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Friday, 27 February 2009

Weather Change = Spring?

This past week we have had three nights of rain in this eastern coastal area of Korea. The temperatures have also risen a bit--the other day it was around 14C/55F degrees, and when I asked my students how the weather was (I always have them record the date and the weather in their notebooks), they told me it was warm. I knew that was coming. I laughingly told them that it was not warm, it just wasn't cold, that in August they would never call 14C "warm" (it would be "very, very, very cold!"). So we settled for "cool", a word they all know but usually skip over.

We did have a freezing night or two last week, though now morning seems to be dawning around 6C/40F.

The seasonal change in weather has brought on some minor but annoying allergy symptoms: sore throat, runny nose, irritated eyes. I have woken up several times over the past few nights to let off a sneeze. That worries me enough that I'm going to check the apartment over this morning for more of the mold that I have been combatting (a typical problem in apts. here as there is usually no insulation and so condensation blots the windows, wallpapered corners, etc.

That aside, it's nice to think about the arrival of spring. Living in a southern coastal city has produced, as expected, the mildest winter I have lived through in a long time, though that's not to say we haven't had our frigid times (just no blizzards or even snow on the ground).

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Audible Drugs--?

Have you heard about this? It's new to me.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

My Boomeranging Cell Phone

Thursday, on the way to school, I decided to take a taxi. I usually enjoy taking buses, but I was bored with them, which is not a new thing. I have been bored with them for a while. Recently I have taken to getting off the bus about four stops early and walking through the street market area, as it is much more interesting than completing the ride. But Thursday I just wanted to take a taxi direct to school, and I can afford it as there isn't a huge difference in price, $1 for a bus vs. about $3.50 for a taxi.

I got into the taxi, told the driver where I wanted to go (always a pause there as I wait to see if they can understand my horribly accented Korean), and then noticed that I didn't seem to have my cell phone with me. Oops. The beginnings of gloom.

I searched through my pockets and my daypack for my phone but couldn't find it. I looked again. No phone.

I realized that I must have left it in my apartment.

Later that night, after I got home from work, I looked for my phone in my apartment. No phone. The gloom deepened.

I searched more thoroughly, yet still couldn't find it. So, for the first time since I have been here, 10 months or thereabouts, I used my landline; I pressed the buttons for my cell number, put the receiver down, and walked around my small apartment, expecting to hear that familiar buzzing sound. No buzzing sound.

I picked the receiver back up and listened to see if it was still ringing. Static. Hesitantly, I said, "Hello?"

A Korean voice answered me.

Oh shit! I hung up, overwhelmed at the thought of trying to communicate the obvious: I had lost my phone and someone else had it. Shit!

Now, let me clarify my status as a moronic loser of cell phones. I have done it before. That's why I say I'm a moron. It doesn't matter that it has been two years since the last incident of losing my cell phone in Korea, or the fact that I did so in a taxi, or the fact that I got it back. What matters is that I had apparently done it again.

And what's really moronic is that I had lost it not once, but twice before. Yes, I had left my cell phone--same one--in a taxi two times before, and had gotten it back both times. And now, it seemed, I had done it again. Moron to the 3rd power.

I worried all that night and the next day, until I got to work and asked my Korean employer to try calling my cellphone number. He did so and talked with a man who had it (apparently the taxi driver).

The driver was kind enough to bring it by the school later that day. I was teaching but asked my boss to give him $10 for his kindness; it's an old phone, but useful.

So I got it back, the amazing boomeranging cell phone.

I think that the next time I get into a taxi with my phone I need to superglue it to my forehead.

I'm a moron, but a lucky one.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Work Wanted

So my contract expires in less than 2 months and the Korean won/U.S. dollar apparently hit W1,500 to $1 today. For those of you not familiar with the exchange rate, it sucks. Really, really sucks. It was that bad last October or so, but had been getting better (down to 1,250 or so).

Basically, to leave Korea now--even for a short time--would be like taking a pile of cash and setting fire to it.

So last night I applied to an academy like mine that is located in the Seoul area. Depending on who you talked to they might or might not say it is part of the city. The Seoul subway system does go there (and beyond), so at the least it is a suburb of Seoul.

Anyway, the husband and wife who own it and teach there are UK/Korean, and the English half called me tonight and we talked for 40 minutes. Nice guy and it seems like the type of school I have been looking for, though have so clearly not found. His wife will call me on Sunday, and should things go well I may make the trip next weekend for a face-to-face interview and to eyeball the school and apartment.

Right now it feels good to have potentially lined up a new job, but even if it doesn't work out I think it will be a beneficial practice run.

Fruit, Veggies, Fish--Street Market Shopping

These are some pics of the smallish street market near my school, where I usually go once a week to buy tomatoes (from the fruit stand woman; she knows she has a good thing going with me). Lately I have started buying some greens in the market, partly because the stores only have decent lettuce these days; I got used to being able to buy great spinach in the big supermarket near my school for a while last fall, but when it disappeared I began searching around for a new source. I usually eat it fresh in salads, but sometimes (like tonight) saute it with mushrooms, garlic, and tomatoes as a pasta topper.

