Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Live from Seoul. . . *updated with video footage*

Tuesday afternoon, sky blue body bags filled the SLP foyer. The culmination of screaming children running around the school and the stress from the Christmas concert, made me want to zip myself in one of the bags and hide from it all. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to take cover, nor was there enough room to conceal me from the whirlwind of anxiety swirling about in the office. Instead, I had to organize the contents in the bags. I pulled royal blue tutus lined with silver sequined rick rack out and examined them. They were so precious. We didn't have time to do a dress rehearsal, so I could only hope that they fit everyone. The next day was the Christmas concert. Changing into costumes was such a pandemonium with the children running shouldn't be a problem. We tacked and pulled straps up, but they still beared resemblance to the bikinis that body builders wear. The situation was hopeless, but at least we weren't exposing our students anymore.around, costumes flying in the air, and lights flashing from the door way. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought that we were planning some huge event with celebrities. Finally all twenty of my ballerinas were dressed, but there just a few problems. The first problem was that the tutus did not fit like they did in the catalogue. Instead of looking like darling little ballerinas, they looked like Las Vegas show girls. The V neck on the bodice went down entirely too low for 6 year olds, not to mention, there was a nude colored panel that gave the illusion that the V neck dragged all the way down to their belly buttons. Think Jennifer Lopez in her infamous green chiffon dress. Thankfully, I have some experience in fixing such problems from working at David's Bridal. If I can make a size 16 wedding gown fit a size 20 woman, then this shouldn't be a problem. We tacked and pulled straps up, but they still beared resemblance to the bikinis that body builders wear. The situation was hopeless, but at least we weren't exposing our students anymore.Rock, Paper, Scissors: The boys played games to keep them entertained before going on stage.

It was so painfully cold. I felt so bad for them.

Lined up and ready to go!

The second problem in our wardrobe change started with the foul smell that crept into my olfactory organs. At first I just ignored it, thinking that it was just a stink that was lingering from former performers. I realized later that my hypothesis was wrong when I was trying to organize all the students' clothes. M's (we'll keep his name a secret) clothes were scattered about the room and he was gathering everything. I noticed that as he was trying to decide what things were his, he was sniffing them. At first I just thought that this was his way to find them, because some people's belongings do tend to have a distinct scent. This was not the case as I quickly learned when I lifted up a white turtleneck that had a disgusting brown stain on the sleeve. EW and M quickly claimed it and I asked him what it was. He looked shocked and froze. Putting all the facts together, I came to the conclusion that he had an accident. My partner teacher informed David, one of the only men on our staff and we cleared the situation up. Apparently, M was really sick Tuesday night, but his parents insisted that he come to the Christmas concert. Poor guy.

After four months, spending about everyday with my students, they have started to take on my personality. They are free spirited, creative, random, and clumsy just like me. This mixture doesn't work so well with big events. Practice has been hard. In choir, I was always the one who stood out the most at concerts. This was not because I had the best singing voice, but because I am tone deaf and I have a squeaky singing voice. My family would always pick on me after the shows, leading to future self conscience problems. I am surprised that I actually had enough courage to muster out any song in front of my students in order to teach them, and on top of that, I teach Kids Pop (aka music). haha. Those poor kids who have been subjected to my singing. Well, I was actually impressed. My students did very well with their song, minus a few students who completely froze from nerves. Ballet, however, is another story. This is where my lack of coordination rubbed off on my students (actually thinking about this now, I don't know if this is actually possible). First, June Seo was the first in one of the lines and completely misled the students, nearly running them all into the giant inflatable backdrop of a neon pearlescent winter wonderland. In practice, they always had a hard time getting the turns the same. Eventually, this was a detail that I soon failed to notice, because it was so difficult to get them all to turn Right. So for the performance, the turns were, well, special. Then the best part was when Sung Min ran straight into the microphone. A description won't do this mishap any justice, so you just need to watch the video (SCROLL DOWN TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS ENTRY-the funny part happens just after the one minute mark) if you want a big laugh. My friend Amber was doing commentary for the performances and her response to their dance was "Wow, that was dramatic!"
So that was the Holly Jolly SLP Christmas Concert.This is my director with the opening speech. I am in loooove with her shoes!

After they were finished, they finally got to relax and enjoy the show.

