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 ( 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!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Pardon my French Mister Trash Police

My new apartment is quaint, complete with a twin size bed, a bathroom, a stove, and a washing machine. The only default is the lack of an oven. I moved in last Tuesday, however it needed some deep cleaning. After hours of scrubbing, I had a mountain of trash that I was ready to remove from my small living space. That night I made several trips down to the dumpster. At about 2 am, trash bag in hand, I moseyed downstairs to find out that the security guard locked the side door (which leads to the disposal sight). So back upstairs I went with my bag of trash.

Awkward moment one: Since it was so early in the morning, I had hoped that I wouldn't have to see anyone. Unfortunately, I live in Seoul so this wasn't the case. A man joined me in the elevator and I tried to hide the bright yellow bag. For about four flights the man stared at me and on the fifth flight he asked me something. My face was blank because I could not understand a word he said. My brain went immediately went into foreigner mode, which is problematic because foreigner mode for me is French. "Pardon," I mumbled. He repeated "pardon" in conversation and in my mind he asked what my name is. Finally I was on the sixth floor and as I left I said "Niki" and bowed as I exited the elevator with my yellow bag.
After that strange moment, I went back downstairs and wandered to 7 Eleven for some comfort food- an ice cream cone. It cost 1,500 won. For some reason I have been mixing up money and I handed the clerk 1000 won confusing it for 10,000 won. I waited for him to give me my change and he demanded 500 won. I fought myself as I almost said "desole"- which is "sorry" in French, and instead I said "sorry" and quickly scurried back to my apartment.

Awkward moment two: The next morning, I decided it was time to try again with the trash. I took the same yellow bag back to the elevator. The door was unlocked! I was at the dumpster, but the lid wouldn't open all the way. I proceeded to try to shove the bag in until I heard a voice from behind me. I turned around and noticed the parking lot attendant waving me down from his booth. He signaled for me to come to him. He then dug through my bag and yelled "NO THANK YOU! NO THANK YOU AAAAH... NO THANK YOU!" He asked me which apartment I lived in and I responded with my fingers holding up six fingers, then forming a 0 with both hands and then nine fingers. Yes this is weird and since he did speak some English I don't know why I felt the need to do that. I had another ride of shame in the same elevator with the same yellow bag.

Apparently my yellow bag was not good enough for the dumpster. I have learned that I am supposed to use specific garbage bags that I can buy at 7 eleven or Family Mart. Unfortunately these bags are only available upon special request and are not easily found on the shelves. This is the city's way to pay the garbage-men. I have an example bag to show the clerk at 7 Eleven tomorrow so that I can now join the others in my building.