March was a blurr of sorting through suitcases, going to school and coming home wondering what had just happened.
My summer camp crafts
Last weekend we took a last minute trip to Seoul to go shopping. We couldn’t find anything in Daejeon to get for each other. But the English bookstores and cheap street markets of Seoul enticed us up.
We went on an adventure to a Gamer Alley to buy some games for the Xbox. We ended up finding every console and video game since pong. Really – original Nintendos and Gameboys. Games, working controllers, etc. It was an adventure in itself seeing all the old-style games.
We also got this amazing street food.
They spiral cut a whole potato, bread and deep-fry it, then sprinkle your choice of flavor on it.
We split one. It was definitely some of the best, and simplest street food – to make, not to eat. It’s actually very difficult to eat a spiral potato.
After our nice trip to Seoul we were more ready for Christmas. It finally felt like Christmas. I think shopping is part of it – whether or not it’s about giving or receiving, shopping is certainly a part of Christmas. I put some music on and wrapped … we moved the tree to the desk and piled up everything beneath it
On Christmas Eve we had to go to school but the second we got off we headed to the store and bought some of the more expensive things that we kinda-always-want but never get (cheeses, alcohols and appetizers).
Christmas Eve was spent as if we had gone to a party – we just ate appetizers and drank.
Here’s our coke and soju – some open-faced jalepeno poppers and some chip dip.
When we got tired of eating and drinking we put on How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The live-action 2000 version. Fret not, I watched the animated 1966 version with many of my classes.
On Christmas morning we made infamous “apple-meat” a dish long consumed on Christmas mornings at my house. Then we got to work on stockings and presents.
We found these pre-made sort-of-stockings so we bought them just for fun. They ended up being an assortment of chips and crackers.
Our stocking haul and presents to open.
Chris gave me some pens and day-planner, a drink only found in the US (for fun), headphones and some makeup.
I gave Chris a puzzle (first all-metal puzzle in the world), a day-planner, a coffee grinder and some socks.
We spent the rest of the day hanging out and playing our new video game.
For Christmas dinner we had big plans for porkchops and fancy sides. In the end we thought – Christmas party-part-two and we made appetizers again.
Shrek-shaped hot wings, devilled eggs, jalapeno poppers and cheese sticks. Too much food. But the abundance of food felt somehow more like Christmas. More importantly we made devilled eggs in the rice cooker. Yeah, didn’t know you could hard boil eggs in there – but you can. Finally we watched A Christmas Story and the original Frosty. It was very merry.
It really was a good one. The name of the game was: stay distracted. Too much downtime or boredom would only draw attention to the fact we were not with family. Really, it didn’t end up being a problem. We cooked, we drank, we listened to nonstop Christmas music until we were sick of it, we watched too many Christmas movies (I’ve been watching them with some of my classes). Just having the day off was a gift in itself.
I know a lot of family members sent us some money as gifts. We were surprised with 3 extra days of vacation that we didn’t know about/misunderstood. So sometime in January we’re going to take a trip somewhere using a lot of our Christmas money. Maybe skiing in Japan, maybe lounging on the beach in the Philippines. We aren’t exactly sure yet.
December has been busy. Rather than everything getting its own post – here’s a dump of everything we’ve forgotten to blog about/things we’re generally excited about.
I actually recruited the help of the PE staff in my school to help me find a jersey for Chris. None were in his size and then the one I found was sold out so it wasn’t meant to be. In a last ditch effort to give Chris something for his birthday I got:
Beer. Not a huge surprise.
They’re all imported so it’s not a bad gift.
Also he got some socks (so lame!) and I painted a piggy bank to look like Boba Fett
Instead of a cake we got a brownie cheesecake from a bakery
We discovered that we could make tortillas. I know, I know – that’s not something you can discover.
We bought a really strange block of vegetable oil that could have been lard – we didn’t know. Either way we realized what it could be used for:
Better than any tortillas I’ve ever had in America. Nearly par with the ones from Mexico.
Or maybe it’s been so long we don’t remember what tortillas should taste like.
The cliche finally happened!