The video above is the one I was telling you about in the story

And this is their Christmas song- they froze a bit and were sort of confused ^^

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Closet and the Ajishis

Well, the last time someone from my apartment building actually came in, it was incredibly embarrassing. I will quickly write about it, in case you haven't already heard this one.
A sweet old man came in my apartment to perform a window check. He had bad timing, because at that same moment, I was also potty training a puppy (I would delve into these details, but it is still pretty painful to discuss) and my apartment was a mess. So I let him in and he went straight for the utility closet. As he opened it, about four empty water bottles tipped over. He checked the window in the closet, and the whole time I was holding back from laughing. Chandra was sitting on my bed gagging and cracking up, because the puppy, who was in its kennel, was now eating its own product and the gentleman examining my closet also witnessed such a grotesque act. The man was also trying not to laugh as he left and we shook hands.
So this brings me to the second story of the closet. On Friday night, I had a friend and her three friends stay at my apartment, while I stayed with Chandra. I did a quick cleaning, but realized I was too lazy to go downstairs and put my trash in the dumpster, so I shoved five small bags in the utility closet in an attempt to conceal them. My apartment is pretty safe, so it was fine that the key was left inside and the door was unlocked for the day. Saturday evening, I start walking into my apartment building and my security guard stopped me and asked "You 6-1-9?" I corrected him and told him 609, and he said "Yes, ok, door open!" I thought he meant that the door was unlocked. Yes ok, ok. I remembered that my door has a hard time closing on its own. I should have explained this to my guests, but I didn't think to. Anyhow, I jumped in the elevator and he followed with me. We got to my apartment, and he came right inside. Luckily my apartment was clean this time and I didn't have a puppy to do anything embarrassing. He rambled on about the door some more and noticed the key on the counter. aaah... I kept trying to assure him that everything was ok, but he decided to check for me. He wandered around and I saw him getting closer to the closet, but I was too late, He opened it and saw the giant tower of trash bags. I must really seem like a slob. I was so embarrassed, but it seemed to not even faze him, because he started for the door and turned around and I told him thank you, and he said something under his breath about me and grabbed my hand and kissed it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Baaaah Humbug

At night, Seoul is radiant. I don't know if I mean this in a good way though. In a country where "beautification" is pretty much their motto, sometimes decorations can get a bit out of hand, especially during one of the most overdecorated and commercialized holidays of the year.

Fluorescent lights flood the streets, screaming for attention. I am starting to get used to the blinding lights, but now that Christmas is quickly approaching, things are starting to get a bit out of hand. The best image that I can give you is from "National Lampoon's Christmas."
Chestnuts roasting on an open.... wait, that is actually the bush with a ridiculous amount of red lights. I have never really been a fan of the red lights- they've always seemed a bit scary to me.

For the past month, my walk home from work has been distracting. Something out an extremely scary Tim Burton film on LSD. The trees that line the streets are now coated with Christmas lights, but it can't be a simple as stringing the lights on the trees, but to completely cover the limb with the lights ensuring that nothing is left exposed, almost as if the decorators thought this would protect the branches from the harsh Siberian winds. Unfortunately for the tree, only the branches are shielded. They look like giant deformed hands reaching towards the sky. Almost artistic. At the bus stop, just a block from my apartment, there is a Christmas tree. I can't really say that it is beautiful though. It is a mass of lights in the shape of a cone that plays Christmas songs sung by Korean children. I can't help but think that it is an oversized cat toy.Goldfinger: So here are the trees I speak of. You be the judge.

Lights, Camera, Action: Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the mass of lights. It looks almost like the view of the city from Chandra's rooftop view.

Although the lights are very pretty, I don't really get the whole Christmas vibe that the Hamilton Hotel was probably going for. I am sensing "waterfall" from a backdrop of a senior prom.

Wandering past the shopping centers are perfect places to find bizarre Christmas decorations. When shopping or even walking around the city, it is common to see shirts with "English" on them. Oftentimes, they either don't make sense or there are random grammatical errors. I will post more on this later when I photograph my evidence. My favorite Christmas one that I have seen thus far is a giant sign on the shopping mall that screams "What are you doing Christmas!" Ah... the mistakes. I can't help but nitpick since I have been teaching English. I just want to take a red marker and fix it. Were they trying to say "What are you doing, Christmas?" or "What are you doing FOR Christmas"? I guess its one of those things.

While my coworkers and friends are planning their escapes from the city to sunny destinations, I am planning my time that will be spent in Seoul. At least I get a break from work and screaming children for a while. I desperately need a break from work. Its getting harder to wake up in the morning and I have been waking up with only ten minutes to get ready. Also, I know I need a break because my students have been making comments about me like, "Teacher, you are starting to be crazy scary teacher!" This comment came from JiSoo, my favorite student. She studied the crazy look in my eyes, noting the pink sparkly heart sticker placed just at the corner of my eye and my fuzzy bird hair that I tried to conceal by sticking a teal feather flower in the corner. I will admit, I do dress to entertain my students, but I think I am getting out of control.

