normal enough with learning to tell time, but then the kids started to say "f**k you" to each other and give each other the finger. They obviously know it's rude, or they wouldn't have done it, and I tried to explain just how rude it was. It was hard. I finished up by telling them if they said it or did it again, I'd spank them. I hope it doesn't come to that.
The kids learn things like this from American movies. It seems to be the only English they catch from the dialogue. It's probably in a lot of American rap songs, too. Remember that horrible one I heard at the ramie festival, while the clowns were making balloon animals for the kids?
The kids from across the alley came over to play with Nabi again today. It was really cute. Nabi still isn't too sure about them, so he was hiding under the bed, but he couldn't bear not to play with them either. And the kids still aren't too sure about his claws, so they were cautious, but they couldn't bear not to play with him. So everybody played very carefully under the bed.
Nabi's actually getting pretty good with them. He doesn't use his claws, just bats at them with his paws. And the kids succeeded in picking him up and holding him for a while.
He's had a very eventful day today, Nabi. This afternoon I took him for another walk around the block. He still cried the whole way, but he held his head up and looked around some, too.
I went to the nifty wood jewelry shop today to do some Christmas shopping. The lady there remembered me. Then I wandered around some and ended up at the place where I'd bought the straw shoes last March. He remembered me too. Then I headed back towards home and went past a place where I've bought kimchi a few times, and she remembered me too. Boy, am I feeling well known around here.
Mrs. Kim told me she was a little worried about me yesterday. She'd had a dream the night before about me, and dreamed I was crying. So she wanted to make sure I was OK. As far as I know everything's fine.
Sometimes students bring gifts of candy or fruit for the hagwon. Yesterday one of the students brought in two 20-kilo boxes of grapes for us. Mrs. Kim shared some around, but still ended up taking 1-1/2 boxes home. Durned if I know what she'll be able to do with all those grapes before they rot.
I played a Real Audio news piece from NPR for Randy at last night's lesson. He had much more difficulty with it than I expected. I daresay it's the first lesson I've ever given him which has been a real challenge. I'm not sure he liked working that hard. But he did express an interest in doing it once a week. Maybe he said that because he was afraid I'd do it more than once a week.
That does settle the question of whether or not to try it for the 7:00 class, though. If Randy had trouble with it, there's no way they'll be able to handle it. Tonight's lesson is going to be some election news from the Reuters news service. I got it from the Public Newsroom website.
I found an ad for an SUV tucked into my mailbox today. There's no regulation like in the US that says you can't put things in people's mailboxes, so they hire people to do that. Sounds good to me. That's more employment. I think a lot of the employment here is like that, little things, but it provides some income.
Even the utilities don't mail their bills. When the meter reader comes around, he or she puts the bill in the mailbox.
Anyway, the SUV ads were in all the mailboxes, not just mine, so it's not like I'm being targeted. Actually, it seems like advertisers don't selectively target at all. Could you imagine if a bunch of the people here bought SUVs? Nobody would ever be able to drive down this narrow little alley again. Not even with one SUV parked in it.
There's been a lot in the paper lately about another possible financial crisis here. The government has been trying to make the chaebols clean up their acts as long as I've been here, and they haven't done a thing about it yet.
It reminds me of the US. You get a big business doing stupid, self- centered things, they get in trouble, the government bails them out with our tax dollars, and they keep on doing stupid, self-centered things. And of course it's always the little people who get hurt.
Korean law until recently has been very protective of workers, but that's all changing since IMF, and while layoffs aren't common yet, they're going to be happening in droves before long. That's the joy of the global economy. Even if everybody in your country is too poor to buy your product, you can sell it to another country and make a profit. And if everybody gets laid off and unemployment is high, people will be so glad to get any job that they'll work for a lot less.
Anyway, as far as the chance of economic problems, I'm not worried about it personally. I've just got a couple more months to go anyhow. And Mrs. Kim and the hagwon got through the last one OK, so they should manage fine this time too.
Carol called. She said that the reason she hasn't been coming to class is that it's been cold and she's been lazy. So I guess she's hibernating. But she asked if I want to go on a day trip to Pulguksa Temple on Sunday. Of course the answer is "sure."