Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Feet Hurt!

My feet hurt and my legs are tired.  I don’t ever remember doing this much walking – I’ve walked 6 months worth in 6 weeks and there’s no end in sight.  In Korea – I’m the main mode of transportation.

My husband and I will not have a car in Korea – it’s an investment I don’t feel like making and frankly the drivers here terrify me (red lights appear only to be a suggestion).  It actually feels freeing not to have a car to think about – or gas prices to pay attention too.  Plus, the public transportation here is reliable, clean, and cool.  Even better, the subway is just a block from our apartment.

That said – we still seem to be walking most places.  It’s a new experience to walk to the grocery store or “Home Plus” (the Wal-Mart/Target of Korea).  You have to pay attention to just how much you’re buying and how heavy it is; because now you have to lug it home yourself.  So, we purchased a small roller cart – it’s wonderful, but space is limited.  I remember my grandmother using a similar cart when she went shopping in Brooklyn.  All the old ladies had one – and I thought it was just something old people did.  Now, it’s something I do too.

So we walk – to work, the restaurant, the store and to the subway station.  You go up and down the flights of subway stairs, likely only to stand on the subway.  You get off the subway and guess what….you walk some more!  Wherever your destination…your two feet will take you there.  Five hours will pass and you realize--you’ve been on your feet non-stop!  I look around at the women in stilettos and wonder how they do it. 

Let’s face it – the walking is tiring and my feet do hurt.  But, there is a benefit here – it’s forced exercise.  It’s healthy!  At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.  My legs just better look svelte by the end of this year.

(One great walk we had this year was through Namdaemun Market.  It's a wonderful assault on your senses!  The sights, sounds, and smells are a fun introduction to Korea.  The pictures here are from Namdaemun.)

This was our lunch being cooked.  It was genuine "street food" and my first taste of fried squid and other tempura.  The fried vegetables were delicious.

We also tried "mandu" or dumplings.  These are filled with minced pork and vegetables -- served piping hot.  I have a picky palate and these were very good!

These are packages of dried squid.  Obviously, food is a big part of the market experience and the Korean culture.  But, I will not be trying this!

An Apple for the Teacher??

We’ve seen it in movies, read the cliché in books, and maybe even done it ourselves – given an apple to a favorite teacher.  It’s a way to show appreciation or maybe do a little kissing up!

I was reminded of the tradition this week, when I received the first gifts from my students.  But – there were no apples.

My husband was the first to receive a food item.  It was a stick of processed meat, which we couldn’t identify until opening it after school.  It smelled like seafood and his first tentative bite was his last.  It’s the thought that counts, right?

My first present was from a young girl – who after arriving in class handed me a warm piece of corn on the cob.  It’s really not that unusual here – she must have bought it from a street vendor.  It just struck me so funny…really, corn on the cob?  Other children want to share their lunches with me – offering cookies and cherry tomatoes.  Don’t worry, I also get dessert!  Children walk into class reach into their pockets and whatever candy they pull out is suddenly thrust in my face.  I accept it all with a big smile and shower the children with gratitude.

Actually, I have declined one gift.  The same little girl that gave me corn on the cob later offered me a nail clipper she retrieved from her pocket.  I don’t know if that was a comment on my personal hygiene, but I had to insist she keep such a generous offering.

But, my favorite gift so far was so simple and sweet and it didn’t cost a dime.  After class, I thought a little girl wanted to whisper a secret to me, so I bent down and got a kiss on the cheek instead.  She smiled real big, shouted “bye teacher” and was off – and that just made my day.

Lauren Teacher gets "The Finger"

My first week as an English teacher is overwhelming.  I have 10 different classes that meet multiple times a week.  Knowing the lessons, printing out the materials, and getting a crash course on a computer system with drop down menus in Korean is making my head spin a bit.  But by next week….or the week after, I’m sure I’ll have that all figured out.  It’s the children who are really going to keep my on my toes.

I estimate that I’m teaching about 90 children this term.  Most are really sweet, and even excited to have a new teacher.  Some are shy and very quiet.  Others are whizzes – their English is impeccable at such a young age.  But, I’m sure some of the most memorable students will be the trouble makers.  I’ve already pinpointed two – after just one class.  You may be wondering, how I can pigeonhole these students when I've only spent 40 minutes with them.  Well…one little boy about 8 years old sure knows how to push the boundaries.  He gave me the finger – the bird – the universal F-You -- not just once, but twice.

I’ll be honest – I was pissed.  Okay, so in class we were doing an exercise and kids were holding up two fingers and three fingers.  But, it’s pretty obvious when a child shows you the back of his hand and only his middle finger.  So – I scolded “Jimmy.”  The second time I gave “Jimmy” what I hope is my mean look and really scolded him.  He managed to get my blood boiling and that was likely his goal.  He won.

I realized afterward that the rest of the class didn’t react.  There’s a good chance they don’t know what “giving the finger” means.  Since, I want to keep it that way – next time I’m going to ignore “Jimmy.”  If I ignore him long enough and the class isn’t reacting, maybe he’ll give up.  That’s my hope, anyway.

Another tactic would be pointing my finger in his face and yelling “Listen, you little %&$@*!” – but I’ve been told that’s not a good teaching technique.  Plus, I want to keep my job.