Drunken Neighbors and Toothpaste-Flavored Ice Cream

Yesterday was a pretty good day. My classes went well. Even my really, really bad class wasn’t so bad. Why, you ask? Because I bribed them. With stickers. And I have absolutely no shame about it.

After work, Steve and I had plans to go for barbecue in my neighborhood. I was sitting on my bed watching Youtube videos when he knocked. I answered, and he told me I had to come see “this.” I wondered what “this” could be.

Turns out, “this” was my next door neighbor passed the hell out in the stairwell. Her purse was on the floor next to her, contents spilling everywhere. I was in shock to see someone so drunk. I grabbed my jacket and bag. As we were walking down the stairs to head out, I felt so bad and I couldn’t just leave her there. She was barely verbal, slurring things in Korean, but I got her sitting up. After a while, I helped her to stand. She almost tumbled down the stairs. It was a struggle, but I finally got her up the stairs and to her door. However, she couldn’t find her key. She kept ringing the door bell and knocking, to no avail. I’m pretty sure she lives by herself, but we tried. Oh, it was so upsetting! I sat with her a few more minutes, but she waved us off. Even the other foreigner who lives on my floor came out to see what was going on.

Just wow.

Anyway, Steve and I made our way to the restaurant-filled street near my place. We decided on a pork barbecue place and got pork belly and cold noodles. It was so delicious.

After dinner, we walked downtown, but it was pretty dead. We got a beer and munched on some pretzels at Sticky Fingers, one of the expat bars. Then, we stopped in Angel-in-us (a coffee shop chain), and I got a coffee snow (like a frappuccino, but better). Steve wanted ice cream, so we stopped at an ice cream shop as well. He got a flavor called apple mint. I tried it. It tasted like toothpaste. Like, gross toothpaste. After I mentioned it, he agreed but ate it anyway.

Yuck.

That was my exciting evening!

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Conflicted

Today, I was required to teach a lesson on abortion to one of my classes of 6th graders. Not only was it uncomfortable trying to explain what abortion was to a group of children who don’t speak your native tongue, but it only got worse and worse the more we discussed it. I had to go over words like “pregnancy,” “termination,” “fetus,” “miscarriage,” and others. I did not want any part of it.

For one of the activities, the students had to make a web of reasons a woman might want to have an abortion. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt that this was much too advanced for the group I was teaching. Most of them were confused and said things like “not enough money” or “woman can’t grow baby.”

Then, we moved on to talking about alternatives for abortion. The answer I was looking for was adoption. I had one kid raise his hand and say “mother kill herself.” I just started saying “no” over and over and over again. It was unbearable. However, my school is very strict about making sure all the work is completed in the textbooks. The Korean teachers check. The students’ parents also check and complain if they see that things have been skipped over.

I’m just concerned that these students are not learning what they should be. Many of them have pretty low literacy from what I’ve seen. They need more instruction on grammar, writing, and speaking. Not discussing concepts like abortion.

While most days are good, it’s days like this that get me upset. I know that private English academies are a huge business in Korea, but I feel like students aren’t truly learning English. Parents are shelling out cash for what seems to be something of a status symbol. “Oh yes, my child goes to a private English school!” Unfortunately, very few of my students can actually have a conversation with me or write a coherent essay.

It’s frustrating.

The Shabu Shabu Experience

Last night, Steve and I had no idea what we wanted to eat for dinner after work. Over the weekend, at the Cheoyong Festival, we went to the Vietnamese booth multiple times just to get spring rolls. So, when we saw a shabu shabu restaurant advertising Vietnamese spring rolls, we just had to stop in.

The restaurant was on the second floor of a building and had large windows so we could see the brightly lit streets of downtown. Of course, absolutely nothing was in English, so after poring over the menu and looking at the pictures, we called the waitress over and pointed at what we wanted.

Shabu shabu is actually a Japanese dish named for the sound all the ingredients make when they get stirred around in the pot, and neither of us had ever had it before. So, we were mildly overwhelmed when everything came. The waitress brought over a large pot of broth and set it on a burner in the middle of the table. She also brought a platter of thinly sliced raw meat as well as a second platter filled with yummy things like bean sprouts, bok choy, various mushrooms, cabbage, tofu, and dumplings.

Our shabu shabu!

Our shabu shabu!

When the broth started to boil, we added in slices of beef so they could start to cook. Then, we added the veggies. There was also a selection of sauces for us to try. I liked the peanut sauce and Steve liked the painfully spicy one. We also ordered not one, but two servings of these delicious little crispy fried pouches. The entire meal was about 24,000 won ($20).