Chris had “Apple Day” at his school. A few weeks later we did too. Both of us got big apples – as big as your face and a sweet note. Chris kept his on his desk, but here’s mine:
It’s a little blurry, it says “To: Kaeti. Hi! I’m Yujin Kwon from 1st grade. The first time I saw you I was so excited about the English classes we were going to do. I hope you stay here until I graduate! Luv u. *Sorry for my handwriting.”
Each teacher got an apple from … someone. Maybe it had to be from a 1st grade student, I don’t know. A bunch of third grade boys were roaming all over the school handing them out to all the teachers.
Andrew and I have $900 to spend on 40 students and if we don’t use it, we lose it. Also, given all the budget cuts, I think this could be the last hurrah for fun camps. Next year might just be paper and dried up markers.
For the winter camp we’re going to re-design the school, have an egg drop, compare fairy tales to the Puss in Boots movie, and finally have a bake-off.
The budget is wonky because we need lots of baking goodies. I don’t know anything about the metric system and Andrew doesn’t know anything about baking. Together we’re a mess.
“Kaeti, the powdered sugar only comes in 150 grams, is that enough?”
It’s the world’s most typical math problem
“You are having an English Winter Camp and want to bake cookies with 40 students. If the students are divided into 5 groups and each group will make a dozen cookies. Will 1 kg of powdered sugar be enough? Please show your work.”
Meanwhile we need food coloring. Some countries use powdered coloring while others use liquid coloring Andrews first question is: “It’s safe to eat!?” Ignoring the studies that have suggested a link to learning disabilities… yessss? A few hours later he shows me some slivered almonds “Do you think these will work?” I want to give the students as much fun decorations as the budget will allow
“Oh yeah, those seem great.”
“They’ll work to give it color?”
“No…. no it will not.”
Andrew persevered and pretty soon he was showing me a package of bright orange powder.
Like the color? How some people say something is “pumpkin” when they mean orange or that it’s “Sea Foam” not really teal.
“Is it flavored?”
“I don’t know, but it’s colored”
We ended up with grape, pumpkin and green tea.* Should be exciting!
*a few days later we found proper food coloring – but we’re getting both so we should have some pretty and interestingly flavored baked goods
On Friday we went on a registered “business trip” all the way into real-live-Daejeon. We live almost 30 minutes away (45 with traffic) making Daejeon feel as far away as another town.
My “business trip” was supposed to start at 1:30 to give me enough time to arrive at 1:45 -needless to say, I left early. Chris and I couldn’t catch a taxi for nearly 10 minutes but arrived with 2 minutes to spare.
The head of the office of education began with an opening ceremony. Koreans are big on opening and closing ceremonies – more than I’ve ever seen in America. I’ve been instructed to have an opening ceremony for my summer and winter camps where I’m supposed to make a speech opening the camp and later a closing speech. They’re big deals – but only for appearance.
The coordinator who is supposed to serve as a bridge between English teachers and Korean administration stood up to talk about special Guest English Teachers (GETs) who got perfect scores on their evaluations. Out of the 50 people renewing their contracts, only 8 people had perfect scores. The evaluations were done by our co-teachers so it’s not 100% accurate. Getting 100% doesn’t mean you’re a flawless teacher. It comes down to your co-teachers liking you or not. It’s up to them if they want to work with you next year – a great teacher who has bad relationships with the co-teachers probably won’t stay.
Chris and I had been talking about this the night before – the head of my department, like me or not, would never give me 100% because she’s very strict about teaching. Giving a 100% also means there isn’t any room to grow. At our school, we aren’t allowed to give out perfect scores to students (only 2 or 3 students are “allowed” to get perfect scores in the whole grade).
So imagine my huge surprise when I was one of the 8 names called! It’s like Sally Field’s Oscar Speech “you like me … you really like me!” Sometimes my co-teachers seem unhappy with me or annoyed with the class management system I use. The head of my department seems almost disappointed in my lessons sometimes. Getting 100% from all of them – that was extremely unexpected!
I was given a gift which turned out to be this:
I’ll cherish it always – mostly because it has my name on it. It’s impossible to find my name on stuff (keychains or touristy things). Something that was printed just for me and my name is spelled correctly – now that’s special.
We were briefed on the small changes to the contract – different wording on “employee record card” being changed to “employee attendance card” as well as a new clause that says we can be fired for narcotics use (thought that was a given, but whatever). Then we had to sign all of them in triplicate, keep two, then sign a special Daejeon contract that said we wouldn’t be lewd or sexual to anyone at anytime (again, thought that was obvious).
