Wednesday, December 24

Santa Speaks English?

Monday morning, my kids asked me where Santa goes first on Christmas Eve. I walked to the map on my wall and told them, "well, he lives up here, so..." then I pointed to Russia, then China, then Korea. "Korea is third?" they asked. Umm...yes? "I don't know," I said. "Let's write to him and ask."
I passed out recycled paper and plunked the crayon baskets on the tables. I wrote Dear Santa on the board.
"We will write in English?" they asked.
And that was when I had to explain that Santa speaks English too. And every other language, because he goes all over the world. And then I had to explain that he stops time...
Anyway, these were the letters I came home with:

So. Obviously, I had to write back. I bought a bunch of red paper and wrote to each kid,
메리 크리스마스, which says Merry Christmas in Hangeul on the front. Inside their letters were variations on, I live in the North Pole with my friend Rudolph. This year, we will come to Korea first. Your present is safe with me, but it is a secret.

When they read them this morning, they pointed to Santa's (my) signature in awe, and told me again and again, "he's coming to Korea first!"

Later, we watched a magician/puppet show, and then Santa Hariboji came! Korea's version of Santa is a stooped old man who makes kids accept gifts politely with two hands and then bow. Unfortunately, he picked my crier to tease, and his white polyester curls hung in ridiculous curtains over his eyes and under his mouth. Way to ruin the magic, Santa Hariboji.

Monday, December 8

On the Gravity of Snow

Sunday morning, I awoke to see this out my "kitchen" window:

Wet flakes the size of baeg won laid a sticky coat of white on the paved sections of the park. A collection of puffy-jacketed children scooped it into tiny snowmen, and a couple of high school boys dashed across the street shielding a two-fist snowball that probably took them a good patch of ground to pat together. The father at the grocery store set his baby daughter inside, breathing "cho-uh," a nearly involuntary exhalation of the word "cold."
Some of my students have furry hats with animal faces and ear flaps that hang down onto their chests, or that even blend themselves into scarves with paw-mittens on the end. What's surprising though, is not that eight-year-old boys are okay with wearing them, but that twenty-year-old men are too. And somehow, those high school girls still wear their little uniform skirts and jackets.
I spent the afternoon at a coffee shop, which was flooded with foreigners I'd yet to see in our suburb, but a new school has opened up down the block from where I work, and I've actually lost a couple of older students to them. Anyway, my latte was delicious, and spiced with cinnamon, and I studied the Korean my supervisor has been teaching me. I am beginning to be able to differentiate words within sentences, which may sound like ridiculously little, but Asian languages were just that foreign to me. I can also answer very simple questions about what I ate or where I went or who I saw. So, so far to go, but I've managed to ask for plastic bags without having the clerks repeat my request in English--victory!

Thursday, December 4

This is my refrigerator, covered in my students' artwork. Please notice the plan named "dessert" storm.

This is my cupboard.
Clockwise from top left: cereal, seaweed, saltines, peanuts, tuna, honey, rice.

This is my Kindergarten reading club. Some of them.

This is Ryan pretending to die, caught mid collapse.

These are what I get when I assign descriptive essays.

Tuesday, December 2

It Occurs to Me

It occurs to me that I've not provided any sort of captions for the Halloween pictures. The large group are all my kinders who screamed when I turned around and gave them a grave vampire face. They are still talking about Halloween. Literally, today a little girl was telling me that on Halloween, Emily teacher had a knife on her head and blood here! I was the official blood painting artist. Ah, theatre and the skills I learned there.
The Mario and ghosts are my lovely artistry skills. Mario now sports a santa beard and hat because I couldn't bear removing him from my room, the children (I) adore him so.
The pumpkin is the one my kinders (I) carved, that recieved what I consider the place of honor on what might be some sort of sacrificial altar in the lobby. As I was yanking a butcher knife in and out of its two-inch skin, my girls were screaming and trying to pile themselves, all six, together on one tiny green chair. Only my bravest, Gloria, got up on the table and faithfully helped me scoop all the slimy, gooey pumpkin guts from the beast. Most of the kids ate the seeds raw, even collecting the discarded glops from the trash while I was preoccupied with other things. My supervisor, who had never carved a pumpkin before, asked if she could feel it. She rolled up her sleeve and stuck her hand inside to finger the orange mess. It's incredible, really, watching someone's face, or so many someones' faces, experiencing pumpkin carving for the first time. What an alien thrill, with new words needed to describe it.
The little boys with me are in my PK class. The one with the bowtie is that kid who is constantly up out of his chair and really should be in trouble, but then he just looks at me with this innocently misheivous amusement and I can't do anything but laugh. His laughter is like a seventy year old man reliving childhood in the body of an eight-year-old, his every movement exaggerated and joyous. He pulled that bowtie up over his top lip to impersonate my Mario drawing that day. The one with no front teeth is the incredibly smart boy who has no volume knob. Sometimes I yell at him just to demonstrate how he sounds to me all the time, and he always looks surprised.