I am becoming more and more exhausted and confused as to why I am at work. Lately, we have been preparing the kids for their Christmas concert. For the past month, my students have been singing and dancing for at least one hour each day. Our lesson plans have been pretty weak and mainly consist of coloring random pictures, cutting out the random pictures, and gluing them on another random picture. . . everyday. I am pretty sure I have ruined the once favorite past time for my students. Learning is replaced with practice. Everything must be perfect. I now know why my music teachers would make us practice over and over for these things. I just thought we were being punished, when in fact, my teacher was probably being tortured just the same. I can't handle Christmas carols anymore. My head hurts and I can't help re-experiencing the same teeth grinding "grrrr" pain that I had when I once accidentally scrapped my finger on the cheese grater every time I hear the song "I'm gettin' nothin' for Christmas." I don't want to practice anymore. Practice is now having a reverse effect. Instead of getting better, they are getting worse. I can see it in my students' eyes. They are worn out just like me. The next few days are now dedicated to group rehearsals. I think it is a bit extreme that such a big deal is made out of this. They are only five and six year olds and it isn't like they are at a prestigious performing arts school. This is English school. The signs, the props, the countless hours spent, and not to mention the intense wardrobe changes... aaah the pressure.
In Living Color: Ah the kids doing another coloring activity.

Winter Curiousland: Ah my students. Santa broke his leg (aka the inconsiderate afternoon students ripped off his feet), so I replaced one of them with a cast as my lame and passive aggressive attempt to make them feel bad. Now Santa has to hobble around on a candy cane. I don't really think anyone feels bad. I think they are probably wondering why Santa is wearing two different shoes or that he forgot to put his other shoe on and he is wearing a sock. Broken Christmas Spirit: Sung June hardly looks thrilled to be at school and he is usually the merriest of my students. I am pretty sure I was getting the kids to line up to go practice for our group rehearsal. He refused to smile...even next to Santa.
The Cabbage Patch: So, the plants have been replaced by cabbage. Who says Christmas has to be filled with sweets and other glutenous foods. Not to mention it's nutritious and pretty!

Here is a video of what we have been practicing. It is also a taste of what I listen to. . . all the time

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Make it work!

Seoul never seems to stop surprising me. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, the fashion scene in Seoul is highly addictive. I love everything about it and it seems to keep on getting better. I had the pleasure to attend a couple of shows for Seoul Fashion Week to view the spring collections for designers Kim Young Joo and Hong Eun Ju. The pictures are a bit out of order- sorry! I suggest clicking on the photographs to view them larger for better quality. Enjoy!

                                                    Hong Eun Ju

                                                    Hong Eun Ju

                                   Hong Eun Ju

                                   Hong Eun Ju

                                    Hong Eun Ju

Hong Eun Ju

Hong Eun Ju

Hong Eun Ju

Hong Eun Ju

Kim Young Joo

Kim Young Joo

Kim Young Joo

Kim Young Joo

Kim Young Joo

Kim Young Joo

The runway for Kim Young Joo

Friday, September 26, 2008


I am still waiting for my first paycheck, so I have been eating like an eight year old- scary school lunches (basically I only eat rice) and grilled cheese sandwiches. I am quite fond of entertaining myself using virtually no money. Its a brain exercise, really. My latest form of entertainment is public humiliation. Unintentionally, I have become awkward when it comes to elevators. Before the elevator gets to my floor, I usually get nervous and hope that I don't have to come in contact with anyone. I don't know how this anxiety began, but I do prefer to ride alone. I have made it a habit to be caught doing something embarrassing in the elevator just as the door opens. I think this started in Chicago when I was getting my visa for Korea. I was in the elevator of our hotel speaking to Chandra about something and the very moment the elevator door opened, I blurted "Get away from me!" like a crazy homeless drunk with my chin pointing to my right shoulder and my eyes rolling back in my head. Those four words chopped out of my mouth and I could not control my actions. I don't know what was more funny; the fact that I looked like a rabid chihuahua or the reaction of the man on the other side of the elevator. 
                Since I do not have the privilege of singing in my car, the elevator has been used as my studio. Chandra and I were riding down to the lobby when the doors opened without my knowledge. Just as I belted out "525,600 minutes!" from Rent, I looked up and found a young girl who looked taken aback. When we arrived on the first floor, she ran off-I assume in fear. Some I am caught making weird faces in the mirror. I should know not to do this one by now, since the videos from the cameras in the elevators are available for all to view in the lobby. 
               Elevators aren't the only place for acting strange. After an exhausting and unsuccessful search for a park and an art museum, I had an hour long ride on the metro. A younger man joined our car and waited in front of the door. He had a large taunting piece of lint on his left shoulder blade. I really wanted to take it off for him (and return the kindness that a stranger had done for me earlier that morning when she adjusted my bra strap on the metro). Is this appropriate? hmm Probably not, so I tried to ignore my temptation. I informed Chandra about my wish to remove it and she encouraged me to help him out. hmm For about three stops we argued back and forth whether or not I should. I noticed in the reflection of the door that the young man was snickering. Sometimes I forget that a majority of younger Koreans do speak English, so not only did he hear about what we were talking about but he understood as well. I couldn't do it now. Finally we arrived at our stop. I was the last person to exit the door as I pushed myself towards his back and creeped by like a cat wanting attention. I was hoping that I would be able to rub the piece of lint off, but instead I just looked ridiculous and inappropriate. After leaving the metro we had a wonderful and much needed laugh on the steps. Laughing is free, with the expense of a little embarrassment. 

