Archive | November, 2012

Winter is Coming

12 Nov

It’s getting cold in Korea, and I’m not happy about it. I loved the summer, even when it was excruciatingly hot and humid and I got heatstroke and threw up for four days. That’s how much I love summer. Winter is cold, and dark, and windy. You wrap up warm, and then you get on a boiling hot subway train and sweat to death. Hat hair. Getting up on cold mornings. Showering in a freezing bathroom. Wearing your coat in the classroom. Catching colds. Paying a fortune for your gas bill. It all sucks.

I’ve taken the following steps to winter-proof my life:

1) The Korean underfloor heating system (the ondol) is great, but it’s expensive. So that I can keep it off as long as possible, I’m using a plug in electric heater and just move it from room to room with me. That and blankets. A lot of blankets.

2) My apartment is drafty. It’s like an actual barn. In order to latch the windows, you have to pull them back slightly and then the inner shutters don’t seal properly. To combat the cold I packed the space between the outer window and the inner shutters with cardboard. It’s a great insulator, and has the added bonus of making my flat look like a squat. Is that taking shabby chic too far?

3) My bedroom window has curtains, but they’re thin so I’ve hung a blanket on trouser clip hangers from the curtain rail to add some extra insulation. It makes a huge difference, but it does mean my room is almost pitch dark in the mornings, which makes getting out of bed a little harder.

4) I shelled out for a nice fluffy rug for my living room. No more cold laminate floors for me. Hell yeah.

5) I got a flu jab. A couple of winters back I got swine flu and it was horrible. I was sick for three weeks (as in feverish, bed-ridden sick) and felt pretty terrible for another couple of weeks after that. It was literally the worst. The next winter, I got my first flu jab! In Korea, the jab cost me 25,000 won. My co-teacher suggested a doctor’s surgery close to my flat, and wrote down what I wanted for me to show the receptionist. I had to wait for ten minutes or so and then a nurse gave me my injection. It protects against swine flu and some other common strains of flu for this year, and now whenever anyone coughs on the subway I can imagine the germs bouncing off the invisible force-field protecting me like a future evolution of humanity. YEAH!

6) I finished this glorious jumper:

Knit fast, die warm.

7) I should probably join a gym. Getting some exercise is great for beating the winter blues but I’m also really, really lazy. Ugh.

Any more suggestions for ways to prepare for a winter in Korea? Let me know if you have any tips!

Teacher’s Dinner 2 – The Return

6 Nov

Teacher’s dinners are always an interesting experience. At my school only a few teachers can speak any English, and of those only a few want to speak to me. Usually I end up with one co-teacher who will occasionally speak to me, and then I just kind of eat and nod and smile and get accidentally kind of insulted (“she’s very quiet” one teacher accused me, in Korean, via my co-teacher, frowning at me) and often very confused (“would you like a drink? How about a coke?”  *co-teacher says something in Korean behind her hand whilst pointing at me* *everyone laughs*). It’s also a good opportunity to bond with the staff – I usually make a few jokes and eat my way through the meal valiantly enough to make a decent impression.

Tonight my teacher’s dinner involved two things that surprised me:

1) We were eating at a shabu shabu restaurant. This is a type of meal where a boiling pot of water is put in the middle of the table, and a lot of raw food is brought out for you to throw in. Like fondue without the cheese. Our shabu shabu had beef and a massive platter of interesting-looking seafood. I’m not a huge seafood fan – I like fish and prawns but that’s pretty much where I stop. Our platter incorporated a whole octopus. An octopus I’d assumed was dead. Oh no. My co-teacher dumped the motionless octopus into the water, and it immediately started writhing around whilst she used the tongs to push it’s tentacles under water. I wasn’t expecting this, and must have made an obviously shocked/confused/terrified expression because one by one, my colleagues began to laugh.

Maybe it was the effect of the accumulative laughter (there are always so many awkward “I know you’re talking about me” moments at these things that seem to involve Koreans laughing at me) but something in me said you have to eat this octopus. You may remember my feelings on the be-tentacled sea creatures that make their way onto my plate. If you don’t, check out my previous post “Ten Tips on How to Survive Korean School Lunches“. Regardless of the horror, I severed some barely-boiled tentacles with the scissors at our table (in Korea you get scissors not knives) and chowed down. Afterwards I felt a kind of weird, manic glee. I felt like Ozzy Osbourne post-bat. I had WON the dinner!

No one else cared.

2) The second surprising occurrence happened in the car as one of my co-teachers was giving me a lift home. He was chatting to me about missing my previous co-teacher and friend (who left for another school) and lamenting that he felt bad for not finding more time to talk to me at work. He asked me if I would be staying another year, and I said that I wanted to go home. He expressed the usual surprise at this answer (although on a one year contract I’m sure many teachers don’t intend to stay long-term) but then said “I’m sorry you’re leaving. You are a good teacher. I like your lessons a lot. I hope you will teach in your country because you will be a great teacher, I’m sure.”

I nearly had a heart attack. Feedback! Positive feedback! Feedback is like gold dust in Korea – it’s not in the culture, seemingly, to make a big deal about commenting on work performance. I know one of the things I’ve struggled with is a lack of performance reviews and support about the actual teaching aspect of my job. If I ask for feedback I often get a smile and something evasive. I learned not to take this too personally, but it can be demoralising when the only feedback you get is negative comments from your Vice Principal (which is what I usually get) about things that have nothing to do with your teaching. It reinforces to me the idea that I’m really only set dressing for the school – I’m here to make them look good, but not to do any actual teaching. It’s a little frustrating. So to actually hear that one of my co-teachers is happy with the way I teach his classes? Made me ridiculously happy.

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