Friday, November 28

Recounting November

So that's that. Fifty thousand words of that. Unfortunately, the story arc has yet to make its downward curve...

Things in the past:
-Sick every weekend of November. Even went to the ER where I received the first shot in the ass of my conscious memory. It was wonderful. And they had me in and out in forty minutes.
-I went to Tae Kwon Do once during a remission of illnesses. I enjoyed the strength and the power in the movements. I may or may not return. I'm busy contemplating what it is I want to do and not coming to any precise conclusion. Writing, reading, Korean, Spanish, salsa, martial arts. I don't know.
-Thanksgiving does not exist in Korea, for those of you who were wondering (or anywhere outside the United States). I ate pizza for lunch and chicken and rice for dinner.
-My kids drew adorable snowmen for the classroom. Pictures to come.

Things in the present:
-My apartment is filthy and my cupboards bare from neglect.
-It is very cold here and I need to buy a coat.

Things in the future:
-Daniel is coming to visit for Christmas. Don't tell him, but I'm planning to buy a second pair of teddy bear house slippers for him to wear around my apartment. I'm also planning to feed him incredibly spicy things with tentacles and balloon heads, and sweet fried bread shaped like fish, and chewy rice tubes and sausages stuffed with sweet potato noodles and blood. He is planning to eat dog.

Saturday, November 15


Sorry all, I'm busy writing a novel this month. I promise updated blogs in December.

Monday, October 20

things that make me happy

The Circus: the fantastic and the freaks

Traditionally, the circus was a showcase of human oddities, in figure, form, farce, and talent. Although today we have fly systems and fog machines, safety nets and trampolines, microphones and air conditioning, the basic components and the stereotypical characters are still in place.

Cirque du Soliel's Alegria opens with a monologue by a boy I will refer to as "the circus Darling." In his pre-pubescent timbre, and his clear (though tinged with French) Korean, he endeared us to him and to his cast of fantastical characters. The aerialist, the singer, and the acrobats were punctuated with the clowns who muttered in French and crumpled each others' paper airplanes. When the fat one in overalls four sizes too big got particularly angry at the bald one with his bangs standing straight up off his forehead, the bald one pulled out a quick Korean platitude, "saranghae," I love you. There were fire twirlers in loincloths and a strong man who could hold his whole body parallel to the floor on one arm, a girl who could hula four hoops upside down, and two girls who could bend themselves just about inside-out. There were the trapeze artists, and acrobats on trampolines, and a man with lats the size of watermelons who hung from what might have been the world's largest rubber band. There was a clown in a snowstorm, and then there was the most terrifying moment of the show:

Two very large men supported either end of a flexible plank with their shoulders. Atop the plank, a marginally smaller man did backflips, successively higher and more impressive, until, to the horror of the audience, they lifted the Darling atop the plank, too. The boy wrapped his legs around the man's middle. Not a breath ruffled the silence in the tent. The man held the Darling's bottom with one hand and gathered balance with the other. He prepped, a couple of bends of the knees. The plank flexed. The man leapt into the air with the boy hugged to him. He flipped leg over leg over head. One foot back on the white plank--the next--and he not even wobbled but swayed--the holders of the plank stepped over, pushing more of the white stability into the air underneath them. Finally steady, the boy stepped down. The audience had to let out its breath before it could clap. I wondered, then, if the boy was the man's son. And, if not, how they ever got his mother to consent.