              When I am not acting inappropriate in public, I go shopping or "shopping." I have never really been one who loves shopping, so I would have never guessed that Seoul would be the city to change that. I am addicted to the fashion here! Everything from the shoes to the hair bling.  The boutiques are delicious, but the only thing I can do is drool in front of the windows.  
My desire to shop is satisfied by walking the streets with Chandra. Ah... a lovely skirt flounces past Starbucks and it is followed by "I got you that!" or a delectably adorable pair of shoes trot past us in the metro and it gets the "eye." Not only is this good for clothing, but it is also good for scoping out beautiful men. Sometimes, the gifts aren't so pleasurable, as one of us may joke around with the other, offering eccentric ajimahs from the streets wearing giant visors and balloon pants selling fake Louis Vuittons and a simple and polite "No thank you" works well in these situations.  This has made the quality of people watching so much better and my pretend wardrobe is amazing. 
               Although payday is soon, I have grown rather fond of my lifestyle of imagination and I can't say that I will stop giving gifts or eating grilled cheese sandwiches. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cribs, expat edition

Alas... Some photos of my apartment.
This is the outside of my apartment building. I could probably never leave and still manage to survive. I have a gym, several restaurants (with room service- they deliver to chez moi), a bakery, a 7eleven, a christian dance club (I still haven't figured out what this is), a barber shop, a tool shop, and many other amenities yet to be discovered. This one building is protected by a sweet old man who I like to call my security guard. 

Bienvenue chez moi... à Charmant. My apartment is called Charmant- which is "Charming" in French. 

"And this is where the magic happens. . ." or not. Here is the view when you first enter my apartment. It's pretty standard- bed, desk (that is multi-functional and can be used as a table), the kitchen, and a window. 
This is my kitchen where I cook and do laundry. The cupboard with the cupcakes lined across the top is actually a fridge. 
Here is a glimpse into my fridge. I stock up on water since I don't want lead poisoning. I have all the basics- A1 sauce, milk, salad, Prego, and that black bag actually has a special treat of kimbap!
Here we have my bathroom. I bought a shower curtain rod, broke it because I couldn't figure it out, but in the end it worked out better this way- since it doesn't really fit, I have it stuck to the wall at an angle which creates a larger space in my shower. 
And this is my entertainment center/laundry room/foyer. I have the greatest cable-one english channel and several Korean soap operas (amaaazing!). 
As far as laundry goes. . . I never really liked pulling warm fluffy towels that smelt like lavender just after their dry cycle anyways. The laundry process takes a while- about an hour to wash and 12 to dry. So vintage! I love it! Plus, I am saving energy and electricity by not using the dryer. 