After dinner, we thought we would try and find a dessert cafe. Unfortunately, the only one we came across was just closing. Instead, we found a Krispy Kreme (!!!) and each had a delectable, chocolate donut. Perfection.

Big and Little

In life, everything can be divided into two very general categories: the “big” things and the “little” things. For the most part, people have little or no control over the “big” things. These things are constantly present. They may cause you extreme anxiety or you may be completely indifferent towards them. It really depends on who you are and what your situation is.

For me, my biggest “big” thing is my absolutely crippling student debt. This is what I got for five years of education at a relatively well-known, private university in New Jersey (in addition to a lovely piece of paper in Latin, which is still sitting in an envelope, unframed).

Before coming to Korea, this one “big” thing was the reason for all the other “big” problems in my life. I was working two part time jobs with one paycheck automatically going towards loan repayment each pay period. My other paycheck essentially covered gas and I had very little left over to do anything for myself with. Then, there was my car. In addition to gas, I had to have a lot of work done to it over the past year, most of which got put on a credit card.

I was constantly tired, stressed, and dealing with anxiety. No college graduate beginning their life should feel like that.

When I finally made the decision to come to Korea to teach, I had no idea what a huge difference it would make in my daily life.

Right off the bat, I was provided with a nice apartment at the expense of my employer. I also get inexpensive health insurance (something I was paying over $100/month for at home), and a salary that allows me to send nearly half my paycheck home each month while still being able to live extremely comfortably. I don’t have to be at work until nearly 3 PM, so even though my day doesn’t finish until 10 PM, I can go out and socialize with other expats and not feel guilty about it.

Now, for the “little” things. And personally, I think these are the best.

I have students who shout my name and wave when they see me in the hall and want to hold my hand on the way to class. I have students who insist on sharing candies and snacks with me for no reason at all. I even have students who ask me to tie their shoes and get so happy when I do it for them because they can’t quite do it themselves yet.

I also get to see the progress my students are making in class in their speaking, reading, and writing. This is rewarding beyond words.

Outside of work, some of my “little” things include being able to walk almost everywhere I need to go and, if I do need to take public transportation, it is ridiculously affordable. Eating out is essentially more affordable than buying groceries here, so it’s really nice to go to a restaurant and not feel bad about the bill. Finally, free public WiFi is pretty much everywhere in Korea so it’s really nice not to have to use up my data plan!

So, what are some of your “big” and “little” things?

An International Weekend

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, guys! I’ve had a really busy, really awesome weekend filled with food, music, and exploring!

On Friday, Steve and I spent the day in Seongnamdong (Old Downtown). It was a national holiday (Hangul Proclamation Day), so we had off from work. The streets of Seongnamdong were packed with families: children were carrying balloons and people were eating a variety of street foods.

Steve and I.

Steve and I.

We probably walked around for a few hours until we decided to have some dinner. We came across a dak galbi (fire chicken) restaurant called Yoogane, which is something we’ve been meaning to try, so we had to stop in. The place was so crowded, so it had to be good. We decided to get two servings of dak galbi with bean sprout fried rice (4,500 won/serving, which is about $4), one serving of ramyeun, and cheese to go with it. Oh my god. It was absolutely phenomenal!

Dak galbi.

Dak galbi.

After dinner, we made our way to JJ’s Bar, which was actually having taco night. You can’t say no to tacos, right? So, we got three of them with seasoned rice and refried beans. There was also a poker tournament going on, but we didn’t stay too long.

Tacos at JJ's!

Tacos at JJ’s!

On Saturday, we had plans to attend the Cheoyong Culture Festival at the Ulsan Arts and Culture Center downtown. The Cheoyong Festival is a huge outdoor festival featuring food, crafts, and musical acts from all over the world. Some of the food tents included Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Nepal/India, America, Canada, and (of course) Korean, among others.

Ulsan Culture and Arts Center.

Ulsan Culture and Arts Center.

We tried Indian samosas, Vietnamese spring rolls and banh mi, Turkish kebabs, grilled corn, grilled squid, red bean cakes, pajeon (green onion pancake), and even hamburgers! All the food was absolutely incredible.

Pajeon.

Pajeon.

The craft tents were impressive, as well. There was pottery, hand carved incense burners, handbags, trinkets, and other beautiful items from all over the world. My favorite was one pottery tent where the potter was letting kids spin on the wheel with him. There were also other tables set up with crafts for kids to do, like painting and drawing.

Music also filled the air all day, and there was everything from South American pan pipe performers to a rock ‘n’ roll band from Beijing. Later in the evening, there was a DJ set in one of the tents. Everyone was dancing and it was a lot of fun.

Outside the arts center.

Outside the arts center.

Outside the arts center.

Outside the arts center.

Tia and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Today sucked.

Well, let me rewind.

The “suck” actually started last night when I spent over two hours trying to obtain a digital certificate in order to transfer money from my Korean bank account to my American one. Apparently, they are very serious about financial security here. Which isn’t a bad thing. However, their programs are not compatible with Apple products (I have a Mac), so I had to find a Windows computer to work on. Thankfully, Steve has one.

The second problem was that the program also doesn’t seem to like Google Chrome. So, I had to try and do everything on Internet Explorer which is glitchy and horrible and awful. It kept logging me out. And crashing. And trying to download unnecessary things.

I thought I was going to lose my mind.

At long last: success. Two. Hours. Later. I was finally able to obtain the certificate and transfer it to my mobile. Today, however, when I logged in on my mobile to attempt the transfer, I discovered that I have to register with my bank first. That means more paperwork and more numbers to obtain.

Ugh.

Then, I decided to take a shower to relax a little bit. Ha! Surprise! My hot water wasn’t working! After turning it on and off and pressing all the buttons for nearly 15 minutes, I sucked it up and suffered with ice water. That was horrible. First world problems, but I’m a first world girl.

After my shower (if I can even call it that), I thought I would make some lunch. Ha! Surprise! My gas wouldn’t turn on! I was getting angrier and angrier. I just wanted some eggs. So, I brooded and watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead.

Before work, I took a walk down the street to a little chicken place for lunch. For only 2,000 won (less than $2), I got a cup of sweet and spicy boneless fried chicken bites with bite-sized rice cakes. It was delicious. I also made a pit-stop for coffee because I had a feeling I was going to need it today.

I did.

I went into work at 2 PM because my Korean co-worker was supposed to take me to get my phone plan set up. Once again, no such luck. Due to the language barrier, I’m not 100% certain why, but it seemed like some of the shops were closed for some unforeseen reason. Anyway, I’m supposed to meet my coworker at 1 PM tomorrow, and we will go downtown to another shop to try and get it set up.

I also mentioned the fact that my hot water and gas weren’t working. Right there on the spot, he asked me for my apartment key, took it, and said he would take care of it. I didn’t like that. At all. It wasn’t until 9 this evening that he returned with my key and told me that I would have to go for the next 48 hours without functioning utilities!

I am truly seething. Thank the gods this day is over.

Ilsan Beach

Yesterday, I went to Ilsan Beach, a small beach in Ulsan east of where I’m living. After the fiasco that was the bus ride there, Steve and I arrived in one piece.

The area is pretty stereotypically touristy, with lots of restaurants, bars catering to foreigners, and amusements and games for kids. It was a beautiful day, so we walked up and down the sandy beach. The water was very clear. And very freezing when I dipped my toes in. There were quite a few other people hanging out, as well.

Ilsan Beach.

Ilsan Beach.

After, we decided to grab a drink at a British pub called the Golden Eagles because we figured it would be kitschy and fun. We got two obscenely overpriced Stella Artois, drank them quickly, and left. At least the place had a model of Big Ben and two statues of the Queen’s guard. I got my kitsch, but definitely would not go back there.

Steve and I.

Steve and I.

We spent more time walking around and scoping out potential restaurants to eat dinner at. We really wanted seafood (and there were loads of seafood joints), but we weren’t confident enough in our Korean to order anything. Especially since most places didn’t have any English on their menus. Would we get a nice fish soup? Or live octopus wriggling around on a plate? I didn’t know, and I also didn’t want to find out.

Eventually, we settled on a restaurant which served tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) and bibimbap. Steve got the tonkatsu and I got the bibimbap. And we actually liked each other’s dishes better than we liked our own. Although, the bibimbap was absolutely loaded with veggies and I appreciated that because they’re unfortunately hard to come by here unless you wanna shell out the big bucks.

The delicious tonkatsu.

The delicious tonkatsu.

After dinner, more walking. We found our way back to the beach and climbed up what we think was the lifeguard station. Regardless, we had a beautiful view of the little town all lit up and there were even some people down the beach lighting fireworks. It was really nice. All in all, a very good day at the beach. In October!

Ilsan Beach at night.

Ilsan Beach at night.