With the final bow, our fantastical creatures removed their wigs, revealing naught but ordinary hair in ordinary browns and blacks, caught up with ordinary pins. I almost wished they hadn't rent the illusion and left me wondering at the tedium of mastering such skills as simultaneous hula hooping, or the daunting memorization of a monologue in a new language for every foreign city. But, I understand that a performer needs a moment of humanity, of recognition within his own personhood for his accomplishment, or oddity.

I also wondered if they traveled with their own cerologist, as none of them had any body hair. Of course, the men passing torches under their bottoms and across their bellies probably singe it off themselves...

Saturday, October 18

Brothers and Birthdays

For those of you who do not have a brother as amazing as mine, envy me.

Sunday, October 12

English Teacher by day, Mystery Woman by night

"Uh-pa! Uh-pa!" a little girl cried to her father as I passed her in the park. "Jordan Teacher!" she told him, but he was too far to hear, so she called again, excited to see a teacher in such a strange setting. I smiled to myself as I walked up the hill toward my apartment.

I remember seeing my English teacher in line for popcorn at the AMC 24 once. Of course, I was in high school and did my best to make sure he wouldn't see me. But I think it is funny how, as kids, there is such a dissociation between teachers as teachers and teachers as people. It's almost as if they don't exist once they leave the building. The whole tree-falling-in-a-forest thing.

A couple of years ago, I met a young middle school math teacher. He was an attractive, dark-haired snow boarder with a large diamond earring in one ear. I felt bad for the girls in his classes, really, because the odds of them actually focusing on pre-algebra seemed pretty slim to me. I also felt privileged, in a middle-school sort of way, to know what he did on the weekends, to watch him drink and laugh with his adult friends. Never mind the fact that we spanned the ages of nineteen to twenty-four, hardly more than kids ourselves.

Now a teacher myself, I relish the perception of mystery I wear like a shimmery cloak. To my littlest students, I must be very old, and to my oldest, of an enviable age. Each of them seems fascinated by the prospect of my 'impending' marriage. I suppose it would hardly even be conceivable to their compartmentalized experiences that I go home and eat cereal, that I see movies with my friends, and that I wear strappy gold heels and hang off the shoulders of various men throughout the week. Scandalous, eh? The double life of the English teacher.

Halloween and Turkish Toilets

Yesterday was a momentous occasion for me. In the nether regions of a Seoul subway station, annoyed and embarassed at letting woman after woman take my place in line to use the toilet, I finally marched down to the end of the stalls and locked myself in with a squatter. It was a ferocious face-off, and I was determined to defeat my long-time foe. I should think congratulations are in order. Now nothing stands between me and world domination!


On another note, shopping in Seoul is enough to send me scuttling under my funny little bed. Apparently Americans of my stature are not supposed to try anything on. Or perhaps it's more to do with fashion sense than size. I'm not sure, as the few phrases I've learned are insufficient to ask. If I had to describe the fashion here, I might peg it somewhere between late eighties/early nineties American, eg. Blossom, and modern hipster sensibilities, intellectual rapper/punk. Now that I've cleared that all to mud...

At school, we have begun preparations for Halloween. I will be a vampire stationed at the face painting booth. Fortunately, I have several festivals-worth of experience at kids' face painting. Mostly, I remember requests for butterflies and snakes. There is also a decorating contest with a monetary incentive for the teachers. My theme is ghosts. I really want to put a big Mario on one wall staring at one ghost that's covering its eyes. Behind him, I'd put a flock of other marshmallow ghosts. We'll see if I can bribe my older students to do some artwork...

Tuesday, October 7

Invasion of the White Dog, and Chanting Hangeul

The national dog of South Korea must be the tiny white variety. They toddle across the street on short leashes, parade around in their little striped Polo sweaters, ride imperiously in the arms of old women and young men alike, and sit in manicured and meticulously groomed rows on the vet's bench (the vet in blue scrubs who I have a sort of window-shopping crush on every morning as I pass his office).

Today I learned the chant for the Korean alphabet, Hangeul, with instruction from a supervisor and the enthusiastic guidance of my students. It sounds something like this. Ahem.

Ca-na-da-l/ra-ma-bpa-sa (breath) a-ja-tcha-ka-ta-pa-ha. Those are the consonants coupled with the first vowel. The vowels sound like this. Ahem.