The coordinator stood up and laughingly said “haha, guys, I forgot to tell you. I was going to tell you before you signed your contracts but I forgot. Hahahaha. There’s a tiny chance you will be transferred to a different school or given additional schools”
F that noise – what?!
Later, still acting like it’s not a big deal she mentions we won’t even know about these MAJOR changes until the last couple weeks of February. WHAT?!?!
The reason we decided to stay another year was because we wanted to stay with
a) our co-teachers
b) our students – if we could, we would stay for 2 more years to see our 1st graders through to graduation.
c) our school staff. We’ve worked all year to build up relationships with these people – I have science, math and home-ec teachers who talk with me, recommend restaurants and try to make conversation at lunch. Meanwhile Chris is good friends with a PE teacher and Special-Ed teacher at his school.
d) our apartment, neighborhood and everything that we’re comfortable with
When we say we want to renew, we mean renew with our schools. Changing schools or balancing them with another school was never part of the deal. To treat it like a joke is total BS, too.
So at this rate, if the worst happened we would be vacationing in America by the time we found out. If we were to lose our schools or have to commute to additional schools I’m not sure what course of action we would take, honestly. It would be hard not to take the low road “you screw me, I’ll screw you” and just leave.
Realistically I can’t see them changing schools. Right now people are turning in paperwork to come work in Korea. Daejeon says “we have X positions open – send us X people.” These X people will come in February and do the orientation. If DMOE really thinks they ‘re going to tell us late February, during the orientation that we’re going to work additional schools – then what happens to those X people who came to fill the jobs?? None of it makes sense (though that’s typical).
I guess we’ll see.
On Monday we had to go get medical checks to renew our contracts. For the most part if we failed the tests we would not be renewed. Fortunately, the checks are for major medical conditions, drug usage, and AIDS. It’s not too hard to pass.
My handler-co-teacher-friend-guy (he has no real title) Andrew was nice enough to bring both of us. He translated and lead us around where we otherwise may have gotten lost. We even got to miss school and classes to go on “official leave.” Actually, all the 1st and 2nd grad students are taking finals this week so we only missed a a couple 3rd grade classes each.
Going to a hospital in Korea was quite an adventure. We had to go to a series of rooms, take a number. Wait for the number to be called, then do that test. Repeat. There are no privacy laws – or at least not as strict. So many times we were being watched by everyone in the area (out of curiosity).
We started in a small room where they had us fill out some papers and put our photographs on our medical tests – yes it had to have a photo attached. We had to get photos taken because all of ours are imperial and the required sizes were metric – they just didn’t work.
They took our height, weight and blood pressure. That morning I had read many stories online about people “failing” the blood pressure portion of the test in Korea, only to be retested and have it be okay. I’m not sure why this is so common in Korea – maybe the machines are different or maybe people are panicking a little from the stress of being in hospital abroad. Either way, I’m glad I read about this because Chris got 145/70. The number was, of course a “fail” on the medical test. We demanded a retest or even for them to read it manually. After a few hours of other tests, Chris returned to get a very normal blood pressure.
After that we had a hearing test and a vision test. Then we began the take-a-number spree. We needed to pay the $68 dollars (each) for the checkups. I think that’s pretty good for a full physical complete with chest x-rays, blood and urine tests as well as doctor consultation. $68 was without any insurance- the insurance wouldn’t have changed the price anyway.
We took a number and waited to pay. This took a good 20 minutes as the hospital was very crowded.
We went to a very hidden room behind the payment area. Seriously it was a hidden little room. Inside were about 15 people waiting. On a large TV screen in front of us were all of our names. Your name pops up and you go to the corresponding room, 1, 2, or 3. The nurse was clever enough to put our names in hangul. Unfortunately, our names don’t fit – most Korean names are 3, maybe 4 syllable blocks at most while my first name alone is 3 syllable blocks. So we had to settle for 케이티첼 Kaeti Chel (Zel) and 크리스렌 (Chris Len).
Our names finally popped up. The doctor asked Chris if he was taking any medicine and if he was doing okay. I was only asked if I was okay and we were sent on our way. Very thorough.
