Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Never Mind The Gun Range, Here Comes The Teacher's Dinners

Previously, I've mentioned the Army barracks that's behind the E3 apartment building. What I haven't mentioned is the shooting practice that's been going on at irregular intervals for the past few weeks. The boys get started in the morning and usually carry on until the dinner hour. The sounds dissipate over the long distance, so they don't seem threatening or anything like that. Every now and then they test grenades or bombs in the morning, too. I've been at school a few times and have heard the rumbles. Nobody bats an eye at it here. Nina from Dongsong says the same thing. Living near the DMZ's a fun time for things like this. Truck convoys go up and down the road every day. Sometimes tanks roll by too. I found out there's a small teacher's dinner tonight. There's been one every Tuesday for four weeks now. Last week featured two of them. Time to knock down some soju shots!

Monday, May 21, 2012

By The Time We Get To August

Word's come around: four, possibly five people will leave once the semester ends in August. The fifth person is Claire. She isn't leaving Korea; she's only putting in for a transfer to a bigger city.

August will mean big changes to the dynamics here. Though 40% to 50% of the Crew will be missed, I eagerly anticipate the new arrivals.

9 Months This Week / Stuff Back Home

Standby for a series of posts for the page. I've been a bit slack on getting new stuff up on here and wouldn't want to let anyone down. This week marks 9 months in Korea and I can't wait for what the next 15 will bring. 1 year just isn't enough, not with a job that's beyond satisfying and a great group of people to share it with.

This time of the month's always a bit of a reflective time because I left the States on my birthday (23 August) and another month's passing brings the country back to mind. It seems time to note what I do and don't miss about the USA:

What's missing

Soy milk
Can't find Silk soymilk or anything comparable here. Soymilk is available, but it's not the same. There's more sugar in it and it doesn't satisfy the way soymilk does in the States. Korean soymilk somehow has more calories and more fat in it, yet it doesn't seem as filling as Silk does. Strange. Not cool. I've gone back to regular milk and somehow the regular stuff tastes better here.

Public Trash Cans
They may as well not exist here. Stores put out giant bags for trash and that's it. Most of the time people throw their can of ____ on the sidewalk and keep on walking. Kids get these little bowls of spicy rice cakes, eat them, and then throw them on the ground. I should be used to this by now, but I'm not. Seeing this stuff makes me wonder why people can't wait until they do find a trash can. Trash in the street isn't the greatest sight to see. But, on the other hand, this may not be such a bad thing for two reasons:

1. The trash does get picked up y retirement-age men and women come around every so often and pick up the random trash on roads and sidewalks. I don't know if they get paid to do this or not, but either way, it gives the older people something to do and keeps them active. 

2. People can't get busted for littering so easily--if they can get busted at all. 

Being Able to Drink Alone in Bars
This is trivial, but it's enough for me to write about because there've been a few times where I wanted to drink a beer or two and not stay in the apartment. It doesn't work over here because bars expect you to either order food with your drinks or come in a group of two or more people. Stopping by the local for a drink after work doesn't happen here. There is no such thing as stopping by. 

Every time I've tried this, I've gotten a puzzled expression and a bunch of Korean I couldn't understand from the barmaid or bartender. Apparently a guy can't go get one beer and go home here. I don't know. It isn't a big deal when you consider that beer's available 24/7, but sometimes a change of scenery is good. 

Record stores and Spinning Vinyl Records
I've been in a few shops so far, and the only one worth mentioning was this small joint in the Hongdae area of Seoul. Me and a lady friend had happened upon it by chance when we'd met for a date in the winter. I saw it from across the street. It sold nothing but blues and jazz CDs. It felt good to scour the racks in there; it took me back to those days at Bullseye Records in Milwaukee. She pointed out a few people here and there until I found The Essential Bo Diddley. That's an album I should've had since day 1. He's up there with Chuck Berry for archetypal rock and rollers. The New York Dolls covered his song "Pills." It felt good to hear his original version of it. 

As much as the apartment feels like home, it may not feel complete until a turntable and a proper stereo get acquired. I haven't had a proper stereo in years. It's strange to play everything through the computer, iPad, or MP3 player. Those speakers I bought in September aren't any good. A former co-teacher gave me his computer speakers in the winter. They make the music loud and clear. 

One side effect of the change in music listening is I've been steadily buying stuff on iTunes. And even though I miss the packaging of albums, it doesn't make any practical sense to accumulate album after album here. Buying the physical product gets saved for the (awesomely packaged) Kpop albums and Western stuff that burns at my soul. 