Sunday, September 14, 2008


As adorable as my students are, I am constantly reminded that they are hosts for infectious parasites. Each day my inner child chants the playground song "Circle, circle. Dot, dot. Now I've got my cootie shot" as I pour a dollop of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer on my hands. They stick their fingers in their mouths, in their pants, in their noses, and just about anywhere else that they will fit. We even have breaks where we stop the lesson and make sure they wash their hands.
Our classroom set-up is perfectly arranged so that all germs will be thrown my way. It all began last week when one student turned to me and sneezed. It is said that each sneeze can throw over 100,000 bacteria in the air. I shivered as I felt the little poisonous droplets fall onto my skin like acid rain. Immediately, Sang Won was sent to wash his hands as I quickly followed behind. Just as I sat back in my chair, Woo Jae sneezed on me. At this moment I was terrified and back to the sinks we went.
Another point to this is how I have never missed fresh air until I moved to Korea. The air in Seoul is thick and after a 10 minute walk outside without touching anything I somehow manage to feel dirty. The pollution lingers in dark smoggy clouds.
I think the culmination of these things finally got to me. Thursday morning I woke up and my throat felt raw. I figured that I was being punished for sleeping with my mouth open (as I do snore) and with the AC set at an icy 21 degrees (Celsius). Mid-afternoon I was still feeling ill and my symptoms progressed. This made me wonder if the fan death theory (http://www.fandeath.net/) could be real. After work, Ella had suggested that we take a trip to a jinjilbang, which is a public bath house/spa. I stripped down, exposing my curves to everyone and dipped into a soothing bath of green tea. Afterwards, I paid 2000 won for a back and foot massage. After my massages, I locked myself away in what appeared to be mini ovens- which were actually saunas. I started to feel better and I was definitely ready for sleep. The next morning, I felt worse. My ears felt like they had fluid in them, I felt dizzy, and I could not stop sneezing. That Friday morning, I warned my students that I was not feeling well and I did not want to yell at them because it hurt. My energy level was low and it was hard to keep up with the students. It was a coincidence that we were discussing emergency situations with ambulances. The students had an activity where they had to match and color the sick person and line her up to the ambulance. Each student colored a stripped polo and gold hair exclaiming that it was Niki teacher. We finished the lesson plan and still managed to have a half hour left. I didn't plan for this unexpected gap, so I let the students play duck duck goose while I sipped on my peppermint tea.
During lunchtime, teachers have a 20 minute break away from the students and we all hide out in the teachers room. I put my head down for about five minutes when all of a sudden I heard one of the other teachers bringing in four of my students. Apparently one of the bullies (and ironically my smallest student) called the chubbier student fat, so a fight broke loose. I was lucky in this situation, because they had a hard time retelling the story in English, so the Korean teachers had to get involved. Before my last afternoon class, I planted my head on my desk and waited for the day to be over with. My partner teacher Kristen suggested that I go to the doctor. Thirty minutes and a walk down the hall from our school later, I felt 25% better. The doctor concluded that I had a really bad sinus infection. I had tubes and water picks sucking and pouring things out and in my nose. She gave me a prescription for five different medications, which I can say have helped me a lot. Five days later and I am almost 100% better with the exception of having sporadic coughing attacks and a voice of an old lady.

Sickness is inevitable when you are teaching young children and living in the city, especially with my immune system. I am bracing myself for what is ahead.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Sunday Smile

This year the Olympic games were held in Beijing and Seoul. Although the latter wasn’t televised in the US, every victory and each smile was recorded for the families of SLP students to remember for a lifetime. Last Sunday, SLP had their Mini Olympics. When I was first informed about this, I immediately thought it was a fancy name for what we call “field day.” As a child I never really understood why it was called “field day,” because we played games on a black top. Mini Olympics was appropriately named. About a hundred students and their families gathered in a small stuffy school gym where flags from all over the world hung from the ceiling. The games began after the torch lighting ceremony. Sparks of blues, reds, and golds awed the spectators. “The Eye of the Tiger” blared in the background of giggling excited children.

I was excited to finally meet the parents of my students at Mini Olympics. My new student’s grandmother was so precious. I was discussing the next plan of action when all of a sudden; a rice cake was popped into Ella’s mouth. His grandma had rice cake for the three of us standing around and we were all given equal treatment, but one was not enough. Seconds later, she came back for a second round. I didn’t even have enough time to finish chewing up the first one, so the three of us now looked like we were playing Chubby Bunny. Later, she managed to find me again and surprised me with a sugar coated donut hole, a large cherry tomato, and a cup of carrot juice.
I have never met such a competitive group of parents until Mini Olympics. There was one game where the mother and father ran a swing carrying their child around a circle. Children were literally dumped on the floor and the swing was passed to the next family. One girl smacked her head on the floor and was in tears and the mother had a “shake it off” attitude. When I was introduced to one father, he informed me that he would not be able to participate in any of the games, because he had recently torn a ligament in his leg. When we got to the relay race between the parents, the blue team (my team) was falling behind. Just when it seemed hopeless, the father zipped past the other team and we won!
The parents were rewarded for their efforts with toilet paper, car cleaner and cleaning gloves for the mothers and Hite (beer) for the fathers. The children received English storybooks. I think the fathers got the best prize.
After the excitement, our director took us (all of the teachers) out for dinner and beer at Outback Steakhouse. Overall it was a great day.

Above is a picture of Danielle Teacher and me

The flame from the opening ceremony- what a light show for preschoolers, right?

Two of my students from Libra class! They are so sweet!

ball throwing game!

True or False- I was the False girl ^^

This was my favorite game: the fathers had to do push-ups with their son/daughter on their backs :) Sooo cute!