Claire keeps asking me, can't you hear the difference between "guh," and "gkuh," and "gkkuh." I think she makes the first one softer and an iota closer to "g" than "k," the second a smidge more like a "k" than a "g," and the third she just spits through closed teeth. Really, they sound the same to me every time, just with a different attitude behind them. The giyeuk, the kieuk, and the ssang-giyeuk. The mild, the annoyed, and the pissed off.

But, I feel I am in good company, learning alongside my students, and I feel that, even though they laugh at me when I practice my new words on them, they are really rather encouraging.

By the way, I find it amusing that my notebook for Korean practice is labeled "English Notebook."

Saturday, October 4

The Yellow Sea

Jordan's Firsts:

-riding in a boat (the two minute ride from one island to the next)
Here is Steve on the ferry.

-collecting sea shells on the beach

-sleeping in a hut on the beach

This was our hut. This is Stacey. Say "hello," Stacey.

-Eating anything out of a shell.

This is Tyler before he's even seen the eyeball he will later eat out of our soup. This is Juri who taught me how to make a little cup out of my ramen lid.

These are the rocks on which I sat watching the tide go out in the early morning.

I simply cannot fathom where all that water goes. The newcomers to the beach around ten a.m. had to walk a good half mile from the shoreline that I walked when I awoke.

To all my friends who love the sea, I can see why, but each time the waves swept in at me, I was vaguely afraid of its powerful arms and the tenuous position I held on the land. While its lapping or rushing or crashing are soothing to the ears, and the sea breeze crisp enough to smooth the worry from my forehead and deepen the shallow breath within my lungs, the concept of such unfathomable depth and uncrossable breadth adds fearsome to beautiful. Perhaps it is simply that I do not like to be reminded that I am insignificant and fragile. I am often reminded of that as of late.

This was the extent of our sunset as cloud cover thwarted the brilliance we had hoped for.

This is the house that Jack built.

And this is my newly adopted philosophy.

Saturday, September 27

Milk School

Field Trip Time!

This Friday, everyone went to Milk School. Some one hundred kindergarteners feeding and milking and screaming. Oh, those poor cows.

We also got to make ice cream and share our germs!

It was beautiful though. And fall hit us the day before, literally snapped from one season to the next, so the air was crisp and clean. Except of course for the bite of cow pies and dirt. It occurred to me as we were lulled into a post-field-trip stupor on the bus ride home that Korea is no longer "other" to me. I had the sense of returning home through familiar landscape. I forget that I have light brown hair and am just as surprised as a Korean to see foreigners in our midst. Not to say that I am, or could ever be, indoctrinated. I don't think they allow that here, really.

May I express, momentarily, how overwhelming it has seemed this week to keep in touch with all of you? I love that you fill my inbox with e-mails--I mean I thrive on hearing from home. Please forgive me the tardiness of my replies. I spend a minimum of two and a half hours commuting after work when I venture to Seoul, which, this week, will be four times. I'm using the time to listen to a Korean audiobook and learn how to say, "The weather is nice. Yes, it is so."

I divide my time between dancing, hanging out with Korean friends, American friends, and dance friends, discovering tentacles in my soup (side note--when I'm not expecting it to be there, a tentacle in my soup is probably the most startling phenomenon in Korea), and keeping my cupboard stocked with cereal and peanut butter.

Sad to say, I haven't written much of anything for a while. But one of my advanced students asked me the other day, "you are a famous writer?" Where did that come from? I don't even know how she found out that I write, but I cleared up the mis-understanding about the famous part, and she asked to read something anyway. Seeing as how I have little in the way of eleven-year-old appropriate stories, I've decided to write one for her. She said she likes mysteries, and when the kids don't have to be around their parents. I think, perhaps, I should just buy her a copy of The Golden Compass...

Sunday, September 14

Big Scissors

I want to get my next haircut from this chick.

Thursday, September 11

Photo Extravaganza

Photo with Teacher, everyone!

Today was Chuseok, some sort of Korean Thanksgiving type holiday. My kindergarten classes came dressed in the traditional hanbok. Like this one:

Of course, theirs were slightly unkempt after the first five minutes...

After lunch, they showed me what I assume is a traditional bow:

They also showed me how to demonstrate rowdy, seven-year-old affection:

These are a couple of boys from my kindergarten reading club:

And these are my advanced students, all of whom I adore:

And, just for you Dad, because I think of you when I think of parks, this is the park by my house: