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Where the Streets Have No English Names

Orientation Week / Living in South Korea

If you watched the video of me first arriving in South Korea, it doesn’t look so good. My apt. is not as bad as it seems except for the mold. Moniqa, one of the other teachers, had moved out for various reasons; 1) the mold and 2) smokers were smoking up the place. She moved into an ex-teacher’s apt. (the one I replaced). I haven’t had any problems with smokers. Regarding the toilet, it turns out that Moniqa turns off the toilet so it doesn’t overflow. So, every time I need the toilet now I have to turn the knob to let water in and turn it off when it reaches near the top. As for the mold, I apply bleach when I have time, usually on weekends before I head out somewhere.

During my first weekend, Jon, another teacher, showed me where Home Plus grocery store was where I could get more extensive groceries, etc. I bought myself a coffee machine there. To walk to Home Plus you pass our local train station, Line 4.

Kim Chi? I wouldn’t know what to eat if it weren’t for Jon. During my first week and much of my second week, Jon showed me many Korean places and how to order and what to eat. I have to be very careful as I’m allergic to shellfish. The thing about where I work and live in Ansan is that there’s not much of a variety of food. There’s a variety of Korean food, but there’s not much else. There are a couple of Italian places and a place that makes really good pizza. In fact, I’d say it’s better than most pizza places in Los Angeles…which isn’t saying much for Los Angeles. Is it the water? Who knows?

Jon and I ate at a Korean restaurant where we had to remove our shoes and sit on the floor. I had to stretch my legs every now and then, but the food was worth it.

On Thursday, June 3, I was at school like the days before, but a somewhat funny phenomenon took place. The chairs we sit on in the teacher’s area are the same as the chairs for most of the classes, very narrow. On two separate occasions on the same day, I sat in my seat and my pants pocket got stuck on the arm portion of the chair. My pocket ripped open about an inch. It wasn’t bad or too noticeable, but it happened again a few hours later to the other pocket. At least the pockets look even now. Two pockets ripped in one day. Needless to say, I’m more careful now when I sit my ass down.

For the first week I had been using the spoon from a set of chopsticks and spoons a friend gave me. I used it for not only my cereal, but for spreading peanut butter and jelly. Finally, in my second week I went to Home Plus and bought a full set including a knife, spoon and fork. I had bought bread and then thought, ‘How do I spread the PB & J?’ Here’s a look into my enormous refrigerator. Not!

On Friday, June 4, I did my first wash in the washing machine. It holds more than I thought. The wash takes about an hour. No drying. Everything is hang-dried here. I had brought with me a hair dryer thinking I would use it for blow-drying my hair mainly during the winter and also for drying my clothes. I plugged my hair dryer in and after a minute of it working it suddenly fizzled out as in died.

Orientation Week – School

For the first few days at school you observe other teachers and how they work with the students. Here’s an eye opener. Teachers find themselves teaching subjects they don’t know first hand. I don’t know about other hagwons, but the school I’m teaching at has teachers teaching science, debate, art. Yes, I am teaching all three of those subjects. I’m also teaching phonics, grammar, vocabulary, nursery rhymes, writing and mostly reading. The first few days of observing were tiring just by watching the other teachers. The days are incredibly long. Not to mention it’s humid and hot as hell. Oh, yeah. The school only puts the central air conditioner on a few times a day. So, kindergarteners are nearly passing out. One girl, in my first week teaching, puked in the garbage.

The mornings are a time the teachers mostly dread as we have to teach the pre-school, pre-kindergarteners and kindergarteners who are a very unruly bunch. The curriculum is not easily understood. There are many classes each day. I’ve been lucky to get a little help from the other native speaking teachers. I almost died after walking into the men’s bathroom on our floor. The smell of smoke is unbelievable! The bathroom is not smoky. The air is so full of smoke you can’t breathe. If you want to use toilet paper it’s kept next to the water cooler in the school lobby area. There are no toilet paper or paper towels to be found in the bathroom. I often go to the next floor’s bathroom below.

One strange thing I noticed during my first few days at school was that in many of the classrooms there are smoke detectors going off. Every minute or so there’s that familiar beep I know to be from a smoke detector. The funny thing is none of the teachers notice it. They’ve been there too long. They’re brainwashed to not recognize it. Weird.

I made it though Orientation Week somehow. Moniqa, one of the other teachers, helped me get some understanding of how the curriculum works. No one hands you a list of everything you need such as what textbooks or practice books are for what class. There are so many classes and it’s very tough to know everything for every class. The teachers have problems printing materials for their classes because the computers are very slow and ancient. Resources are not always available for the classes using the computer program that the school uses. I tried making a Mad Libs exercise on my home computer and made a PDF, but when I downloaded it at school the printer wouldn’t recognize it. UGH!

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