We took a number and were 87, the current number was 63. The whole room was like a blood taking event. All the seats were arranged like an auditorium with two overworked phlebotomists at the front. There were no curtains or anything, we just sat in our chairs and watched twenty people give blood until it was our turn.
It got more interesting as we were handed a small paper cup labeled “medical cup” with a printout of our names on it. Then we were handed a seal-able vial “half, and half” they said. Yes, they really wanted the open dixie cup to be placed in their pee fridge. We had seen many other people return with dixie cups and put them into a huge sliding refrigerator. No seals, no caps. Just open dixie cups.
Because Andrew was nice enough to come and translate us, we complacently followed him to each station and trusted that he knew what was going on. We also didn’t want to be a nag “what’s this station? now what? … what now, Andrew?” So we kept silent and followed along.
We went to a room that was blatantly x-rays. We had had chest x-rays last time so we figured we would be doing that. We went to another room and turned in our paperwork so we could wait in line. This nurse decided our names couldn’t be Korean-ized (unlike in the first room) and thus refused to put our names up on the tv screen. So we didn’t have a tangible thing to look at to see how much longer. “Someone will call your name here or in the other room when it’s your turn”
I think anyone could tell you that that wasn’t going to work.
Andrew waited in the other room in case our names were called there and we had to stand in a high-traffic area getting stared at by everyone. Finally after 30 minutes Andrew returned and asked the front window. Not surprisingly, they forgot about us.
They let us into the room and come to find out it was the freaking dentist. That’s not even part of the test, it’s not required for the medical check!
They gave us a 30 second cursory glance at our teeth and then approved us. A waste of time if there ever was one.
Not much else to say except we had chest xrays. I’ve never had one in the United States so I can’t really compare it to anything.
After three hours we were finally done. Chris had the day off and I had to go back to school for a few hours.
All of our third graders finished their finals 3 weeks ago.
In Korea, students have to apply to high schools. So finals need to be finished sooner so the test results can be sent out to the prospective schools.
They are about lose any quality of life they may still have – I talked to a third grader who got into the high school of her choice. She’s not happy. She is going to spend the next 3 years studying for the suneung test. High school means going to more cram schools and staying later. Students in high school also eat lunch and dinner at school and go to school for half-days on Saturday. Life is about to really suck for them.
Meanwhile, they have already “finished” middle school. The finals are done and graded. But still they have to wake up every morning, put on their uniforms, and go to school.
I think it goes without saying that little to no learning is done in this time. Sure, it’s 6 weeks of time lost – but what else are we supposed to do? This is their last chance to have fun before high school and there are minimal consequences to anything they do.
Chris has been doing trivia games and any other games he can think of. It’s actually been working pretty well. But he only sees them every other week. In fact, he’ll only see them one more time.
I see my 3rd grade every week and I’m stuck with an English Pop Song Competition.
I have to coach and later judge the whole thing. I had had a whole plan for this time involving British and American English, slang, etc. Not to mention reviewing all the writing rules they don’t know. With my points system and rewards I actually think I could have kept them somewhat motivated…
But no, I’m stuck listening to the same songs 15-20 times for 45 minutes while they mouth the words and pretend to sing. Of the seven classes of third graders, only the all-girls classes care. The 4 boys classes are mostly indifferent and one hasn’t even started.
I’m not even working anymore. I’m just sitting and going nuts – I really hate repetitive sounds so the same song over and over and over and over drives me a little crazy.
Each class has to pick 2 songs – one Christmas and one regular pop-song. Because no one told me this (I’m only in charge of the whole thing). I overrode this rule for a few classes. Oops!
If you’re curious what songs we listen to over and over:
3-3 (girls): Sunny (a Korean-English song) and Mercy by Duffy. This was a class asked me in English “do we have to do Christmas songs?” to which I said “oh gosh no!” So here we are: no Christmas songs.
3-4 (boys). Unknown. They don’t care and I don’t care. We’re at a bit of an impasse. I think none of us know what the consequences are if they don’t do it. They won’t win the $100 prize.
3-5 (boys) We are Young by Fun and possibly YMCA. I’m actually not sure. This was another class I accidentally gave them permission to skip a Christmas song.