I've never understood this. This whole country works itself to the bone every day of the week and prides itself on doing things quickly. Students study from 8:20am to 9pm (not counting private school) with a few breaks, businessmen work until 7 most nights and Saturdays, construction crews work on weekends, convenience stores are almost always open 24/7, and yet decent coffee's only for those who can afford the coffee shops every day. This country needs better coffee! Cans of coffee are ubiquitous, but they're overmilked and oversweetened to the point where it's not even coffee but some express ticket to Diabetes Land. You can find a couple brands of straight Americanos, but it lacks even a tinge of bitterness. It's smooth, but it's devoid of any character. The caffeine certainly does the job, but coffee shouldn't taste like caffeinated water with food coloring. The instant stuff's even worse. More than once already I've tossed out my cup because of the taste.

The local Tous Les Jours coffee shop does do a decent Americano. The Paris Baguette is okay as well. When Kirsten first moved here, she used to tell Gabe, Peter, and I about how Wasu didn't have any coffee shops and she'd stop at the Starbucks in Chuncheon every time she went there. Maybe we should count ourselves as lucky. Gabe, Peter, and I went to Tous Les Jour on our second day here and the Paris Baguette only started serving coffee when it renovated over the winter. Maybe this is what I get for living in a small town. Ground coffee's easier to find in the bigger cities. I'll have go online or go to Seoul or Chuncheon if I want to buy some. 

Another thing: instant coffee mix packets are huge here. The packets already have the coffee, creamer, and sugar mixed in them. You boil a pot of water on the regulation office electric kettle, pour the mix into a Dixie cup, and pour in the water. The teachers call this coffee, but I swear a better name is coffee shot. 2oz doesn't count as coffee unless it's straight espresso. Again, they're sweet. They do go well with soju though. My idea. A few of lady teachers as well as members of the Cheorwon crew like them. 

*Tous Les Jours and Paris Baguette charge 2,500won for an Americano. It's around 2 dollars.


So that's five things and none of them carry much importance in the grand scheme of things. That's about all I've got for complaints against daily life here. Everything else is great. Everything necessary is in walking distance: the school, the restaurants, the grocery store, the walking paths, the coffee shops, and the bus terminal. Beer, makgeolli, whiskey and soju are available around the clock. 3 cool EPIK'ers plus a great co-teacher and a cool apartment manager live in the building. The townspeople are nice. The scenery's gorgeous. Spring's turning into summer and the weather's grown warm.

I do miss waking up to a big  mug of strong coffee and a bowl of granola, but oh well. Life was good then, but it's better now. Cheers!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Apartment life and the big backyard

Here's the backyard of the apartment. There's a patio on the 3rd floor. It isn't used much, so Kirsten put some potted plants up there.
Foreground: a field for growing something or another.
Background: an army barracks. They have rifle or pistol practice there from time to time during the week. The shots aren't too loud, but they're there.

Looking north toward the high school.

The patio with its benches and Kirsten's plants. 'Tis a good place to enjoy a beer and a book.

The high school/middle school campus, revisited

I've already posted pictures of the high school, but until now I haven't said much about the campus itself. The campus comprises the high school, the girls middle school, the big detached gym/auditorium, the English/math building with the "multi-purpose room", the teachers' apartment building* and a dorm. The dorm got built during the last semester and houses about 1/3 of the high school boys and girls. It also has a cafeteria and couple of lecture rooms. Most teachers share the cafeteria with the students, though some of them go out for lunch or eat in their apartments.

Gimhwa's rural area makes the campus different because most Korean schools don't put a middle and high school together or have dorms for students or apartments for teachers. The teachers in Seoul commute to their schools, for example.

The new dorm.

The other side. Note the big balcony on the right.

My middle school 3rd graders saw me taking pictures and practically begged for a picture. They're a fun bunch :) A lot of girls do like Mi-yeon does and wear big fleece towels to keep warm. The weather's been warm though, yet the towels are still out. 

Here's the courtyard between the two schools.

The flowers in front of the high school.

I hereby bring you...a shrubbery!

Some flowers for you horticulturalists out there.

* - There are three apartment buildings for teachers: there's one mentioned above, my building, and a big one next door to my building.

Mountain Climbing #2

At the top of Bokgye Mountain, near Wasu. My schools took a trip there in the afternoon during exam week last week. The climb and the descent were steep and slippery, but getting there and back felt good.