Sunday, October 28, 2007

Travelogue #2: First Day Blurs...I'm in Korea!

October 26 2007

Seoul Language Institute- Bundang. I'm here. Now. At work. I'm on a computer with a keyboard inscribed with little Korean characters beneath the keys; if I press the wrong one, I'm suddenly typing in Korean.

This is my new reality.

I just taught my first class, a pack of eleven-year olds, some quiet, some misbehaving. For an icebreaker, I let them quiz me on my background, my favorite sports, my family. I then quizzed them right back; one girl in a goth-inspired t-shirt has a favorite movie and it's called, "I don't know..." The kid in the back adopted the name "Mikey" for use in the classroom, but he wanted me to call him "Ja-Kora." I didn't know if he was playing me or not, so my solution was to slur both names together into a Mikey Ja-Kora hybrid and hope he wouldn't notice.

I definitely felt like a new teacher, but when I said "Quiet! One at a time!" the kids did follow my heed, though they slipped up a few seconds later. They're testing me, but they're doing so gently. If I was in the Teach for America program, the kids would probably test me by tossing a graphing calculator at my head. So in short, I'm good. I'm ready for more, and I'll get it in my later classes.

This is only my second full day in Korea. My life so far has been a flash of samgyeopsal, kimchi, soju, karaoke, and red-faced drinkers.

Samgyeposal is pork belly meat; kimchi is pickled pepper. I enjoyed both. With chopsticks, no less. That's right; I learned how to tie my shoes at an embarrassingly late age, but now I'm kind-of-sort-of using chopsticks. I am a man. (Full disclosure: My chopsticks technique still needs work. A kindly older man at a resteraunt leaned over me and offered me a fork. I guess he thought I was struggling.)

*I forgot the name of the food above. Can somebody help me out? (Author's Note 9/1/08: The food is dak-galbi, and it is delicious.)

Last night I mumbled through Eminem "Lose Yourself" amid a backdrop video of a Korean dude preparing for a boxing match. As is traditional courtesy here, I haven't had to pay for a single meal, drink, or taxi so far; the tab has been generously picked up by my co-workers. Late at night, I wander illuminate streets and alleys I've never seen before, but will see regularly for the next year. Korean characters on every sign. I'm not in Germantown anymore, Dorothy.

* I know, I know. This sign is German, not Korean. But it just so happens our boss at the school decided to host a going-away party for the departing teachers at a German bar. So on one of my first nights in Korea, I'm eating sausages. and for some reason, chips and salsa. Because there's nothing more German or Korean than chips and salsa.

It's too soon to have developed perspective on what I've seen and what I'm seeing, but I'm sure I'll have time in the future to put things into sharper focus and write more concretely about my experiences. But again, this is only day two.

I'm a wide-eyed rookie. Just don't tell the kids in my classes.


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