3-6 (boys) Backstreet Boys – It’s Christmas Time Again. I grew up with the Backstreet Boys! How are they even still popular!? Their second song is To Be With You by Mr. Big. This was the only English song I didn’t know. Strangely enough class 3-7 picked it as well. It must be in a drama or in commercials to be so popular with the boys.
3-7 (boys) They tried to pick the same exact song To Be With You but I convinced them to at least do a different artist. At least this one is a little less like a ballad – To Be With You by Human Nature.
Their Christmas song is Jingle Bell Rock. There are a hundred and one different versions of all different speeds and artists but they picked the original 1958 version by Bobby Helms. It was described as being “sleepy … Teacher this is a sleepy song.” To which they searched a remixed version and landed on this Jingle Bell Rock Remix with the impossible-to-sing to lyrics “jing-jing-jing-jing-jing-jingle bell. *record scratch* Bell. Bell. Bell. Bell. Bell……”
So we have a bunch of 15 year olds choosing songs – did I have to say “no” to any of them? I was expecting songs that were full of rich figurative language about terrible things – like “my anaconda”
Instead they all picked decent songs on their own. However, I did override one class who wanted to do “Let it Go” from Frozen to which I said “I will automatically fail you.”
Reason 1) Everyone in Korea already knows the lyrics. It wouldn’t be fair for them to use it. They wouldn’t utilize the time in class to practice the song.
Reason 2) No one ever wants to hear that song again.
So I have not overridden any student’s choice of song because of double meanings or lyrics. If anything, I’ve saved some classes.
My co-teachers have to translate the lyrics for the administration to reference. So, of course, have found some problems in the lyrics.
“So if by the time the bar closes and you feel like falling down, I’ll carry you home tonight…” suggests bringing a woman home from a bar. It caused a huge stink until I stepped in and overanalyzed the heck out of the song to clear it. I said it suggests carrying her home so she gets home safely. I really don’t care what it could imply. It’s a very popular song and it was the only song that class cared enough about to sing.
The other one was a song that could have possibly maybe potentially been about being tempted to cheat. That’s it- just the temptation. Not actually going through with it. I said it probably doesn’t mean it, and if it did, who cares?
What about all the dirty Korean songs? Where the only lyrics in English are “gonna make you sweat, gonna make you”… hehem never mind I don’t want to quote that one (Psy – “Gentleman”) or “I know you want it … touch my body, come on, touch my body” (Sistar’s “Touch my Body“) Finally “ice cream, ice cream, I’ll melt you down like ice cream, cream, cream…” (Hyuna’s “Ice Cream”)
My goodness! If they sing along to these lyrics in the hallways of the school in front of all the teachers, I’m pretty sure they can sing to the clean songs they picked out.
We skipped Thanksgiving-day right out. Thursday went by with almost no mention of it. As I taught two classes about Thanksgiving we talked about how it was “always on Thursday” not “it’s today.” I kind of forgot a little bit.
Mostly, there was no way we were going to go home and waste the night away cooking. So we cooked all day on Saturday. We even put our little tree up for fun.
What was on the menu?
The creamed corn was just an afterthought but ended up being the best thing on the menu. The stuffing was just like home but that’s because my mom shipped us some sage.
It was actually all we needed. No mashed potatoes and gravy, no marshmallow-y sweet potatoes… just stuffing, green beans, and corn – and PIE. Obviously pie. That was thanksgiving enough.
We got some crazy canned green beans (not french style) imported from Thailand. We cut them up to be french-style and then mixed with some mushroom soup mix we found (imported from Malaysia). It was good, but not 100% there.
The Kabocha pumpkin is some Japanese pumpkin that’s exactly like a “regular” pumpkin. It made some darn fine pie. Baked in a cake form and muffin tin – obviously.
So we had a lovely feast alongside our new tree
It was quite festive. But something was missing. Obviously the family element was missing. But in terms of food. Something was missing. And here is where things are going to get weird.
I think it goes without saying that we couldn’t find cranberry sauce here. Because no one ever eats it in America except for once, maybe twice a year . There’s no reason to eat it in Korea and there is no demand for it.
But it was missing. We mulled over the fact that we had frozen blueberries…maybe? somehow we could…? Nah, that’s stupid.
But wait. We do have grape jelly in the fridge. How different can it be, really?
Not that different, apparently. Don’t judge us.