Anyway, as I became more familiar with the market, I noticed that there were many old women who sometimes only had a few things to sell, but often had decent greens (kind of a cross between lettuce and spinach; I think it is something they collect rather than grow). So why not buy from them? That way my money goes directly to a person who needs it. The greens are cheap, sometimes so cheap that I feel a bit guilty, but then I am a foreign guy used to shopping in stores. Here's a pic of a bag of greens I bought for the equivalent of $1, though I'd already used a third of them up before I took the picture. It takes some time to separate and clean and wash the leaves, but it's worth it, I think.
(In the pics you can also see some dried fish, seaweed, and water holding live fish/sea creatures.)

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Korean Won is Tanking Again

The Korean currency, the won, is suffering again. Weak against the dollar. It hasn't been good in a long time, since last September, but over the past few months it looked like it was improving. Not to be. Sigh.

Here's an overview. In the years I have spent in Korea, the won has usually hovered around W1,000 to $1. So, 5,ooo won equaled roughly 5 dollars.

But then this global economic crisis hit, and the won hit a high of about W1,500 to $1.

That is a big damn change.

I get paid in won and shop and live in won, so on a daily basis it's not a big deal.

(Which brings to mind a situation that has happened a few times in my elementary classes, when I pulled out some Korean money to show my students--as in "This is a 'bill' and this is a 'coin'." The reaction I got from a few students was one of total surprise: "Teacher, you have Korean money!" I almost fell to the floor laughing at their amazement the first time, but managed to explain to them somewhat calmly that yes, since I live in Korea I need Korean money. Cute on their part, I guess, being so young and not having a firm grasp on the economic realities of life.)

Anyway, on a daily basis not a big deal.

But here's the problem. My boss owes me a plane ticket back to the U.S. in two months, and I would like to go back for a visit before teaching again at a new job here. A plane ticket would cost about $1,000 if I paid for it, and I could get a new school to pay for a return flight, so the opportunity to visit is a good one.

But the way the currency is right now, I would lose $300 out of every $1,000 I converted to spend in the U.S.

Ouch! That hurts.

So maybe I'm better off not leaving until the currency situation improves, but that might not happen for a long time (current forecasts say the end of the year), and that's a long time for me to go without a visit to the U.S.

There are other things I may need to spend money on here, like if I wind up living in Seoul I may have to put a large deposit down on an apartment (perhaps the equivalent of several thousand usd).

So maybe I should stick around and save. But "should" is different from "want to".

Maybe just a short visit. Possible, but I would probably then have to pay for my return flight.

Depends on the details of a new job, which I am just beginning to look for.


A global financial crisis and here I am being selfish about a bit of money. But it does matter. To me:)

Monday, 16 February 2009

Map, Tong-yeong, South Korea

These are pics of a city map for where I live and teach English--Tong-yeong, South Korea. As you can see I am on the coast, almost surrounded by the ocean. About 2 hours below Busan, Korea's 2nd largest city, on the lower east coast, Tong-yeong is a smallish city (about 135,000).
If you look at the first pic, I live in the upper right-hand corner but have to travel to the middle area every day by bus (about 15 min.) to work at my hagwon, or after-school academy. I teach mostly elementary students and middle schoolers, from about 3-9pm. I teach EFL, or English as a foreign language, as do so many foreigners in Korea.
I like the place--I eat fresh seafood (usually cheap), walk by an ocean inlet every day, and have good students--but my social life is not very exciting. I plan to move this spring, when my 1-year contract ends, to live closer to friends in Korea. Life is good, overall, but the grass can always be greener, right?

What a Laugh!

(Btw, this first post on my new blog is for Isabel and Mica, who said they liked my former blog. "Thanks!" to you gals in Argentina:)

Today, Monday, teaching day, I was leading my first class (starts at 3 pm) through some exercises with their new book--"Hello! Nice to meet you!"--when one of the young elementary students fell off his chair. He wasn't goofing around or anything. He wasn't moving at the time. He just fell off. Completely. Onto the floor.

Now, for a second, what just happened did not register with me. I think my brain refused to comprehend it. Students don't usually fall out of their chairs.

Sure, maybe if they are leaning back in the chair--last month three students did that in one day, and I have gotten very strict about keeping all 4 chair legs on the floor. Seriously, someone could get hurt.

But this kid wasn't leaning back. He wasn't even moving. He just fell off.

After a few seconds I did realize what had happened, noticed the kid was ok (laughing at himself), and I made a funny face, pointed at the kid, and looked at his fellow classmates.

They cracked up.

We had a mini-laughfest, which he was nice enough to join in on.

A few other kids tried to mimic him, so I had to put a stop to the whole scene, but it still cracks me up now, about 7 hours later.